The Green Party of Ontario, long without a representative in Queen’s Park, could double its number of members in the Ontario legislature this spring. After Leader Mike Schreiner was elected in the riding of Guelph in 2018, the party is optimistic that its candidate Matt Richter will be elected in Parry Sound-Muskoka this year.
The Progressive Conservatives have ruled for years in the Muskoka region, which is best known for its cabins (Doug Ford’s is there, in particular). The riding has been blue since its inception in 1999, and its first MLA, Ernie Eves, later became Premier of Ontario. But Matt Richter thinks he can turn the tide on his fifth attempt as a candidate. His lead, according to some polls — or the close contest, according to others — is “gratifying,” he says.
Everything is more this year, summarizes Matt Richter: more enthusiasm, more volunteers and more interest in his campaign. And help, the candidate needs it. The territory of the riding, twice the size of that of Prince Edward Island, includes 25 municipalities and six First Nations. Anyone who visits the Eastern Townships every year during his vacation reveals that his team has reached 35,000 voters since May 4.
The stars are kind of aligned for Matt Richter. First, he is well known to the community after several campaigns. Then, he faces no opposition from the Liberal Party, which fired its candidate on May 11 because of views deemed homophobic, and the Conservative incumbent, Norm Miller, has retired. Eventually, Green Leader Mike Schreiner, not having to worry too much about racing in his own constituency, spent many days in the area.
The performance of the leader
Matt Richter’s career is reminiscent of that of his boss, notes Sean Yo, who was political adviser to Mike Schreiner. The latter was only elected on his fourth try – and in the third constituency he was running for. His success in Guelph in 2018, where he garnered 45% of the vote, marked the first election of a Green Party candidate at Queen’s Park.
The Green leader’s election victory has “radically” changed his camp’s strategy this year, says Sean Yo, who has no official role in the Green Party but is involved in fundraising. The leader is spending much more time outside his constituency than four years ago. Candidates like Matt Richter or former environmental commissioner Dianne Saxe, in University-Rosedale, take advantage of this.
Thanks to his seat at Queen’s Park, Mike Schreiner was also able to participate in his first leaders’ debate, mid-campaign. The chef has done well; some observers even judged that he won it. According to Matt Richter, his performance “catapulted” the Green campaign in Ontario. According to polling aggregator CBC, the party’s support in the province fell from 4.8% on May 16, the day of the debate, to 7% two weeks later.
In Parry Sound-Muskoka, the leaders’ debate allowed people who had not yet been reached due to their isolation to understand the success of the Green Party in the region, Matt Richter said. Constituency voters “were proud of what they heard from Mike,” the candidate continued. His performance “demonstrated that we had sensible policies,” he notes.
An (almost) non-controversial campaign
The campaign of the Ontario Greens comes less than a year after the catastrophic one of the federal Greens. Chef Annamie Paul, with whom Sean Yo also worked, had spent most of her time in Ontario. Asked by The duty on the first day of the Ontario campaign on the lessons of the federal experience, Mike Schreiner said he wanted to avoid divisions.
It will be remembered that a few months before the federal election, the Green Party of Canada had lost one of its rare deputies because of a pro-Israel position taken by an adviser to Annamie Paul. A similar scenario occurred during the provincial campaign: on May 11, a Green candidate in downtown Toronto dropped the banner for similar reasons. But his departure does not seem to have caused so many problems.
Sean Yo believes that Mike Schreiner leads a “very professional” organization and, above all, that he does not have to campaign with a “headwind”, like his federal counterpart Annamie Paul. The latter was not seen during the provincial campaign.
The ever-energetic Mike Schreiner was back in Parry Sound-Muskoka on May 31 alongside Matt Richter. “We feel the spur of the moment,” he said in front of a lake in the village of Port Sydney. The leader has visited several ridings in the province, but in a press conference, he recognizes that there is a “special opportunity” to elect a green in the region.
“We’re going to have to work hard in the next few days,” he said.
This story is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.