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Green party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner and federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May are seen in Guelph, Ont., on May 25, 2018.Kenneth Armstrong/The Canadian Press

Mike Schreiner cannot walk the streets of downtown Guelph, Ont., without being stopped to talk politics.

“Good job Mike,” one man says as he slaps the Green party leader on the back.

“We’re working hard, eh!” the 48-year-old U.S.-born politician responds with a laugh. “Make sure you vote, no matter who it is.”

“I’m voting for you,” the man says.

Schreiner talks and walks fast. He’s got his messaging down, his enthusiasm up.

His goal of becoming the first-ever elected Green member of the provincial legislature might be within reach, according to two recent polls that had him in the lead in Guelph, a riding held by Liz Sandals, a veteran Liberal who is not running this time around.

“The Liberal vote is collapsing in Guelph,” Schreiner says. “I’m also finding a lot of Conservatives coming our way as well and it’s mostly driven by Doug Ford. I’ve had so many Conservatives in Guelph come up and say ‘I won’t vote for a Doug Ford-led Conservative party.“’

In the 2014 election, Schreiner, who’s led the provincial Greens since 2009, finished third with 19.29 per cent of the vote, just 1.5 percentage points behind the Progressive Conservative candidate, who is also not running this time, and ahead of the NDP.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we’re going to elect our first Green MPP,” Schreiner says as he canvasses his riding, where he lives in a modest semi-detached house with his wife and two teenage daughters.

Schreiner was born and raised in a farm in Kansas. He says love took him north in 1994 to Canada, where his wife became a professor at the University of Toronto.

A few years ago, Schreiner moved from Toronto to Guelph, where he has been working for decades. The city is ripe for a Green representative, he says. It’s replete with clean-tech startups and a city council focused on renewable energy and protecting its water.

“Guelph is leading in so many areas that reflect the Green party’s values,” he says.

His supporters are people of all ages and political stripes. At 70 years old, Elaine Duignan says she’s volunteering for the first time with a political party. She’s been an NDP supporter, but has fallen in love with Schreiner and his policies.

“I love his honesty, his integrity, his community involvement,” says Duignan as she strolls around Guelph clad head-to-toe in green. “You know it’s hard to meet an honest politician.”

Timothy Rogers says he’s still deciding between Schreiner and NDP candidate Agnieszka Mlynarz. He usually oscillates between the NDP and the Liberals, both provincially and federally.

“I haven’t ever voted Green and that’s mostly because I didn’t ever really think they had a chance,” Rogers says. “Now that they do have a shot, it would be really nice to have Green win Guelph — but I’m not 100 per cent decided.”

Schreiner is a known commodity in Guelph, through owning various small food businesses — his first was an organic food distribution operation. Locally, people know the Greens are about more than just saving the planet, he says, but across the province there is still the preconceived notion that the party only cares about the environment.

“The perception of the party once was that we hug trees, wear Birkenstocks and smoke cannabis,” he says. “I really changed the brand of the party as a small business owner and an environmentalist at the same time.”

Some of his policies are obvious. He wants Ontario to move to 100 per cent renewable energy and wants to close the nuclear energy plant in Pickering. But others reflect realities in urban areas like Guelph. He’d roll mental health coverage into the Ontario Health Insurance Plan and he’d implement a basic income program.

Once a month, Schreiner and his team help serve breakfast at Lakeside HOPE House, a community centre that helps low-income and homeless people.

The centre hosted an all-candidates meeting last week, in which there was one rule — no mud slinging. Schreiner and the other candidates representing the NDP, the Liberal party, the Communist party and the None of the Above party took time to praise each other.

It fits with Schreiner’s style, who has vowed publicly to avoid running a negative campaign.

“People are saying they’re just sick and tired of the three parties, all the political spin, all the vague answers, all the attack ads, so here in Guelph, I think that’s partially why I’m getting so much support,” he says.

“Who knows, maybe we can break through in Guelph and one or two other ridings,” he adds, “because I would sure like some company at Queen’s Park.”

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