Candidates forum in Swift Current

Naomi Hunter speaks during the Saskatchewan Green Party leadership forum in Swift Current, Feb. 8. Seated, from left, are George Wooldridge with his five-year-old son Kourosh, Maria Lewans, and interim party leader Richard Jack.

Swift Current resident Maria Lewans is a contender in the Saskatchewan Green Party’s current leadership race.

There are three candidates looking for support from party members to become the new leader after the recent resignation of Shawn Setyo, who was the party leader since 2016. The two other leadership candidates are Naomi Hunter and George Wooldridge, both from Regina.

The three leadership candidates were in southwest Saskatchewan on Feb. 8 and 9 to present their platforms during leadership forums in several communities, including an event in Swift Current on Saturday evening, Feb. 8.

Lewans said it was not an easy decision to enter the leadership race, and she has been thinking about it since Setyo stepped down in November.

“I started considering it and thinking about possibly what that could be, because I tend to be fairly radical, and it's just presenting this vision that I didn't feel heard,” she told the Prairie Post. “I struggled, because sometimes you want to just live your own life and just be the change. I could just go and live off the land somewhere. Do I do that, or do I feel we're all part of the whole and we have to work together to do this.”

She eventually decided to enter the race, because it will provide her with an opportunity to share her views with others.

“I just felt really strongly that it's almost now or never in this world,” she said. “We got to do something quick and so I guess I just find a platform wherever I can and use it.”

She has used various political platforms in the past to talk about the need for dramatic change in human society to live in greater harmony with nature. She was a mayoral candidate in the October 2016 municipal election in Swift Current, she represented the Saskatchewan Green Party in the March 2018 provincial by-election in Swift Current, and she was an independent candidate in the Cypress Hills-Grassland riding during the October 2019 federal election.

“I think we're not focusing on the right issues a lot of times in politics,” she said. “We get caught up in arguing about a lot of petty stuff and a lot of stuff that maybe doesn't matter or it does matter, but it's taking our focus away from the big deal. We're not really getting to the root of the problems here when we talk and so I like to focus on what is at the root of all of this.”

She feels society is not working to benefit everyone and she blames capitalist and consumerist mindsets for the strive and inequality. She believes there is a need to build stronger communities with a closer connection to the land. She therefore considers agricultural reform to be essential as a means to create sustainable local food production systems.

Lewans is convinced the Saskatchewan Green Party’s platform can result in success in the next provincial election if it is presented in a practical manner to voters.

“It's presenting a vision and how you explain things to people,” she said. “It's our ability to explain to people and have them understand what we're trying to say and how we plan to accomplish stuff and why it will work, and that's probably a role the leader would definitely play.”

George Wooldridge was a long-time NDP supporter before he joined the Green Party. He was a candidate in the 2008 federal election for the Green Party of Canada in the Regina-Wascana riding. He feels the NDP, both federally and provincially, do not have strong policies to address the climate crisis and other issues such as poverty and inequality.

“In the last federal election, it was Green candidates who were asking the tough questions, the questions the NDP used to ask, but now they're afraid to,” he said.

He is convinced the Saskatchewan Green Party can become a real alternative to the Saskatchewan NDP in the next provincial election.

“If we run the best campaign we can, I think there's a good chance we could supplant the NDP as the opposition, because look at Prince Edward Island,” he said. “They went from having one Green MLA to having the official opposition as the Green Party, and they pushed the Conservatives into a minority. Why can't we do that that here?”

He believes the Saskatchewan Green Party can have broad-based appeal to voters in urban ridings as well as people in rural Saskatchewan, who have been shut out of the political process.

“The issue now is that we have to persuade people who do care about the environment, whether they voted Liberal before, Sask. Party, NDP, whatever, that the time is now to lend us your vote, because we're running out of time,” he said.

Naomi Hunter was the Green Party of Canada candidate for Regina-Lewvan in the 2019 federal election. She achieved the best voting results of all Green Party candidates in the province, and doubled the voter support in that riding for the party compared to the results in the 2015 federal election.

She has been involved in environmental and community activism for her entire adult life. She was actually planning to run for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada after Elizabeth May announced her resignation, but Hunter changed her focus after Setyo’s resignation. She feels the Saskatchewan Green Party needs a strong leader to guide the party in the 2020 provincial election.

“It is important that we get somebody in that leadership position that is able to garner media attention, that is able to capture people's imagination,” she said. “We need somebody that is going to stick in people's minds and stick with this for the long term. One of the issues that political parties sometimes have is that it is very taxing to be the leader, and you need somebody that's going to stay and be the Elizabeth May of Saskatchewan for a good decade or more. That's me.”

She is convinced the Saskatchewan Green Party can have electoral success in the upcoming provincial election through good, old-fashioned hard work.

“Ridings are won by people making connections, they're won by knocking on those doors,” she said.

She had the support of 300 volunteers for her campaign in last year’s federal election, and it is important that voters will hear the candidate’s name numerous times during an election.

“I want to see not one, but several Greens either get elected or make significant gains,” she said. “Right now, people feel inspired, because they've seen me do well. We need to see more successes like that.”

She is a strong proponent of electoral reform to create an alternative to the current first past-the-post system, because she heard from many people who feel disassociated from the electoral process.

“They love that the Greens stand for electoral reform,” she said. “They're tired of feeling as if their vote doesn't count.”

She referred to the origins of the Saskatchewan Green Party, which was called the New Green Alliance when it was formed in 1999.

“Back then, just like now, we felt that the NDP has lost its way and was no longer representing people at the bottom,” she said. “There was no longer the voice that was looking out for those who had the least voice. We're there again. We're at a crossroads. The NDP has not been able to provide a strong front to what the Sask. Party is doing and we need another voice in the legislature.”

The Saskatchewan Green Party will have several leadership forums during February in different communities in the run-up to the leadership convention, which will take place in Regina on Feb. 29 to elect the new party leader.

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