From a 4-day work week to immigration control, Green leadership candidates make their final policy pitches

Six candidates are approved to run in the 2022 Green Party leadership race. They are (top to bottom, left to right): Elizabeth May, Jonathan Pedneault, Sarah Gabrielle Baron, Anna Keenan, Chad Walcott and Simon Gnocchini-Messier.  (CBC Graphics/ Amedeo De Palma - image credit)
Six candidates are approved to run in the 2022 Green Party leadership race. They are (top to bottom, left to right): Elizabeth May, Jonathan Pedneault, Sarah Gabrielle Baron, Anna Keenan, Chad Walcott and Simon Gnocchini-Messier. (CBC Graphics/ Amedeo De Palma - image credit)

Candidates for the leadership of the Green Party have been selling their visions for the party's future. On Nov. 19, one of them (or maybe two) will take over.

While some candidates argue leadership contests aren't the right venues for crafting new party policy – something Greens tend to see as the sole purview of members – others have released platform pitches.

With online voting opening today, CBC News spoke with all the candidates to put together this snapshot of what each is offering.

Keenan and Walcott pitch a four-day work week

Anna Keenan and Chad Walcott, who are running for co-leadership together, released a platform in November. In a joint interview, the candidates said a Green Party led by them would rise to official party status in the House of Commons and wield the balance of power in the next minority Parliament.

Keenan and Walcott said they would only prop up a minority government if it agreed to advance proportional representation – an electoral system which awards a party a share of seats in Parliament based on the total percentage of votes it received.

Supplied/ Brennan Zeran 2022
Supplied/ Brennan Zeran 2022

The two joint candidates are also are proposing a national ban on fossil fuel projects, a national electric inter-city bus service and the right to a four-day work week for federal workers.

"The four-day work week that we're pitching falls under a larger discussion about the need to move toward a well-being economy," Walcott said. "An economy where we're putting people first and their well-being first, rather than kind of endless profit."

Walcott said the right to a five-day work week was won by labour unions in the U.S. and was quickly embraced by countries around the world, including Canada.

Gnocchini-Messier and immigration control

Simon Gnocchini-Messier, based in Gatineau, Que., is running solo. He's calling for an expansion of hydroelectric power generation in his province and others and a limit to immigration to protect sensitive ecosystems.

Gnocchini-Messier said he worries that the country's growing population will become unsustainable at some point, and communities will be forced to clear forests to grow food and accommodate urban sprawl.

"This unbridled growth makes it impossible for our current infrastructure to meet the needs of the population without irreparably damaging the environment," Gnocchini-Messier says on his website. "We need to hit the pause button. We need to slow growth, including population growth."

Individual party members have proposed population policies before in Canada and the party's cousins internationally have pitched the idea as well. But in the last election, the Greens did not formally endorse such a policy. Instead, the party campaigned on bringing in more skilled workers, enhancing family reunification and addressing inequalities in Canada's immigration system

At least one mainstream environmental organization has condemned theories linking overpopulation to environmental degradation, arguing they're rooted in white supremacy and ignore the fact that the real culprits are corporations, not individuals.

"Climate change and nature destruction directly result from the burning of fossil fuels, large-scale deforestation and industrial agriculture," said Salomé Sané, Greenpeace's Canada-based climate campaigner, in a statement to CBC News.

"Regardless of intent, the idea of population control – including through limits on immigration – is embedded in the history of colonialism and racism."

Gnocchini-Messier defended his position, saying that while he believes in immigration, priority should go to refugees fleeing environmental collapse, war and racism. He said he opposes an immigration policy that drains low-income countries of highly skilled talent and places pressure on ecosystems.

"The global Green movement does not draw on white supremacist ideas in formulating its views on sustainable population levels, and I certainly do not either," Gnocchini-Messier told CBC.

"My policy goal is to achieve environmentally sustainable consumption and population levels in Canada. Immigration can and should play an important role in achieving that goal."

Gnocchini-Messier says he would support Canada's annual immigration rate to be at 300,000. The Liberals recently announced the government is aiming to bring in 500,000 newcomers into the country each year. He also said his policy proposal is consistent with other Green parties worldwide.

May and Pedneault want the leader to take a pay cut

Elizabeth May and Jonathan Pedneault, the other co-leadership candidates in the race, are not proposing any new policies. Still, they're pitching themselves as the right mix of leadership for the Greens.

May is a former Green leader who stepped down after the 2019 election. Pedneault, a Quebecer, is new to the political scene and, at 32, is the youngest candidate in the race. He brings to the party his experience as a human rights activist and journalist who has worked in conflict zones around the world.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

During a joint interview, both said their mix of experience and youth offers the party what it needs to rebuild.

"It helps deal with some of the glitches we've experienced in terms of transition and succession planning," May said.

May is also pledging to take no salary as co-leader. Pedneault said he would take a pay cut, lowering the leader's salary from $120,000 to $90,000.

While it's difficult to say who the front-runners are in this race, Elections Canada says May and Pedneault together have surpassed other candidates in fundraising, raising more than $59,000. Keenan and Walcott came in second, with more than $35,000.

Baron focuses on internal party reform

A common theme among candidates is the need for internal party reform. The party went into the 2021 election tearing itself apart through several unsuccessful attempts to oust sitting leader Annamie Paul. More recently, the party's first Indigenous president resigned, describing her tenure as turbulent and saying, "the dream is dead."

LISTEN: What's going on in the Greens? CBC breaks down the internal strife within the party

In October, the party announced it was moving out of its current downtown Ottawa office in response to its well-publicized fundraising issues.

Some candidates have called for in-person meetings or retreats of party executives because months of virtual Zoom meetings haven't fostered a team atmosphere. Several candidates have outlined plans to reinvigorate the party's finances, with a goal of raising $1.2 million by the end of the year.

Sarah Gabrielle Baron, a self-described devotee of Green party philosophy since 1991, said her leadership campaign is about restoration. She said the party lost its way under former leader May and Greens have become obsessed with fundraising targets and leader-focused politics since then.

Baron said she would change that by empowering members through "citizen assembly-style" meetings, policy table talks and general meetings held yearly instead of every two years.

"Greens are different. Yes, money is deeply important, but the seat of power in this party needs to be the electoral district associations," Baron said. "We were working well as a volunteer-based party before we made the change to celebrity-based politics."

Green Party leadership hopefuls