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Politics Green Party launches campaign on climate emergency, but fumbles sticky topics

Green Party leader Elizabeth May announces the official launch of the Green Party of Canada election campaign as she's joined by green candidates during a press conference at the Delta Hotels Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort in Victoria, B.C., on Wed., Sept. 11, 2019.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May kicked off her campaign with a promise to lead the country in a fight against a climate emergency.

But with her team stumbling out of the gate amid questions about abortion and Quebec separatism, Ms. May sought to clarify her party’s position on issues that are not meant to be part of her core message.

“We know this is a climate emergency,” she told supporters at a rally on Wednesday. “We see clearly that we need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. And that’s Mission Possible.”

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The Greens will offer Canadian voters a plan to cut off foreign oil imports, as well as a national pharmacare plan, free postsecondary tuition, and universal child care.

Ms. May tried to get past issues raised in recent days that have detracted from that platform: She had raised the possibility that Green MPs could reopen a debate on abortion, and her officials suggested Quebec MPs could push a separatist agenda under her leadership.

“Things have been taken out of context,” she told reporters. She then invited candidates sharing the stage with her to put their hands over their hearts and pledge to safeguard a women’s right to legal abortion. And, she vowed: “We will not have a candidate who thinks they can work to break up our county − that’s not on.”

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She promised to speak with star recruit Pierre Nantel, the former NDP MP for Longueuil―Saint-Hubert, who told the Quebec radio station QUB: "Let’s separate as fast as possible. But as long as we are here, let’s defend Quebec in the Canadian context.'' Mr. Nantel was expelled from the NDP caucus in August for reportedly talking to the Greens about running under their banner in the 2019 election.

The Green Party launched its election campaign in its strongest base of support on Wednesday. Voters in the southern part of Vancouver Island gave the Greens a pathway into Parliament, but the contest now under way will test the party’s ability to run a national campaign.

Ms. May moved to the riding of Saanich―Gulf Islands in a bid to secure the party’s first seat in the House of Commons in 2011. It was a strategic relocation, based on analysis of the Canadian riding most likely to turn Green, and the gamble paid off.

But the Green’s breakthrough didn’t translate into automatic standing in the 2015 election campaign, leaving Ms. May still fighting for spot in the leaders’ debates. She held her seat but the party failed to grow.

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This election campaign could be different.

Since the federal election in 2015, provincial Greens across the country have racked up electoral successes in the Maritimes and in Ontario, while in the British Columbia legislature, three Green MLAs hold the balance of power in a minority government. A by-election in May sent a second Green MP to the House of Commons, Paul Manly.

The political agenda has shifted, too: Compared with the 2015 election, Canadians are far more likely to list climate change and the environment as leading concerns.

The national Green Party is looking at its greatest electoral opportunities, but with those expectations come greater scrutiny. Ms. May called the rough start “more like a hazing” than scrutiny, but says she won’t change her style to avoid difficult questions.

“We don’t duck questions, we answer them honestly. … When we get attacked, clarify, explain what you are trying to do, explain what our policies are, and move on. We have real issues to talk about and these are distractions.”

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