Break the Duopoly: Why the Green Party Still Matters

A number of things have prompted this post: a lot of people have asked me for my thoughts on the Green Party of Canada leadership contest, the American election is heating up, New Brunswick is having an election, the Conservative Party of Canada just had a leadership race, and all of them have been slowly re-awakening my political attention after a much-needed rest.

Before I start, I’m not going to endorse a leadership contestant. The thoughts I share here are not reflective of the views of Shadow Cabinet, or even of the Electoral District Association of the Green Party in Northumberland – Peterborough South, though I’m using our website as a venue for them. They do reflect my personal views, and the kinds of questions I’m asking as I decide where to place my vote for a leadership contestant, and I hope they’re helpful in framing things for you as you go through that same process.

I was planning on writing a post today about the dominant rivalries in Canadian politics, so it was handy that Freakonomics Radio replayed a post from 2018 about America’s Hidden Duopoly, all about how America’s two main parties profit enormously and serve the public poorly by keeping out any serious competition. The details are different in Canada (we have five elected parties, for example) but the main thrust of it is the same, and detailed in fantastic books like Dave Meslin’s Teardown, Susan Delacourt’s Shopping for Votes, and Elizabeth May’s Losing Confidence. It was reading Elizabeth’s book that prompted me to join the Green Party, and the arguments she makes there are why I still think that the Green Party is relevant. That shapes my view of the future of our party, and what I’m looking for in a leadership contestant.

The Place for the Green Party

Are we really asking if the Green Party is still relevant? In a recent op-ed in the Tyee, a founding member of the Green Party of BC suggests that climate action might be better served by Greens ending our pursuit of political power within the formal system and focus on place-based activism that develops community engagement and local networks that can do more to support climate action than a failed election campaign. To that I would say: that kind of activism and community building is something that we should be doing anyway, and is in no way mutually exclusive from running a Green electoral campaign. Some have argued that by staking out the “environmental territory” in the political field, we’ve prevented other parties from fully embracing environmental issues, and we would be better to work within other parties, or in a radically different way outside of electoral politics. To that I would say that Elizabeth May came to the political sphere after heading one of the biggest environmental NGOs in Canada because she felt she could be of more use in the political arena; and current leadership contestants Glenn Murray and David Merner both came to us from the Liberal Party at the provincial and federal levels, because they found that they couldn’t work within other parties and still actually accomplish what was needed.

But beyond those arguments, the Green Party is needed because we don’t engage within the duopolistic and combative relationships of the Canadian political scene. That duopoly (the Liberal/Conservative coalition that prevents other parties from gaining power through things like opposition to electoral reform, refusing to participate in debates with smaller parties, and otherwise leveraging their larger support base and “war chests” to dominate the media to the detriment of others without their resources) has framed Canadian politics since our nation was founded, and it has become so entrenched that it has taken obvious precedence over actual policy. Our two (maybe three) major parties no longer exist so much to solve the problems we face as a nation, as they do to beat each other. Here are some examples:

The Duopoly in (In)Action

Consider a carbon tax. It’s been touted by the world’s leading economists as the most cost-effective form of climate action. Back when the Liberals favoured industry regulation and cap-and-trade as the primary mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Conservatives supported a carbon tax as the simpler, more fair and market-driven mechanism. They did it quietly, because they have an ongoing bias against taxation, but they supported it. But as soon as the Liberals embraced a carbon tax, the Conservatives were not only set against it, but they demonized it to the point of blatant propaganda campaigns that turned out to be in violation of the constitution. (And yes, I know that this was the Ontario PC Party, which is technically different from the federal Conservatives, but that’s a distinction that blurs when it’s convenient for them – it should also blur when it isn’t.) Meanwhile, the Liberals have flipped to say that regulations aren’t sufficient, and that we really should have a carbon tax – something that they didn’t support back when Stephen Harper was the one proposing it. All of this has happened over more than a decade of increasing emissions; the fight between political parties for support has prevented either party from actually doing anything serious about greenhouse gas emissions.

Or beyond a particular policy, let’s look at the big picture for the most stark example. Thousands of scientists from around the world who have devoted their lives to knowing as much as possible about our natural world have declared that we have less than a decade to reverse the trends of rising emissions, and until 2050 to get our economies to a point where we’re taking more greenhouse gases out of the air than we’re adding, a feat that economists (again, some of the smartest people in the world who are dedicated to figuring out the best way to do things) have determined will take a major overhaul of the way we live and do business. And in light of that, the biggest political stories of this year remain partisan scandals and the level of public debt. These are the exact same issues that have always dominated the political scene. In the face of the biggest challenge to survival, much less society, in human history…we carry on with partisan bickering.

Partisan bickering is a feature of the duopoly. So long as there are only two serious contenders to form government in Canada, they don’t need to actually address serious issues in order to achieve power. It’s much easier to win by casting aspersions on the other party and paying lip service to major issues than it is to take on an ambitious policy shift that might backfire. We need a party that can break the duopoly, that won’t try for power by playing the same game. The NDP seems to have been trying to go mainstream by competing with the big parties on their own terms. It’s backfired; they have more seats that us, but they seem to have lost their raison d’etre. Greens should not make the same mistake. We need to break the duopoly by doing what we’ve always done: refusing to participate in the negative politics that degrade our institutions, and instead actually addressing the major issues with concrete policy proposals that reflect the best advice of the experts in order to attempt to actually do something.

The Ideological Conflict

The Liberal/Conservative duopoly is its own beast, but for all of its existence it’s been rooted in the left/right ideological divide that, starting in the late 19th century, was largely defined by two dominant ideologies: socialism and capitalism. While North America has always had a market economy, our systems have varied over the years in terms of our approach to the level of economic redistribution and regulation of industry. The term “socialist” has been associated with Soviet Communism since the 1950’s; outgoing Conservative leader Andrew Scheer made this association in his farewell speech just a few weeks ago, trying to pin it to the governing Liberals.

In the US, where the “red scare” and the demonization of socialism has been the worst, there’s been a recent trend toward owning the term, with “Democratic Socialists” like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gaining a significant following for proposing bold policies – often the same policies that the Green Party of Canada has been promoting for years. In light of this, there are two contestants in the Green Party of Canada’s leadership race who are pushing for the Green Party to explicitly embrace the “socialist” terminology. This is a mistake.

Not only would embracing socialist ideology and terminology alienate half the population or more, but it would do so by inserting us into the 19th century conflict that is the basis of the duopoly. We wouldn’t be considerably changing our policies: we already support a Guaranteed Livable Income, eliminating tuition, increasing access to childcare, a shorter work week, universal pharmacare and mental healthcare, and more. The “socialist” policies of these two leadership contestants are largely already in our policy platform, and have been for years – even as many called us “Tories on bikes” because some of our other policies were friendly to centrists and conservatives. We currently have to resist the urge everyone seems to have to insert us into the duopoly; we should certainly not make it easier for them to do so by doing it ourselves.

The Way Forward for the Green Party

I haven’t picked my favourite leadership contestants, and won’t be personally endorsing anyone, but I will share with you what I’m looking for.

We need someone who is committed to keeping us outside of the intractable conflict of socialists vs capitalists. Both of those ideologies are incredibly outdated. It’s the 21st century, not a good time to fight the ideological battles of the late 19th century.

We need someone who is likewise committed to keeping us out of the duopoly, in the sense of being committed to not adopting the combative, controlling, and cynical approaches of the big parties. We won’t win on their terms, and if we did manage it, I wouldn’t like what we would have to become to do it. The strength of the Green Party is that we focus on solving problems – the very thing political parties are supposed to do, but that the duopoly prevents them from doing effectively.

We need someone who can communicate not just policies, but also values – and to do it in a way that Canadians haven’t seen from us before. There are a lot of tired environmentalist tropes that we have to campaign against every time we knock on doors, and we spend half of our time telling people what we aren’t (no, we don’t want to make everyone become vegan luddites; no, we aren’t all about weed; no, we don’t have a single-issue platform; etc). We need a bold new vision of the party itself, to help people get to know who we are and what we value as well as the policies and outcomes we’re looking for.

We need someone who can support the internal management of the party, so that our electoral district associations can be developed into organizations with an ongoing presence in the community rather than a skeleton crew that valiantly tries to pull together a campaign team every four years. Then we will not only be more election-ready, but we will be able to engage in the kind of grassroots organization and activism from which the Green Party grew in the first place without compromising our political credibility. We need someone who can help us thread that needle of balancing activism and politics proper, and help us be more organized on both fronts.

And frankly, we need someone who is a bit of a palate cleanser. Elizabeth May was leader for long enough to become central to the Green Party of Canada’s brand, and the next leader will be constantly compared to her. Whether you love her or hate her, she’s incomparable – and most people love her. This leader needs to be able to stand apart from Elizabeth, start the party down a new path, and prepare for their successor.

“Scroll On” and Disagreeing Well Online

Social media has been more active than usual lately with heavy news and controversial ideas, righteous anger and growing consciousness. That’s largely fantastic, but it comes with pushback and reactions, and a few of them really trouble me.

One thing I’ve seen many times over the past few years, and seems more inappropriate than ever, is “just scroll by.” Someone will react to an offensive post, and others will jump on their reaction with “you don’t have to respond to everything you disagree with, you can just scroll by.” I sometimes respond and ask them to drill down: what do they really mean? Most often they think that they’re offering advice that will enrich our lives. Just ignore the things that bother you, and you’ll be happier. Often they’ll point out that it’s just another person’s opinion, we all have one, and nobody’s is special. It is better to ignore a post than be upset by one.

There’s a nugget of good advice in there. There’s only so much bad news and outrage that we can absorb! I often suggest that people take a social media break for that reason. We need to care for ourselves or we’ll burn out. And sometimes the outrage of others is draining, especially if we don’t share it.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

But “scroll by” is hugely problematic advice, and here’s why:

  1. It’s a privileged position. This is more obvious when the topic is systemic injustice. Being able to scroll by racism in your community is a privilege. Telling someone to ignore something that deeply bothers them is like saying “the only thing that affects me about this is your outrage in my feed – so please stop being upset.” It’s the same as being more upset by a protest than by the injustice that caused the protest. It’s the reason for the slogan “no justice, no peace”: change won’t happen until the privileged majority stops turning a blind eye to injustice because it makes them uncomfortable. Protests are a way of spreading the discomfort of oppression around a little bit, so that the privileged can get a glimpse of it too. That’s just as true online.
  2. It devalues ideas. Often it comes with this idea that anything posted to social media is just an opinion. I’ve had people defend posts that were blatantly “fake news”, or just weird memes attacking a politician or group, by saying “I just agree with it.” They imply that I don’t have to – it’s just their opinion. Truth doesn’t matter. Coherence or sense aren’t important. It’s more about emoting than communicating, so its content doesn’t matter.

    Except that ideas do matter, and they impact the people around us. Every repost of a fake news article spreads lies, and adds authority to them. When we scroll past a post that is bigoted or misleading, we normalize it. When we turn a blind eye to dangerous ideas, we let them fester. Every mass shooter has a social media timeline full of bigoted fake news that nobody challenged. Ideas change people. Ideas can change the world. They’re powerful, for good or evil.

  3. It ignores our responsibility to our community. We have a responsibility to support each other. Sometimes that means calling out something that’s hurtful to others, or standing in solidarity with those who do. Sometimes it means patiently and kindly challenging someone who’s made an ignorant statement, and doing the work of showing how it’s false and harmful. It is possible to learn and grow, and I’m so grateful for the people who’ve helped me grow and continue to be patient with me.

Diversity of Opinions vs. Self-Care

Wise people have pointed out for years that social media creates “echo chambers” in which everyone we interact with shares our opinions and beliefs. That’s true, and it’s very important that we interact with different perspectives. But when this combines with the idea that all posts are just opinions and we can ignore the ones we don’t like, the results are weird.

First, not all opinions are equal. Just as Fox News justifies broadcasting conspiracy theorists and quacks under the rubric of being “fair and balanced”, some people on social media make the argument that they deserve an audience for their posts just because they have a different opinion. If you have some true information to add that improves the conversation – that’s great! If you’re only there to be a contrarian, that’s not helpful.

Sure, you’re free to be contrarian. Is that a freedom worth celebrating? Photo by Andrej Lišakov on Unsplash

Second, you can’t force an open mind. I’ve seen people shame others for unfollowing them after a particularly hurtful conversation. “No, you’re the bigot/closed mind if you unfollow me, because it’s important to listen to diverse perspectives.” Again, the principle of exposing yourself to diverse perspectives is to improve the conversation, not to judge people who don’t feel comfortable in a conversation. Nobody has to listen to you, particularly if you don’t have anything kind to say.

So while it’s important to hear and understand different perspectives and ideas, we need to recognize that it takes a toll. It’s hard work, and there’s only so much of it we can do. So we need to choose our conversation partners carefully: is this person safe? Are they adding information, or just emoting? If someone unfollows or unfriends you, consider that you may have just exhausted them. Think about why that might be.

Tips for a Good Conversation

Good conversations can happen online! Here are a few tips that I find helpful:

  1. Be curious. Rather than negating someone comment, go deeper. Instead of saying “you’re wrong”, say “can you explain some more? I want to understand what you mean.” You may find out that their comment was just as shallow as it appeared, but maybe not. Maybe there’s some nugget of shared understanding there to build on. Maybe there’s information you’ve missed.
  2. Be kind. It’s very easy to assume the worst of those we disagree with. Challenge yourself to see the best in them. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume ignorance or error instead of hatred or bigotry. We can change the outcome of the conversation by changing its tone.
  3. Be clear and informative. We all post things sometimes just to emote, to get our feelings out; be prepared to clarify your thoughts and apologize for any insensitivity or miscommunication that may cause. If someone misunderstands you, recognize that and correct it. If you’re the one making a statement, it’s on you to back it up. Don’t make a statement if you can’t back it up. Share resources and links to quality information.

That’s it. Simple, straightforward, and harder than it ought to be. Remember that real enemies are rare, most of the people you interact with are your neighbours, and we’re all human beings prone to miscommunication. Empathy is harder online, so be gentle with each other–and yourself.

The Green Party NPS Supports Anti-Racism

Black Lives Matter anti-racism protest. #BLM

Photo by Joan Villalon on Unsplash

These past few weeks, the world has watched as Americans grapple with the systemic racism that results in the deaths of so many Black people at the hands of police. We have been reminded many times (we could post links here all day) that this is not just an American problem: Canada also has systemic racism in our history, laws, and economy. We have racism right here in Northumberland – Peterborough South.

None of this is new or surprising, but it’s resonating with more people right now than ever before. Images of police brutality in America are encouraging others to come forward with their stories, and the calls for serious action are spreading. Governments are listening, and beginning to implement changes.

The Green Party of Canada and the Green Party of Ontario uphold Respect for Diversity as one of our core values, but that doesn’t mean that we are immune to racism. There is a long history of racism in environmentalist movements, and in the 2019 federal election we fielded the whitest slate of candidates of any party. Candidates with diverse identities, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), as well as gender and sexual diversity, reported encountering discrimination from their own volunteers and riding associations. The Green Party of Canada has created a staff position charged with addressing inequity and promoting diversity within the party, our recent hires and election to Federal Council featured more racial diversity, and our current leadership contest is the most diverse of any party – so we’re far from perfect, but we’re making a concerted effort to challenge systemic discrimination internally.

I don’t write this so Greens can pat ourselves on the back; changes in our party need to be reflected locally as well, and we want to be a resource to the constituents of Northumberland – Peterborough South. The population in our riding is ~97% white, so many of us have been able to remain ignorant of the racism in our area. Now that we are being confronted with the extent of racism in our society, many of us are experiencing a lot of different and conflicted feelings. We’re seeing this internal struggle expressed on social media as people process what they’re seeing. Few people are good at this, none of us are perfect, and all of us are part of the broken systems that keep some of us down. With that in mind, here are some resources that can help white people process and understand systemic racism and our role in perpetuating it – and stopping it.


Because white people rarely experience or even see racism, it can be difficult for us to acknowledge it, much less dismantle it. Learning more about systemic discrimination in our history, including gender and sexual discrimination, and especially hearing the stories of individuals, helps us to contextualize it and address it. This is by no means exhaustive! Please do your own searches too, and let us know if you find resources that are particularly helpful!

Discrimination, then and now

Processing discrimination, becoming an ally


Policy Change

Canada has an anti-racism strategy, but it’s mostly focused around education and information campaigns. Education is great, but there are concrete policy changes that can counter systemic discrimination. Some of these seem like radical ideas, so please check them out before passing judgment – they actually make a lot of sense, especially if they are implemented in a thoughtful way that reflects the needs of the communities where they are implemented. Here are a few that we support:

What else should we be doing? How can we better address discrimination in our community? Do you have a story of discrimination that you want to share? Let us know. Our community needs to be safe for everyone.

Jeff Wheeldon Acclaimed as 2019 Green Party Nominee

The Green Party NPS Riding Associations’ Annual General Meetings and Nomination Meeting were held last night (March 6 2019) at the Cobourg Community Centre. The meetings yielded a good turnout and positive results: both the GPO and GPC riding associations increased the size of their Executive with new volunteers, and Jeff Wheeldon was acclaimed as the Green Party of Canada nominee. Jeff will become the Candidate when the campaign period begins.

Patricia Sinnott and Minne deJong will be maintaining their positions as President and Chief Financial Officer of the GPO riding association. They will be joined by Secretary Rob Taylor and Membership Chair Andy Kirkpatrick.

The Green Party of Canada riding association saw a new CEO, Pascal Barabé, and new Financial Agent Tom Telford. They will be joined by Secretary Rob Taylor and Membership Chair Andy Kirkpatrick, who have both agreed to do double-duty, fulfilling the same position in both riding associations. Rob Taylor has also volunteered to take on the Communications Chair post.

There are more positions available, including Organizing Chair, Fundraising Chair, and numerous volunteer activities. Contact us for more information.

Jeff Wheeldon gave a short speech before his acclamation:

My name is Jeff Wheeldon, and I want to be your MP.

Not just because, though I believe strongly in the role of a public representative and would consider it an honour to represent the people of this riding;

I want to be your MP because there are problems that need to be solved. We’ve grown accustomed to hearing bad news, especially lately:
-climate change is potentially the biggest threat in human history;
-economic changes, driven by automation, artificial intelligence, and online retailing are predicted to cause an economic disruption 4x the size of the Industrial Revolution;
-demographic changes and population growth challenge our social safety net and ability to provide for our most vulnerable;
-technological changes and the internet are disrupting the way we relate to each other, and we’re becoming increasingly polarized in a society that is described as “post-truth”;
-and in the midst of all of these changes and the challenges they provide, our political institutions and economic models maintain the status quo.

I’m running for office because these problems aren’t being addressed. I like to run a positive campaign, and I’d rather talk about what we need to do rather than what other people are or aren’t doing, but I can’t pretend this isn’t part of my motivation. We’ve been let down by the establishment, status-quo parties:
-the Liberals pay lip service to important issues like electoral reform, climate change, and reconciliation, but they have too little follow-through and too many broken promises;
-the Conservatives have embraced far-right populism and abandoned traditional conservative values and policies, stoking outrage and pandering to racist groups while they offer plenty of criticism but no policy alternatives;
-and the NDP is in the midst of an identity crisis, struggling to mobilize its own party behind their leader or the Leap Manifesto.
None of these parties have a vision for the future. They aren’t planning ahead for the new economy that is transforming and eliminating our jobs every day; their emissions targets aren’t adequate to even meet our lukewarm international commitments, and they’re not even talking about mitigating the damage of climate change; and they plan their platforms based on market research about what is popular, rather than on the challenges we face.

I’m running with the Green Party because I want to do politics differently. I had the opportunity to run as a Liberal in 2015, and I turned it down: I know that as a Liberal MP I would have to put the party ahead of my constituents, or face the consequences. I’ve been invited to join conservative parties too, but they’re worse in this regard, requiring an oath of allegiance to the leader. Even the NDP punishes MPs who step out of line to put their constituents first: we’ve had two NDP MPs cross the floor to join us for this reason. But especially for the Liberals and Conservatives, it’s not just a matter of party discipline, but of the longstanding relationships these parties have with corporate interests. Inside these parties and inside the governments they form, there are too many opportunities for corruption: what good is it if I gain the whole world, but lose my soul? I joined the Green Party because we do politics differently, and this is evident in the way that our representatives conduct themselves. We take a candidate’s pledge to behave in ways that reflect the dignity of our office and our constituents, with high standards for transparency and accountability, and we always put our constituents and our country ahead of the party. It was Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner who led the way in banning corporate and union donations to political parties, and Elizabeth May was recently polling first as the federal leader seen as the most ethical in Canada. Her principled stand against the Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain Expansion pipeline project led to her being arrested for civil disobedience alongside protesters, clergy, and NDP MP Kennedy Stewart who is now mayor of Vancouver. These kinds of principled, ethical leaders remind us all what politics is supposed to be: people who represent and uphold the best in us, working together to build a better nation. Partisanship has no place in the Green Party, and a Green government would have an all-party Cabinet to ensure that all parties have a voice and an investment in solving the crises of climate, affordability, and employment that we face. These issues are too big to let partisanship get in the way of real solutions.

This will be my third campaign in two years. I am campaigning because there IS good news to be had. We have the knowledge, technology, and policies we need to solve these problems, and the means to implement them. What we lack is the awareness, the proper priorities, and the political will to do so. There is a gap between what needs to be done and what IS being done, and we can close that gap by engaging with our communities and rallying people behind solutions, no matter who ultimately implements them. There is no limit to what we can accomplish if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit, and our campaigns are about building communities that are resilient and engaged so that we can do more together.

I was speaking with someone the other day and they mentioned how cynical they feel about politics – that after a while they just want to give up on the whole thing. I understand that feeling, but we have a choice in that moment: we can either give up, or we can step up and change it. I choose to run as a Green because I choose to be the change I want to see. We have all of the ingredients for good news, but if we want to see that good news we have to make that good news. We can’t rely on others to do it for us; our future is ours to make.

By choosing to make the future we want, we will also make history! Across the country and at every level, the Green Party is surging. Even here in Northumberland – Peterborough South we’re getting unprecedented numbers of volunteers, from all party backgrounds and none, saying that this is the year that they’re going to step up and make a difference. Are you willing to do what it takes to make the future you want? Do you want to be part of making history? Stand with us, hit the street with us, host us in your home or plan a community event – we can only do this together. And that’s fitting, because doing great things together is what politics is all about.

Jeff was acclaimed as the nominee after his speech. The meeting wrapped up just after 9pm.

John Draper of the Cobourg News Blog attended. His coverage can be found here.

The campaign team will be planning a volunteer meeting sometime in the coming month. Members will receive notice of the meeting via email; contact us here or on Facebook if you are not a member but want to volunteer!

AGMS and Nomination Meeting: Tonight!

Please join us tonight for the Annual General Meetings of the Green Party of Ontario’s Northumberland – Peterborough South Constituency Association and the Green Party of Canada’s Northumberland – Peterborough South Electoral District Association, as well as our Nomination Meeting to select our candidate for the 2019 federal election!

The meeting will be held at the Cobourg Community Centre, 750 D’Arcy St, Cobourg, from 7:30-9:30.

The GPO CA AGM will start at 7:30, followed immediately by the GPC EDA AGM at approximately 8:00, followed immediately by the Nomination Meeting at approximately 8:30. Refreshments will be provided. Here are the agendas:

Please join us as we take the first steps toward a fantastic 2019 campaign!

2019 Green Nomination Contestant: Jeff Wheeldon

On March 6th 2019, the Green Party of Canada’s Northumberland – Peterborough South Electoral District Association is hosting their Annual General Meeting at the Cobourg Community Centre, 7:30-9:30pm. This meeting will double as a Nomination Meeting to select our 2019 federal candidate. The Green Party of Ontario Constituency Association will also occur at the same time, as both organizations have largely overlapping membership pools.

As of February 7th, Jeff Wheeldon is unopposed in his bid for the Green nomination. Jeff currently serves as the International Affairs Critic on the Green Party of Canada’s Shadow Cabinet (since 2016), as well as Secretary for both the federal and provincial riding associations in Northumberland – Peterborough South. He previously ran municipally in Brighton last fall; provincially for the Green Party of Ontario in the NPS riding in Spring 2018; and federally for the Green Party of Canada in 2015 in the riding of Provencher.

Jeff is a REALTOR® in Brighton, where he has lived with his wife Andrea and two sons since 2016. Originally from BC, Jeff has also lived in Alberta and Manitoba, but has family roots in the riding: his wife Andrea grew up in Norwood. The Wheeldons settled in Brighton to raise their children, leaving behind careers in higher education administration in order to provide a great environment and community in which their kids could grow up.

Education, Work, and Volunteer Experience

Jeff holds a Master of Arts degree in Systematic Theology, and wrote his MA thesis on the role of ethics in reforming social institutions – a topic which largely inspired his involvement in electoral politics. Before moving to Brighton he worked in higher education administration in various roles including some teaching work, finally serving in a director-level position as Registrar in 2014-15. His work experience also includes several blue-collar jobs, including two years as a factory worker and various trucking jobs over a decade. He has served in various volunteer capacities, from several poverty-related ministries in downtown Vancouver, to teaching roles in churches, to serving as the founding CEO of a Green Party riding association. He is currently a member of the Rotary Club of Brighton, and identifies strongly with the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self” and the organization’s emphasis on the obligation of the business community to high ethical standards and generous community engagement.

Goals for Canada and Northumberland – Peterborough South

This section is contributed directly by Jeff Wheeldon:

The nature of federal politics is that most decisions are made on a scale much broader than any particular riding, but that virtually all decisions made for Canada as a whole and even in international relations have some effect on every riding. The challenges we face are on a massive scale, but will have a major effect on the economy and lives of people in Northumberland – Peterborough South. Thankfully, we have policies to address these challenges, and help us to not only survive but to thrive in the difficult transitions ahead. My policy priorities in 2019 are:

  1. Climate change. This is possibly the most serious issue human beings have ever faced, and certainly the biggest issue we’ve knowingly faced. Since we know it’s happening, we can do something about it. The science is clear, the policy solutions are clear, but the political path to real action is cloudy.The Conservatives continue to work against climate action: despite the fact that carbon taxes have the support of all other parties and numerous Nobel-prize winning economists, they continue to argue against any form of it, claiming to favour industry-by-industry regulations; but let’s not forget that a generation before, under Stephen Harper, they supported carbon pricing and argued against the more costly and complex approach of industry-by-industry regulations. Ultimately we need both, and clearly they will not support either approach so long as another party is suggesting it.

    The federal Liberals, on the other hand, talk a big game about climate action and have even borrowed the Green Party’s plan for a carbon-fee-and-dividend system to price carbon; but their emissions targets are the same as those set by Stephen Harper, and are vastly inadequate to effectively combat climate change. At the same time, they continue to subsidize fossil fuel companies by billions of dollars per year, and went so far as to buy a pipeline to continue to support the expansion of the oilsands. We cannot talk out of both sides of our mouth, and climate change doesn’t care if we say the right things – only real action matters.Green policies to combat climate change include transitioning our oil economy to renewables as quickly as possible, investing in energy retrofits on a large scale to save energy (and money!), and to put a price on carbon that will actually have an affect on the market by providing large enough incentives to affect consumer behaviour and, most importantly, industry behaviour. Our carbon-fee-and-dividend system, borrowed by the federal Liberals, would ensure that no individuals are punished by the increase in energy costs by paying out the dividend cheques on a monthly basis; but would also include a higher carbon fee (and therefore a larger dividend) that would have a much faster effect on our markets, incentivizing lower levels of consumption and levelling the playing field for low-carbon products and energy sources. All of these policies will create significant jobs, and not just in Alberta: per million dollars of investment, renewables and energy retrofitting create as much as 10x the number of jobs as investments in oil and gas, with wages averaging $80-90,000/year.

    As International Affairs Critic I have also been engaging in developing policy options for treating climate change as the greatest security threat in the world – an approach that has recently been emerging from our Forces as well. We have some of the highest trained forces in the world waiting to be used in a violent conflict, even as millions of people are displaced by natural disasters, droughts, famines, and conflicts that come from such conditions, all of which will increase in a warming world. I will continue to promote the cross-training of our forces to have special forces designated for firefighting and disaster relief to be deployed in Canada and around the world to bring stability and aid before conflict starts. A connected goal is to stabilize areas in crisis to reduce flows of migrants: most refugees want to return home as soon as possible, and of course they would have stayed in their homes if they could. Canada has a larger role to play on the world stage to help provide the stability needed to reduce the number of refugees in the first place, in addition to our role in resettling refugees here in Canada.

  2. Automation, AI, and the New Economy. The economy has already changed, and our federal and provincial governments don’t seem to recognize that they’re playing catch-up. 40% of Ontario’s economy is in manufacturing, and Ontario represents 40% of Canada’s economy, but the number of jobs that make up our manufacturing sector are dwindling. The Liberal approach has been to “foster innovation” by promoting Ontario as “Silicon Valley North” and hope for a boom of jobs in the tech sector, the NDP and organized labour is fighting to keep jobs that are increasingly obsolete, and the Conservative approach has been to talk about how they’ll “bring back” manufacturing jobs without getting into further detail. The reality is that those jobs are gone and not coming back, and the transition to the new economy is just getting started. We need a plan that doesn’t involve fighting the future, like the Conservatives and NDP, or fuelling the economic transition without planning for massive job losses as the Liberals have been doing.The Green plan for a new economy begins with implementing a Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI), which is not only an incredible streamlining for our existing social services with potential to save significantly on how we deliver our social safety net, but which will also provide a stronger foundation from which Canadians can launch their own contributions to society. A GLI would provide us with the stability we need to take important risks such as going back to school and starting our own businesses. It would also provide a basis for an economy with increasingly fewer jobs that have to be shared by more people: with a GLI in place, funded at least partially by taxing the productivity of the robots that replace human workers, more people will be able to get by working part-time or in job-sharing arrangements. With this system in place, governments would also be better able to focus on the purpose of the economy (the productivity needed to support our lives and society) rather than the means of achieving it (fighting robots for deskilled, low-wage jobs just to survive).

    At the same time, there are many jobs that need more workers right now. Agriculture, for example, can benefit tremendously from more sustainable and organic farming practices – but that generally requires more workers, and agricultural workers are often temporary foreign workers. Sustainable farming is critical for reducing emissions and combating climate change (not to mention for feeding us!), and employment in this sector will increase under Green policies. That’s excellent news for us in Northumberland – Peterborough South, where agriculture is a major industry!

  3. Democratic Reform. Remember when Justin Trudeau said, so clearly and unambiguously, that “2015 will be the last election under First Past the Post”? Democratic reform means much more than that: it’s about restoring the confidence of Canadians in their government, correcting the abuses of our institutions and violations of our trust, and ensuring that our democracy is one that engages citizens in the decisions that will shape their lives.

    This is a particular emphasis for me because I value ethics and transparency. I know that our political system was designed to function in ways that it no longer does, either because Canada has changed drastically since 1867 or because political parties have learned to game the system as it stands. Our political structures were designed in a time when only white male landowners were considered persons and all of them knew their MP; now we have universal suffrage, and ridings with 120,000 constituents with a much wider range of interests and perspectives than an MP must address. At the same time, the winner-takes-all style of FPTP elections incentivizes constant campaigning, which feeds party culture that puts messaging ahead of problem-solving and enforces party discipline on all MPs to ensure that they present a united front for the next campaign. The result of all of this is that MPs largely serve to represent their party to their constituents rather than representing their constituents in the House of Commons; consultations are PR exercises more than attempts to actually engage the citizenry; and parties design their platforms based on a marketing strategy rather than on meeting the needs of their constituents and facing the challenges of our time.I joined the Green Party because we believe that a good government is honest, focused on the best interests of its constituents rather than the best interests of the party, and therefore willing to make hard choices and not sugarcoat important issues. I’m proud to have taken the Green Party candidate’s pledge in both 2015 and 2018, dedicating myself to a higher standard for service and a better vision for our democracy, and I look forward to taking the pledge again in 2019. I’ve had the chance to run for bigger parties in the past, but I’ve chosen to run as a Green primarily because my integrity means a lot to me: I will not compromise the best interests of my constituents for fear of a party whip.

  4. Housing is an issue that needs to be addressed at all levels of government, but one that affects Northumberland – Peterborough South significantly. Because I work as a REALTOR®, it’s also something I think about quite a bit.

    We are in a housing crisis. There are many causes and no easy solutions, but there’s a lot that can be done at every level to make it better. First, the housing crisis is an indicator of the health of the rest of the economy too: it’s not just that houses are too expensive for people to buy (although that’s true), it’s also that people aren’t making enough money to buy them; our economic policies will create more jobs with good wages (see point 1 above). Supply is also down: there are almost no rental vacancies in this county at all, much less affordable housing; the federal Liberals have promised $40 billion over the next decade to help with that, and I would support continuing that funding as well as working with provincial and municipal governments and agencies to address the incentives provided by programs and structures at those levels to stimulate housing supply. In tandem with implementing a Guaranteed Livable Income (see point 2 above) we also support a housing-first strategy for addressing poverty, which would provide federal and provincial funds to provide affordable housing as a baseline condition on which other services can build to help the poor.

    I am reminded all the time that fixing the housing crisis is bad for my day job. As a political candidate I’ve been lobbied by my own industry organizations to support policies that would keep us limping along in this unsustainable market by getting the government to subsidize mortgage down-payments and reduce homeowner taxes – but that would ultimately just pass more costs on to citizens, including those who still can’t afford a house, by putting a bigger burden on the government and requiring more tax revenue. These policies are being entertained by federal (Liberal) and provincial (PC) governments, but the only winners with such policies are real estate agents. We need better solutions for everyone.

  5. I want to know what your big issue is! The role of an MP is to communicate between constituents and the government, which means your concerns are always in my top priorities.

Please come to the AGM/Nomination Meeting on March 6th to hear from Jeff and anyone else who seeks the Green nomination in Northumberland – Peterborough South! We will also be filling positions in the EDA Executive and campaign team; see where you fit!

Election 2018 Debrief

Last week we had a meeting to discuss the 2018 Ontario election results, and how to improve our campaigning for next year’s federal election. We had a decent turnout, and some great discussions that have me hopeful for more growth here in Northumberland – Peterborough South.

The Election Results

I joined the Green Party of Ontario because of our strong platform, which is rooted in principles that are well embodied by our leader, Mike Schreiner. Mike’s landslide victory in his own riding, as well as his popularity across the province, will help us in our next campaign; and our platform continues to be very strong, with evidence-based policies recommended by relevant experts. But if we’ve learned anything from the 2018 Ontario election, it is that effective campaigning has a bigger impact on election results than a party’s policy platform or their leader’s popularity, and that other factors (in this case, a deep a long-nurtured distrust of the Liberals) can play an even bigger role.

We can’t control for other factors, though we will gear our campaign toward them; but we can control the way that we campaign, and in that area we have a lot of room for growth. In this past campaign we made a strategic decision to focus on events and online presence, based on the resources we had. We used a minimal number of signs, mailed out postcards in just one area, and only ran ads on the radio in the last few weeks of the campaign; effective advertising campaigns can add 2-4 percentage points to our vote, and we did see some positive return on our advertising in the form of slightly higher votes in areas that had radio ads or mailout. Signs were moderately more effective, not only because they served as a form of steady presence on a street, but also because they themselves are a sign of support, and people are more likely to support a candidate or party that they see others supporting. But the greatest impact, worth 6-12 percentage points in a well-run campaign, come from canvassing.

We didn’t do much canvassing in the 2018 Ontario election for two reasons: first, the riding is huge and running a canvassing campaign in a big riding is very challenging; and second, because we had very few volunteers. Knocking on doors and speaking directly with citizens remains the most effective form of campaigning, and we even saw that in our results: the polls with the best vote count for Greens were those in the immediate areas of anywhere that we actually canvassed, specifically the polling station in my neighbourhood in Brighton and the one in David Brister’s neighbourhood in Cobourg. Considering the canvassing we did was unsystematic and sporadic, the fact that we can see real results from it speaks volumes.

The Importance of Membership

The way to build on our positive results this year is to make sure that we can run a good ground campaign next year in the 2019 federal election. In order to do that, we need more volunteers – and to get more volunteers, we need to grow our volunteer base, i.e., members.

David Piccini ran a very effective ground campaign, prioritizing canvassing over other forms of campaigning and utilizing up to 125 volunteers, with at least 25 involved in his Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign on election day reminding people to vote. This effectiveness is evident in the fact that our riding had a voter turnout 10 points higher than the provincial total. While some of his volunteers and funding came from the PC party, who were investing in NPS as a swing riding they wanted to win, most of it came from his membership base. But when he started campaigning, a year and a half before the campaign began, there were only 35 active PC members in the riding; by the time the election campaign started, he had over 2,000.

Membership is almost an old-fashioned concept: service clubs and churches and social clubs have all seen a decline (and greying) in their memberships, because younger generations aren’t as keen on being “joiners” even if they’re often more personally active in volunteering for various causes. We’d rather stand for a cause than with a group. I’ll leave it for sociologists to determine why that is, but I can’t stress enough how important party membership is for our cause, especially because we are a political party.

First, practically speaking, membership is a form of funding ($10/year per member) and helps us maintain contact with our supporters and develop a pool from which to draw volunteers and donations. And second, because as a political party our cause is only really served by us being a unified group. If the work of a charity or service club can be accomplished by the organized work of volunteers who are otherwise unaffiliated, membership isn’t very important; but in a political party we can only accomplish our goals by being a large group or movement that is committed to promoting the group itself. Our platform is our cause, but our goal is to get elected, and members drive election campaigns.

Preparing for 2019

The time to start preparing for the next election is right now. We’ve gained ground in the 2018 campaign, and we’ve learned a lot from it too. The next step is membership. 2,727 people voted Green here in 2018, but only about 40 of them are actually members. That’s more than David Piccini started out with, and if we can get even 1/4 of those 2,727 voters to join the party, we will have a much bigger base from which we can draw volunteers and donations, which gives us many more possibilities for campaigning in 2019. Some of the things we’d like to do include:

  • Canvassing in your neighbourhood, which not only increases voter turnout but also provides opportunities to gain even more members, further growing our support base!
  • Have a bigger lawn sign presence
  • Have more local events beyond all-candidate meetings, such as coffee parties and barbecues in smaller communities
  • Run issue campaigns before and during the election, dealing with important federal issues such as:
    • Climate Change: pricing carbon, meeting Paris targets, and mitigating the damage we’re already seeing
    • Trade: NAFTA, TPP, CETA, and the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions in those deals that undermine our sovereignty and ability to address climate change
    • Defense: NATO, Peacekeeping, and our place in the UN
    • Economic reform: Guaranteed Livable Income, addressing tax evasion, supporting a green economy
  • Have a paid campaign staff to organize all of these other things!

How to Get Involved

If we can grow our party membership to 650 by this time next year, so many more possibilities open up for us! Here are some ways you can help:

  1. Sign up for membership! It’s only $10/year ($20/year if you join both the federal and provincial parties). It’s a minimal commitment, but it’s the first step toward really making a difference! Join here.
  2. Give us feedback: what made you vote Green? What did we do really well in our campaign, and how can we improve it? What’s the most important issue in your community, and how can we address it?
  3. Volunteer! Are you willing to:
    1. Knock on every door on one street (about 1-2 hours commitment, training provided)?
    2. Hand out fliers for a few hours?
    3. Host a coffee meeting or barbecue and invite your friends and neighbours?
    4. Put up a lawn sign, or wave signs on a street corner for a few hours?
    5. Spend election day calling supporters to remind them to vote, or being a scrutineer at your polling station?
    6. Deliver signs to supporters and pick them up the day after election day?
    7. Become a member of the Electoral District Association executive council, meeting semi-regularly and helping to plan and organize our efforts?
  4. Donate: while we run very lean and efficient campaigns, the more money we raise the more we can do to support our volunteers, run advertising campaigns, and take all of our efforts to the next level!
  5. Talk to a friend about becoming a member. Politics is often portrayed as something nice people don’t talk about in public because it’s offensive and divisive. We want to do politics differently: tell your friends about your concerns, but mostly about solutions and reasons for hope. Having a better national political culture starts with the way that we think about politics and how we talk about it with others, so let’s be the change we want to see in Canadian politics. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also effective and attractive.

We have much to be proud of from this campaign, and I’m so grateful to all of you for your support. I want to make sure that we make the most of our growth, so I’m asking you now to please make that support pay dividends by purchasing a membership, and then send us an email to say that you’ve done it, along with any volunteer commitment (from the list above or otherwise) that you might see yourself doing in 2019. Together, we can turn this campaign into a movement that sees growing Green influence and presence in Northumberland – Peterborough South!


Jeff Wheeldon


Jeff Wheeldon

It’s done, but it isn’t over.

What a campaign!

When we began this campaign, I didn’t know where we would end up. I’ve lived here for a few years now, and I knew that we have strong local cultures and community champions that make this a fantastic place to live, but you’ve blown me away! I’ve met so many people over the last few months whose behind-the-scenes work for their communities has a massive impact that few of us actually see. There are gaps in our social systems, but volunteers and organizers and nonprofits fill them with sweat, tears, and a whole lot of love. I feel like this campaign has shown me the true face of our riding, and I’m so full of gratitude! I want to give special thanks to my campaign committee: Patricia, whose connections and organization held everything together; Minnie, who meticulously handled our campaign finances; and Gigi, whose experience and support guided our decisions. A huge thank you also to everyone who so generously donated money or time, hosted a lawn sign, engaged and shared on social media, and voted for me! We quite literally can’t do this without you, and you are the reason our party slogan in this election has been #PeoplePoweredChange!

You wonderful people are going to be needed more than ever, which is why I say that although the election is done, it isn’t over. We’re just beginning a four-year era of what is sure to be significant cuts to services and instability in federal-provincial relations. Gains that have been made over decades, such as clean energy infrastructure and protection of our farmland, wetlands, and watershed, are directly threatened; racialized and sexual minorities are concerned for their rights, and in some cases, their safety; and by all accounts we’re looking at adding enormous debt to provincial budgets, to name just a few looming problems under a Doug Ford government. Today is a hard day for a lot of people: if it is for you, take some time to process it; if it isn’t, take some time to consider the perspectives of those who are feeling anxious or depressed or angry today. Then commit yourself to being engaged in your community, caring for your neighbours, and filling any gaps that may open up under the rubric of “efficiencies.”

At the same time, there is much to be celebrated! Mike Schreiner was elected in Guelph, making history as the first elected Green in Ontario. His track record before being elected is truly impressive, and while he faces a huge challenge of being a lone Green in the opposition to a majority PC government, I know he will find a way to work with them for the good of Guelph and all of Ontario. And his election opens the door wider for more Greens in the next provincial election – and in the federal election next year.

Here in our riding, we’ve seen Green growth! We’re up around 500 votes over our 2014 performance, and given that this election is more polarized than the last – and therefore we can expect that strategic voting played a bigger role in the results – our growth is even bigger than the numbers show. Yesterday alone I received two messages from supporters who wanted to tell me that their hearts are Green even if their votes are not, and I’ve been getting those messages at events and on doorsteps and in my inbox all month. We have a growing base to build on.

It’s not over. Take a break, slow down a bit, but let’s not wait four years to start building on these gains. Once I get the official election data from Elections Ontario about polling results, we will have a debrief meeting to go over the results and do some preliminary planning for how we can do better next year. The 2019 federal election is 15 months or so away, and the Green Party of Canada is already preparing. You can help right now: a) make sure you have a membership (federal; provincial), which not only gives us a bit of funds to work with ($10/year), but also ensures that we can keep in touch better and invite you to the debrief meeting; b) send me an email ( telling me about your biggest concerns, provincially or federally; and c) send an email to congratulate David Piccini ( on his win last night and let him know that you’re ready to engage with him to make our riding better, and greener, and cc me on it. And if you have a sign, please take it down but contact me to arrange for pickup – we want to reuse them, and keep them out of landfills!

As for me, even while I am preparing for a federal election in the fall of 2019, I picked up nomination papers for a municipal run this fall. Over the past month I’ve been approached by people from my local Chamber of Commerce, Municipal Council, churches, etc., asking me (unprompted) to run for Council. It’s an opportunity to continue to engage on provincial issues with David and provide some accountability there, address local issues such as resiliency in our infrastructure and sustainability in our planning, and implement some of the goals of the GPO on a local level; it’s also another opportunity to campaign, canvass, and build on the growth of this election before the next federal election. I won’t be using this website or our Green Party NPS Facebook page for my municipal campaigning, which is non-partisan, but I want you to know that I won’t be idle over the next year. We all have ways that we can be active in serving others, and this one is mine.

Municipal Nomination Papers

When you voted Green you made a declaration, if only to yourself, that you were invested in a brighter future. Our new provincial government isn’t headed in that direction, but I want to encourage you: I can still see that future, and I haven’t given up on it. I’m going to do everything I can to get us there, and I hope you will too, regardless of what our government says or does. The goal of an election campaign is to win, but the goal of the election itself is to take steps forward into our vision for the future, and we don’t need to wait for another election to take a lot of those steps. I hope you will come out to plan our next steps together: make sure you’re a member, and then watch for our invitation sometime in the next few weeks!

Thanks again everyone, your boldness and vision is already having an impact!



Upcoming Events!

The election campaign has not yet officially begun, but we’re ready. Community groups are already planning all-candidate events, and your Green candidate Jeff Wheeldon will be there. He would also love to be at YOUR event! Please invite us to your event, public or private. Bring your friends, and ask Jeff anything about the Green Vision, himself, his candidacy, or any particular issues of concern. You can reach Jeff at to book a meeting. He’d love to hear from you!

Here is a schedule of all-candidate meetings in the riding. Find a .pdf version below, with active links to maps or for printing and posting in your area! (Please recycle your posters once the campaign is done.)

UPDATE 5/20/2018: The events just keep on coming! Had to update the poster to add three new events!


Events poster

PDF version:

All-Candidates Meetings schedule (.pdf link)


Faith and Politics: A Pre-Election Primer – The Transcript

Last week I spoke publicly on the topic of Faith and Politics. These are generally two things people silently agree to not bring up, but given that I’m a political candidate with a background in Christian theology and ministry, I thought it might be best to simply get it out of the way. These things are important, and deserve to be addressed. But my interest in this came before I was a political candidate: originally I had wanted to give this talk at my church, or for the churches of Brighton, as a private citizen deeply concerned about the ways that religious language is used to manipulate Christian voters (and voters of other faiths too!). But given that by the time the event was happening I had already been acclaimed as the Green candidate, church leaders felt it would be best not to host an event that might appear to be partisan (and thereby endanger their status as charities); but also felt that it might seem shifty if I gave the talk without acknowledging that I was the Green Party candidate. So it ended up becoming a public event at the local arena, advertised by posters that included Green Party of Ontario logos in acknowledgement of my status as a candidate but with a disclaimer explaining that it is not about my party or candidacy; and advertised by another set of posters without any GPO logos so they could be posted in churches. Advertising the event online led to some trolling by people who assumed that I was promoting religion in my political party, and I’ve since found out that there have been complaints that I am organizing Green Party prayer meetings! (That rumour is definitely not true, and proof that whoever complained didn’t come to the event.)

I knew that it would be difficult to organize the talk, just as I know that it’s difficult for many people to talk about these two things in the same sentence. We feel strongly about the way that politics and religion interact, and many people wish they wouldn’t at all. But they do, and in some sense they must, and so I spoke about how the way that they interact is actually part of a greater threat to democracy and a healthy society. The hostile reaction I received from some based on faulty assumptions is exactly what the talk is about: how pre-rational moral judgments cause us to ignore information and stir up outrage that erodes our ability to even talk to each other. Or have an event on the subject.

I hope you enjoy the talk. I’m happy to hear your concerns personally; my address is on the poster below.


The damning poster. My mistake.

Faith and Politics: A Pre-Election Primer

We often hear about faith and politics, or church and state, or some variation. We have strong opinions on whether, or how, these things go together. The reality is, they have to go together somehow: they are too intertwined to be separated without destroying what they are in their essences. But figuring out how they go together needs to start with a clear understanding of what religion and politics are, and this will lead us to better understand how they interact with each other as well as how they perhaps should – or shouldn’t.

Let’s begin with what they are. Politics and religion are social institutions that serve to bring order to our lives, and they’re both centred on values.

Religion of any kind (and I should point out that while I am a Christian, this applies to all religions and even atheism) provides a structure for our life that is based on our values and reinforcing those values: we build our lives and communities around patterns of worship, ethical and moral norms, and a particular way of seeing the world. This creates our sense of community, but also of self: it becomes core to our identity.

Politics is also a social institution that structures our lives, but it’s more of an expression of those values rather than a source of them. We all bring our values to the table when we vote or otherwise participate in public life, and our laws and government are what result from that engagement, setting basic rules that help us to live together, and help us to accomplish more together than any of us could on our own. Because it is also so values-centric, politics also has a big impact on our sense of personal identity: the ad line “My name is Joe, and I AM CANADIAN” sold a lot of beer.

So if religion and politics are both structures or containers for our values, where does the content of those values come from, and what do we do with it?

Theology is the content of religion: it’s what we believe about God, the universe, and everything. It’s the basis for our worship, our morals and ethics, and our entire worldview. We get our theology from sacred writings such as the Bible, but also from the theological conversation that’s been going on for thousands of years. I first went to Bible college because I had grown up in the church feeling very passionate about what I believed but not, as I discovered, knowing very much about it! So I did a one-year discipleship program that had a handful of Bible courses and a whole lot of service and ministry experience, and got hooked. I went back for three more years, learned some Hebrew and Greek, studied the science of interpretation and a whole lot of Bible, eventually finishing a Bachelor of Arts in Religion with a major in Biblical Theology. If all that study taught me anything it was how little I knew, so I went to seminary for another few years and did a Master of Arts in Systematic Theology. I took some more Hebrew and Greek and Bible courses, but also Systematic Theology courses, learning to follow that theological conversation through the millennia. Along the way I picked up a much greater understanding of the physical and social sciences, and found that they not only didn’t conflict with my Christian worldview, they enhanced it. I wanted to take all of my knowledge out of the classroom and live out its implications in the world, so I chose to focus on Christian ethics, and wrote my thesis on social institutions and how to live as Christians in a just and healthy society. I realized that, in looking to heaven, my gaze was redirected back to earth: that a life of service to God is a life of service to my community, a life of integrity in the way that I live and serve and do business, a life of identifying with and giving myself up for those who suffer and struggle most. That led me to get involved in politics, and I chose to work with a party that fit with my values, which themselves are shaped by my theology. I’ve been pleased to see that there are several seminarians in the Green Party, including Elizabeth May herself, who was halfway through seminary before she decided, like me, that politics was the way she could minister to others.

So, all of that to say that our theology is what shapes our understanding of the world and how we live in it. It forms our values, and gives us a framework to live those values out. It shapes our personal ethics, and those govern how we engage with others.

When we engage with others on a scale larger than one to one, it begins to become something larger than personal ethics. As soon as we talk about how anything might affect more than just me and my family or my particular organization, we’re talking about politics. Given how interdependent we all are today, there is no such thing as being non-political: even trying to stay out of politics is a political act!

When our values shape our actions, those values begin to take up space in the world. Taking up space in the world makes them political, and our political institutions seek to provide a framework for the way that we live out our values and engage with other people and their values. The outcome of this is laws and policies, programs and grants.

In an election campaign, politicians try to gain your support from both ends of this: they want to engage with your values, but they also want your support for their policies. Since the late 1960’s, major political parties have actually been doing market research to find out what the values of Canadians are and what policies they might support, and then using that information to write their policy platform – so it’s not as much that they try to get your support for their policies so much as they try to write policies to fit your values and needs. I joined the only major party that doesn’t do this.

So we should see a clear progression: our theology defines our religion, which shapes our values and ethics, which shape our politics, which shape our policies.

Sometimes there is a bit of a feedback loop: sometimes values expressed in politics can influence our worldview. This can be fine: often we come across ideas from outside of our faith background that are true and good. Sometimes they can provide some corrective to ideas that we’ve held that maybe aren’t true, or weren’t well understood. We might look at the political stance of a Christian from another background and wonder how a Christian could possibly support that particular policy, and then discover where our theologies differ and why. We might also see someone from a completely different religion, or none, express a value that resonates in us for some reason and we discover that it fits very well with our theology and worldview but we’ve never thought of it before. And of course, we should always incorporate all knowledge, especially from the sciences and social sciences, into our worldview. Our worldview, including our theology, is not set in stone and always has multiple sources (whether we like it or not!).

What we need to be cautious of is the possibility that these other values and ideas might influence our worldview without us even noticing. If we are used to getting our worldview from our theology, it can carry a powerful sense of authority: it’s not just my idea, it’s from the Bible! For me, a lot of what I learned in Bible college is just how much of my worldview wasn’t from the Bible at all, even though I thought that it was. And this is where politicians come in.

The Righteous Mind

Have you ever noticed that almost every successful politician anywhere in North America is, or at least claims to be, a Christian? This says a lot about the demographics of our nation and our political history, but it also says a lot about the way we think about politics. When we’re talking about our values, we have greater respect for someone who shares them, and we want to see policies that reflect those values – all totally understandable, but it does create an incentive for all politicians, no matter their walk of life, to claim some affinity with Christians as the largest religious voting block.

You may also have noticed that Conservatives tend to do this more than Liberals. There is a psychological explanation for this.

In his book The Righteous Mind, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes what he calls Moral Foundation Theory. The general idea is that we make moral judgments all the time, and these judgments are pre-rational: that is, they happen before we’ve even had a chance to think something through, and when we do think it through, we tend to rationalize our judgment rather than question it. For example, we are all predisposed to care for a baby, and we don’t need to think it through to decide that harming a baby is wrong. These kinds of judgments are more or less hard-wired into us, difficult to change, and have a huge impact on how we see the world.

Through a lot of experiments, interviews, and surveys, they’ve been able to come up with 5 or so categories of these judgments, which they call Moral Foundations. The one I just described is the care/harm foundation, which is why we would all be outraged if someone hurt a baby, and also why we’re all suckers for cute cat videos on the internet. Other categories include: liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, and purity/degradation or sacred/profane. There may be other foundations, but these are the basic ones that are fairly universal.

What’s particularly interesting about this is not just that these moral foundations are the root of the way we see the world, or even that we have little control over them and that they’re more or less hard-wired into us; what’s particularly interesting is that people who self-identify as either conservatives, liberals, or libertarians have fairly predictable responses to these moral foundations. By getting survey respondents to identify their political leanings before taking the survey on moral foundations, they found that people who identify as libertarians really only put a high emphasis on the liberty/oppression foundation, and don’t really care about any of the other things. Those who self-identify as liberals tend to put a high emphasis on care/harm and fairness/cheating in addition to liberty/oppression, but put much less emphasis on loyalty/betrayal and purity/degradation (and may even have negative views of those kinds of moral judgments). People who self-identify as conservatives, though, value all five categories more or less equally, but put the highest emphasis on loyalty and purity. (I should point out before I continue that these are generalizations: nobody is a perfect liberal or conservative when it comes to our worldviews – thank goodness!)

This framework makes so much sense of political differences, particularly when you consider how the different moral foundations can affect each other. For example, the high value that conservatives generally put on loyalty leads them to focus on their own group over outsiders, whereas liberals are much more likely to universalize a value. We’ve seen this recently in debates over refugees: liberals tended to be more generally in favour of bringing Syrian refugees to Canada, while some conservatives responded by drawing attention to poor and elderly Canadians and veterans instead. Both were responding to their care/harm reflex, but while liberals focused on the most acute harms in the world, conservatives focused on addressing the harms within our nation first. Both were very good impulses, but they ended up having very different – and even opposing – results.

Conservative and Religious Politics

So we’ve seen that we all make pre-rational moral judgments, that the kind of judgments we make tend to decide our political leanings, and that conservatives actually have more of these moral foundations than liberals. We’ve also seen that one of the moral foundations that conservatives tend to have that liberals tend not to have is sanctity or purity vs degradation or defilement. This moral foundation is the one most closely related to religion, and it underpins a lot of our moral codes. When combined with the loyalty foundation, which is also much much stronger in conservatives than liberals, it has a tendency to make us suspicious of other religions or religious practices: because we are prone to hold up our own practices and views as sacred, and are also prone to trust our own group over others, we tend to almost automatically see outside views as competing and defiling. These themes and attitudes show up in the Bible as well, reinforcing those moral foundations for Christians.

A good modern political example of this is the concern about Sharia Law, which ranges from a quite rational opposition to some radical versions of Sharia that oppress women and sanction violence, to wild conspiracy theories suggesting that Liberals are conspiring with Muslim immigrants to overthrow Canadian society and replace our law with Sharia. The reality is that Sharia is a Muslim term for law, and in many ways is quite analogous to Christians supporting laws that are rooted in the 10 Commandments or other Old Testament laws. When I lived in Manitoba I was a member of a credit union in Winnipeg that was considering a merger with another credit union to the southwest in an area heavily populated by conservative Christians – folks who were quite comfortable with the idea of laws based on the 10 Commandments. Those members voted against the merger, almost entirely because our credit union offered what was called a “Sharia mortgage.” Under Sharia, the practice of usury or charging interest is forbidden; our credit union offered a mortgage framework that accommodated this. Even though the Bible also takes a pretty hard stance against usury, and for centuries the church outlawed the practice, there was nonetheless a major Christian campaign against this merger that can only be explained by the use of the term “Sharia”. There is nothing lacking in the mental abilities of these people, and being ill-informed can only account for a little bit of what actually occurred; rather, the anti-merger campaign was led by people who had a deep suspicion of Islam and were able to leverage pre-rational moral judgments into a staunch opposition movement that was actually based on little more than a single word in another language. Once we’ve made a judgment, it gets harder and harder for new or contrary information to get through; the judgment matters so much more than the facts, at least when it comes to how we make decisions.

Similarly, there is a lot of opposition in Ontario among some Christian groups to federal Motion M-103, a motion from the House of Commons to study Islamophobia in Canada. I want to stress that having a predisposition toward loyalty to your own community does NOT make anyone a bigot, and skepticism about claims we’re unfamiliar with can be a good thing. But there’s a difference between skepticism about rates of anti-Muslim prejudice and suspicion that it is entirely fabricated as part of a Liberal plot to help Muslims enact Sharia Law in Canada – and yet, there are Christian groups who insist that that’s what it is. Obviously it is not, but I think we do people a tremendous disservice if we just dismiss them as racists, bigots, or Islamophobes without examining why people are able to come to such strange conclusions.

For one final example, and the only provincial example I’ll offer, we could say almost the exact same things about the Ontario sex ed curriculum. There are plenty of things in the curriculum that people may quite rationally disagree with in terms of content and delivery, and there are valid discussions to be had about values in relation to sexuality and sex ed. But I’ve seen far too many Christians vehemently reject the sex ed curriculum as an anti-Christian conspiracy by Kathleen Wynne to make our children gay, and there are political organizations who encourage such views; there was even a PC leadership contestant who made that her only issue, and since her supporters overwhelmingly chose Doug Ford as their second choice they are widely reported as being the “Christian vote” that won the leadership for Ford.

And this is why politicians – and particularly conservative politicians – reach for the so-called “Christian vote”: because conservatives, and particularly conservative-minded religious folks, have more moral foundations, more triggers for those pre-rational moral judgments. Liberal-minded folks, religious or not, tend not to have the same loyalty triggers, and that tends to make them more open to outsiders and outside ideas, for good or ill. And while liberal-minded religious folks can often have a very high appreciation for the sacred, it often does not have the same moral triggers attached; they tend to appreciate sacredness, but have less concern about degradation or defilement. So a campaign aimed at stirring outrage among religious people can be spectacularly successful among religious conservatives, but almost completely miss religious liberals. As a result of this we almost never even hear about religious liberals, and this reinforces the notion that liberalism is anti-religious and conservatism is highly religious, which is not at all the case! If I had a vote for every time a fellow Christian told me that they have to vote conservative because the conservatives are Christians, I’d do quite well at the polls; that I too am a Christian too doesn’t always even register, because there’s such a strong association between religion and conservatism and this connection is not rational. People feel in their gut that conservatives are religious and religious people are conservatives, regardless of the facts.

The Demise of Policy and Ideology

In 2015 I was approached to run as a federal Liberal candidate, and as I was thinking it over I was invited to one of their canvassing workshops. In it, we were taught that every canvassing stop should take 2-3 minutes max, and that we should NOT talk about policies and issues. Issues, they said, leave people feeling upset; our job as canvassers was to create a very positive feeling, associate that feeling with Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party, and the local candidate (in that order), and then get out. On election day those people would see “Liberal” on the ballot, associate it with that good feeling, and vote for it. Before anyone feels smug: the Conservatives have the best voter information database used to target their messages to specific groups of people for the purposes of knowing how best to create that positive feeling – or worse, to create a negative feeling about their competition. All of the big parties do this, positively or negatively or both. And this is a huge problem for politics.

Our political system is supposed to lead to our governance system: the values discussion of politics is supposed to lead to policies and programs and laws, things to address the issues we face. But what happens when political campaigning works to inflame the values conversation and suppress most talk of issues and policies?

First of all, political discourse is lowered to the level of mud-slinging and constant outrage, fake news and alternative facts, race-baiting and dog-whistling and virtue signalling. This divides the public, polarizing us into extreme positions in the constant competition to find greater fault in our opponents. We quite naturally divide into little tribes, each convinced of our righteousness and ready to make war on the others. I actually saw someone online the other day identify herself as an NDP supporter and say “I consider conservatives my enemies.” This kind of tribalism is built into our psychology just as strongly as our moral foundations, and it takes constant self-criticism to avoid falling into it; and when our moral judgments are more important than the facts, and we can’t tell facts from alternative facts, and we’re all stuck in our social media bubbles where everyone on our friends lists thinks like we do, self-criticism becomes almost impossible. Those who aren’t constantly outraged and polarized are exhausted or apathetic and have chosen to disengage to save themselves. Cynicism reigns, voter turnout declines, “strategic voting” distorts election results, and nothing in our system works the way it’s supposed to.

But second, and this is maybe even more important: the skills needed to get elected and the skills needed to govern well have never been so different. It is rare to find someone who is adept at rallying people around their banner AND thinking rationally and carefully about complex issues of policy and management. There is a reason we’re seeing a populist surge in politics: it’s simply easier to win when you avoid talking about policy altogether, and those who can’t talk about policy can rarely think about it either. Rather than politics producing policy, we end up with politics that is endless campaigning and very little good policy. It’s almost as if policy and governance, which are supposed to be the purpose of politics, have been usurped by politics itself. Campaigns go on forever, and nothing gets done.

So on the side of both citizens and leaders, the political system is deeply dysfunctional.

The Threat to Religion

But religions also suffer from this. As the political value discussion gets more and more polarized, it feeds back into our religious values more and more. Values are identity issues, and when our political or religious values are challenged we tend to dig deeper and hunker down in our positions, and fire back at those who challenge us. This is a normal response, but as I said at the beginning of this talk, we need to be cautious about values and ideas from the political sphere feeding back into our religious worldview without us noticing. And when our political discourse is a war zone as it is these days, we tend not to notice!

What can happen, then, is that rather than our participation in society flowing from theology to religious values to ethics to political values to policy, we can end up instead with a closed loop between religion and politics. Instead of religion being informed by theology, we see political values and arguments dominating our worldviews; and instead of politics culminating in solving problems and writing policy it continues to focus on winning over the hearts of voters by playing on their values. The ethics that are supposed to be in between religion and politics become “whataboutism”, which is a new term that describes how we answer any charges against our team by saying “yeah, but what about when your team did _____”.

This is catastrophic for religion.

By subjugating morals to politics and distorting ethics into whataboutism, we end up with situations like in America where the same Christians who summoned tremendous outrage to impeach Bill Clinton over adultery openly support alleged paedophile Roy Moore, saying “even if it’s true, I’d still vote for him over a Democrat.” The self-titled Moral Majority, also called the “religious right”, includes such figures as Dr. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, a Christian family values organization; Dobson wholeheartedly endorses and supports Donald Trump in spite of over twenty allegations of sexual assault against him, blatant disregard for truth or ethics, bullying behaviour, charges approaching treason, and most recently, blackmailing a porn star he was allegedly sleeping with while his third wife was nursing their newborn child. Proof of any of this is irrelevant with an ethic of whataboutism, and the so-called Moral Majority brushes it off by saying “he’s a baby Christian who needs to be shown grace”, pushing the loyalty button once again. Christian ethics become absolutely meaningless in such a context, even where they aren’t just forgotten entirely, because tribe loyalty is a pre-rational knee-jerk reaction and ethics takes careful thought and self-control.

And this is how theology is banished entirely. If the ethics have become meaningless, what use are the texts and beliefs that demand those ethics? The content of our religion becomes political values, and the subject of our religion becomes our party, our tribe. We end up with religious nationalism, the deification of the state. We worship our leaders, who can do no wrong, and the nation and its symbols become sacred. Think about recent issues surrounding the American flag and national anthem, the constitution, the second amendment, and the kind of visceral, violent reactions they bring. While religious leaders surround and support the political leader, the state surrounds the church, taking on its language and repurposing it to support the state. This happened most notably in the last century: in the time leading up World War Two and the Holocaust, German psychoanalyst Carl Jung described what he saw in his patients as “mass possession”, and German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison that ethics was the only form Christianity could take that was not already co-opted by the state. The Bible was modified, and Mein Kampf was placed beside it on the altar.

Canada is not nearly so far down this road toward religious nationalism. Rather than replacing theology with political values as the primary source for our religion, we simply do away with theology and hold to a generic “faith.” I see this all the time, whenever a politician claims to stand up for religion. They tend not to say the word “religion”, even, usually just “faith” without any content. Even those who explicitly claim Christianity and openly cite it as a reason they oppose abortion or gay marriage – always popular issues to talk about, but never to legislate about – don’t actually ever talk about Jesus Christ. Rather than religious nationalism, then, we get a boring secularism that guts all religions of their content but nonetheless fights valiantly for our right to have such empty faith. While some on the left present secularism as the absence of all religion, the right defends the presence of religion, but nonetheless makes it tolerable by making it completely bland and contentless. The real purpose of secularism is not to delete religion, which is impossible, or to delete its content, which is faithlessness; instead, the goal of secularism is to allow religions to exist side by side without the state enforcing any of them. Politicians should feel free to express their real beliefs to show where their values come from, without giving up their role as a representative of constituents who may not share those beliefs and values and whose best interests may not be served by them. Instead we tend to suppress any specifics of our faith, which just frees up that part of our identity to be subsumed by political tribalism in the endless campaign.

So What Do We Do?

There are ways out of this trap, for both politics and religion. If we can fix one, it will help fix the other.

For politics, a lot of the problem – and the solution – is found in our electoral system. First Past the Post elections are winner-take-all, and as such they offer no reward for things like compromise, collegiality, or coalition; you know, the things that make for a functional parliament and good governance. With a system like Mixed-Member Proportional Representation, not only does the election result in representatives that look more like the overall vote result, but ridings would have more than one representative, which would reward candidates who are able to work together across party lines to serve their constituents. That would not only reduce partisan bickering, it would put a greater emphasis on regional representation, which is actually core to our system of governance. What is not core to it is political parties, which do not appear in our constitution, and it wasn’t until 1970 that party names even appeared on the ballot. Reducing the ability of political parties to “discipline” or “whip” their members would also be a huge benefit: it is an MPP’s job to represent the people of their riding, but if the party leader can compel them to vote a certain way, their ability to do their real job becomes very limited; their role in the riding is reduced to representing their party to the people rather than representing the people in parliament. One of the reasons I joined the Green Party is that Green candidates take a Candidate’s Pledge to always put constituents first; we don’t believe in whipped votes. Reducing spending limits and contribution limits would also help keep elections focused: right now an election largely comes down to who can raise the most money to broadcast the most moral triggers. A per-vote subsidy or some other way of supporting smaller political parties helps them to get their ideas out there, but isn’t enough for them to engage in the mass marketing and messaging that currently wins elections, so we should push to level the playing field by reducing rather than increasing the amount of money richer political parties have to work with.

But you and I don’t have a lot of ability to change the way the system works. We can do something to make politics better though. First is to recognize that most of these systemic issues are not set in stone; they are this way because we all treat them this way. “Strategic voting”, or the practice of holding one’s nose and voting for someone who doesn’t really represent our values or principles in order to try to keep someone we dislike even more from winning an election, is a widespread practice that we can simply choose to stop doing. It amounts to trying to determine the outcome of the election based on predictions of the outcome of the election – about as effective as a crap shoot, and it completely distorts the electoral system. The way this is supposed to work is that every vote represents the values and ideals of the citizen casting it, and those who win not only know that they have the confidence of the people but they also know what other major interests exist that they should pay close attention to. With strategic and negative voting we end up with people getting elected who didn’t even campaign, or MPPs who really don’t know for sure if their values and priorities are actually shared by their constituents. If we stopped casting our vote based on who we think will win, and instead just voted based on the issues and policies and values we care about, we don’t have to take the false choice of voting for one person we distrust in order to avoid someone who disgusts us.

And of course, come out to all-candidates forums to ask your candidates questions about real issues. Then watch for slogans and canned lines designed to push your moral buttons. Vote for the person with the best answers, not just the one who claims your religion or has the best jabs against your least favourite party. Don’t reward MPPs or candidates who stir up outrage without offering real solutions. Tell your MPP you expect them to be civilized and proactive in parliament, not combative and partisan. Even if we can’t change our voting system to something that does less to encourage this kind of barbaric partisanship, we can choose to participate in an election the way it was supposed to be; we don’t need to be fatalists who concede to the collapse of our democracy ahead of time.

For religious people: know your faith. Really know it. Christians: know Jesus so well, so intimately, so humbly, that nobody can lure you to bad imitations. Restore theology to its position at the head of the flow chart, and when ideas feed back from politics into your worldview, hold them up to Christ and see if they look like him – especially if they claim to. If a politician claims to be a Christian, ask them what that really means to them, how it affects their decision-making process, how it affects they way they represent their constituents. If they don’t have a good answer, tell them you’ll check in with them again in a month to give them a chance to think it through.

Most people who play on our values don’t do it deliberately: it comes naturally to some people, and the kind of political environment we live in these days trains us in how to do it even if we don’t know what it is. And the people who react with pre-rational moral judgments aren’t really out to get us. So offer grace to one another. But also know that there are some people, senior-level strategists in political parties and fringe “news” sites, who know all of this political psychology very well and plan campaigns around it. As Jesus said, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves: offer grace and peace to others, but be conscious of your vulnerability to manipulation.

And don’t be intimidated. As much as these moral foundations and tribalistic tendencies are hard-wired into us, the amazing thing is that the Gospel, the good news, is that we can and must change it. The New Testament describes this with phrases like “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” and with parables about serving our enemies, and with stories about how Jesus challenged purity laws, and with commands that violated traditional loyalties, and with communities that upended traditional authorities and hierarchies. The Christian life, and I understand this is very similar for Muslims and Sikhs and Buddhists and Stoics and many other faiths and philosophies, is largely about overcoming our inborn, ingrained, pre-rational judgments and actions and replacing them with virtues. This is extremely difficult, but it’s nothing new; I only hope that this new knowledge of your psychology will help you in your personal formation. Know that putting your faith ahead of your politics doesn’t mean picking a particular tribe in the political battle, it means making sure you remain faithful to your faith in the midst of it, in such a way that your response to such a battle of values reflects a depth of values that is not easily triggered by moral hot-buttons. Be the first to turn the political battle back into a conversation that leads to discussing real issues. Think carefully about what it means for your values to contribute to the rest of society without demanding that the rest of society submit to them.


For either our religion or our politics to truly succeed, it must be distinct from but in real relationship to the other. Religion that isn’t informed by theology and doesn’t result in a distinctive ethic isn’t religion at all, it’s just tribalism with religious language. And politics that isn’t truly informed by deeply held values and ethics, that doesn’t result in good governance, is just team sports with less contact. If either of these institutions overcomes the other, they both break down and the results are terrifying. We ARE seeing these institutions break down, and it’s at least in part because politicians and politically active people are able to play on the ways our minds work, deliberately or not, in order to take our focus off of real issues and win our support through divisive rhetoric.

But we are not helpless! Go into this election with your eyes open, and look inward as much as you examine the parties and candidates. I hope to win your vote, but it’s even more important to me that we save democracy. Don’t let divisive politics tear us apart. Love your neighbour, love your enemy (if you have any real enemies), and vote your values, whatever faith informs them.