Manitoulin woman vies for leadership of the Green Party of Canada

·6 min read

Sarah Gabrielle Baron, of Manitoulin Island, is a teacher, businesswoman, writer, mother and environmentalist. She wants to add Leader of the Green Party of Canada to her list of accomplishments and launched her campaign in Ottawa on August 31. Ms. Baron is one of six candidates vying for the leadership role.

Her journey has been an evolution rather than a single decision, she said Ms. Baron has been an advocate of Green political philosophy since 1991 when she first read books by Charlene Spretnak, Fritjof Capra and E.F. Schumacher. “Those were very formative books for me. I chose to live the next 20 years on the Island with as small a footprint as possible because of those books.”

She joined the Green Party in 2005, when her children were old enough and she could become politically active. At that time she was excited about the party’s grassroots organizational system. “I’m a systems thinker and that’s what brought me to the party. Greens come to the party in different ways for different reasons, and that was my area of particular interest.”

She became critical of the direction the party took in ensuing years, towards celebrity-based messaging and putting all its faith in one person. “Over the years, our member-made policy process felt like it was going more and more into the shadows,” she told The Expositor. “I was always the champion of that internally within the party. Where is our discussion forum?”

She disagreed with restrictions on the number of policies the party could make or on the wording that members get to put into party policies. “I just feel like it’s my job to champion that now because the climate crisis requires a decentralized approach to the way we organize ourselves socially and we have to revolutionize that,” she said. “Every Canadian needs to become a leader. We need community-based solutions for energy, for food resiliency, and the Greens have to lead on that organizational, structural revolution.”

Ms. Baron has 17 years of experience within the Green Party, including acting as official agent for federal Green candidates and financial agent for provincial Green candidates. She was part of the party’s Constitution Working Group and spent two years reading and reviewing the constitution. “My grounding in green political philosophy, my love of the party in general and my lifelong commitment to the international green movement, it just makes me the right person for the job,” she said.

She holds a degree in politics and Indigenous studies from Trent University, graduating in 1996, and a Bachelor of Education through the Indigenous People’s Education Program at Kenjgewin Teg, both of which have provided her with a solid understanding of Canada’s shared treaty history with Indigenous nations. “My entire teaching career has been about transferring the knowledge that I have received gratefully from elders and knowledge keepers and transferring that to my students, most of whom have been Indigenous, particularly on the Island. I bring that to the national stage that I understand the human face of intergenerational traumatic response better than most non-Native politicians here. There are some Indigenous politicians here and I think I will find solidarity with them in our messaging. I’ve found that throughout my life my goal has been as a bridge between the cultures and within the party so far, that’s been a role and I want to bring that to the national stage.”

Ms. Baron’s other area of expertise has been in investigating small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). “The Liberal government, as well as the Conservative and even the NDP, are complicit in hoodwinking the Canadian populace,” she said. “There has been no public debate and yet they are creating memorandums of understanding. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is approving experimental designs and they are giving these organizations, these private companies, tens, thousands of millions of dollars of taxpayer money and not in my Canada. I won’t stand for it!”

This is not Ms. Baron’s first foray into electoral campaigns. She was a candidate for the Green Party in 2006 in the Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing riding and ran as an independent in Durham during the 2021 federal election. She started that campaign as a one issue candidate. “I wanted to talk to OPG (Ontario Power Generation) workers in Darlington and try to understand if they knew the true inside developments around SMRs and if they were concerned about this nation’s nuclear waste problem,” she said.

While she found many were shocked to hear the information she was sharing, it was also challenging. “I had some very difficult conversations with OPG workers, on their front doorsteps, and that was really galvanizing for me, to know that I could make change one Canadian at a time.”

For Ms. Baron, it was about reaching the average Canadians, to one-by-one make a difference in protecting the environment and keeping people safe. She experienced an evolution when former Canadian Conservative Party leader and incumbent in the Durham race Erin O’Toole, “made his ‘raise the flag’ statement and it made me realize I had to add solidarity with Indigenous nations to my platform,” she said. “That is a huge part of the Green’s policy, especially in our most recent policy process.”

Another aspect brought in during the Durham race was the need to champion the climate crisis from the perspective of youth. “Because I’m a teacher and primarily a high school teacher, I see and hear their fear and their anxiety and their anger and I want to be the voice of that. Because they know that it’s too late. They know that the climate crisis is their reality for the rest of their lives and their children’s and their grandchildren’s lives. It’s just a matter of how bad.”

Ms. Baron’s platform is built around making infrastructure changes now so that the generations having to face the impacts of the climate crisis 100 years from now will have locally-based food security and local-based energy solutions. “From there, that green decentralized structural organization will make sure they have geopolitical stability and that’s something that Greens provide locally, regionally, nationally and globally,” she said. “We are a global movement.”

Green Party members will vote for their new leader in a ranked ballot system over two rounds of voting that will take place in October and November. Ms. Baron wants to visit as many communities as possible during this campaign, even though it means she will be away from her home on Manitoulin. She’s grateful to friends and colleagues and everybody on Manitoulin for the support they’ve given her.

“In politics, it’s making those human connections that makes a difference,” she said. “That’s another reason that I’m doing this. I love the interpersonal aspects of politicking. I love door knocking. I love conversations about the systems that govern our lives and I do love debate.”

Fundamentally, Ms. Baron stated, Greens stand for grassroots, citizen-led democracy. “That is transformative. Greens protect our water, our soil, our very air. Greens have the essential wisdom for urgent change. Greens are ready to lead. I am ready to lead.”

Lori Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Manitoulin Expositor