Green Party candidate Paul Falvo hopes to become the Northwest Territories’ next MP on federal election day, October 21.
A defence lawyer based in Yellowknife, Falvo successfully challenged William Gagnon for the nomination in one of the Greens’ first contested nominations in the NWT. Residents should vote with their conscience, he says, at the ballot box next week.
“People need to know that there’s a critical mass out there and that other people are voting Green too,” Falvo told Cabin Radio. “And it’s OK to vote Green. We’re making huge gains, not just in this riding, but across the country.”
While it is highly unlikely the Greens will form the next government, Falvo hopes his party wins enough seats to form a “pry point” and be able to “insist on climate action.” This action, he says, could take the form of a bipartisan cabinet and a national drop in fossil-fuel subsidies.
Live broadcast: Cabin Radio with all five candidates, Wednesday 8pm
In the NWT, Falvo advocates for climate action like retrofitting buildings and working with Indigenous governments to provide for their infrastructure needs, as well as building tourism infrastructure and capacity while still supporting mining.
Earlier this year, Green leader Elizabeth May told Cabin Radio her party is committed to connecting the NWT to the southern electricity grid with a $2-billion investment.
Settling land claims is another focus for Falvo, who put most of the blame for slow progress on the territorial government. “That is the difficult party, if you will, at the table,” he said. “I think, often, there’s not a strong incentive for negotiators and the different parties to settle.”
Falvo wants to change the incentives to settle claims and create a tribunal to “mediate and settle where necessary.”
To immediately address housing needs in the territory, Falvo said the federal government needs to put resources into energy retrofits and fund housing projects through the Canadian Infrastructure Bank. Reviving Bill C-344 is another solution, Falvo said. According to him, the bill “requires people getting federal contracts to maximize the benefits to local communities. That would have benefits for local Dene, Métis, and Inuit businesses and cooperatives.”
Traditionally, the Greens have been seen as a one-issue party. Falvo said a focus on the environment is still the Greens’ priority, but is accompanied by a full platform.
“If you were going to be a one-issue party, then survival of the human species is not a bad issue to hang your hat on,” Falvo said. “We do have a full platform and not only do we have a full platform, but it’s been fully costed by the parliamentary budget office.”
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Falvo’s interview air date is October 15, 2019.
More information: Paul Falvo’s Facebook campaign page
This interview was recorded on October 4, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emelie Peacock: Why are you running as the Green candidate?
Paul Falvo: I guess you could say I come by this honestly when I was a kid. Growing up, I used to hook up a wagon behind my tricycle in the neighbourhood and go around picking up garbage. And I was amazed how much garbage you could pick up just in a few short blocks.
Now fast-forward a few years to the 1990s – I guess that was fast-forward quite a few years. I’m now on four wheels. I was in the Navy and I went to my first environmental event in Halifax, I was very skeptical of it. Elizabeth May was there, speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club. Elizabeth was still in the NDP at that time, she hadn’t yet joined the Green Party. Elizabeth remembers that meeting really well. In fact, she’s got a frightening memory of our conversation. And she remembers that I said that I was here to check this out, to see what these people did, but I was not going to join anything. I guess, fast-forward a few years, I did end up joining some things. And Elizabeth went on, of course, to be in the Green Party. I joined the Green Party.
I’m here because of my daughter, because I’m concerned about her future. I’m concerned about the future of other kids that are growing up. What kind of a world we’re leaving for them.
My own background is law. I’ve been working in criminal defence law here in the NWT since 2001. So in doing that, I have visited about half of the communities in the NWT. And it’s given me the opportunity to see first-hand how people live and the real problems that they’re facing, because I don’t meet people when they’re at their best. I’m working on the criminal defence side of things, which in the NWT is like being a human rights lawyer. And so I see people in their most difficult circumstances and I’ve gotten to appreciate the challenges that they’re facing day-to-day.
In my own life, here in Yellowknife, people know me around town as an active volunteer through the Rotary Club and other groups. And essentially, what I’d like to do is take my professional experience as an advocate and bring that to the House of Commons to represent northerners.
Let’s start with the cornerstone of the Green Party platform: what Elizabeth May is calling a climate emergency. The Greens have very ambitious emissions reductions targets, they’re talking about doubling what was agreed to in the Paris accord, as well as making Canada a zero-emitter by 2050. So I’d like to hear from you, how does the NWT help accomplish this? And what happens to emissions-heavy industries that we really rely on, such as mining, oil and gas, and transportation?
This is the most important thing that the Green Party is doing. And if I could just speak really frankly, I don’t think we’re going to wake up on October 22 to a Green government. I don’t think the Green Party is going to get 170 seats. I expect we’re going to make gains, I don’t think we’re going to gain that much. So yes, we have a full platform. But ambitiously, what I think will happen is that we hope to get enough seats to have a pry point in the government. We hope to have enough seats that we may influence a balance of power and therefore be able to insist on climate action.
And it’s not something that we have any choice on. Like, we can talk about it: ‘Well, maybe we should do this, or maybe we shouldn’t, and it’s going to cost a lot.’ We don’t have a choice. Don’t believe anything I say because I’m not a scientist – believe the scientists. We’re told that we have very little time, we have to act within the next few years or else events will be set in motion for runaway global warming that we may not be able to control – well, that we won’t be able to.
And we’re seeing it already. Northerners are close to the land, the change is happening faster here than in other places. We see the changes more, and we see it in real life. And we also see it on our screens. The changes we are seeing are not all good. So the Greens would work to keep our emissions 60 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. And then we’d be net-zero by 2050, with intermittent goals and targets along the way. That’s what separates the Green Party from other parties, because every party has their stated climate change policy and some are better than others, but the Greens have a policy that has been costed. The platform has been costed by the parliamentary budget office. And there are dollar items associated with it, not just broad statements of policy.
Green are also going to work with other parties. I think we have shown already in this campaign, and we’ll continue to show, that we put partisanship aside. Elizabeth May was in Yellowknife in July and, in speaking to a lot of people, she said that Greens would treat it like a national emergency, which it is. The Liberals declared a climate emergency but Greens would actually act on one.
Greens would have a cross-party inner cabinet that would work across party lines to take the best from each party to work together on our common problem. And that’s one of the things that has struck me in the recent territorial election, seeing different people pitted against each other when really we’re all trying to solve the same problems.
One thing right now is that Canada subsidizes the fossil industry at a very expensive cost. We’re looking at about $7 billion in direct or indirect subsidies to the fossil industry. The Liberals just bought a pipeline, which is $10 billion to $13 billion. The Greens would cancel that. With the money saved from not subsidizing that industry, that leaves a lot of money to support other programs and industries. Mining is obviously crucial in the North and the Greens are not by any means against mining – solar panels are not made of wood, there’s going to be mining. So it’s not a yes-or-no question with mining. It’s a question of how, when, and what are we mining for? And how are we doing it? I think industry is already showing that it is innovative and sustainable and responsible. I think industry is, in many cases, leading the way and is actually showing government how to do it where government is lagging behind in being attached to old infrastructure, and systems, and ways of doing things.
In the NWT, rare-earth minerals are the next big thing here potentially. We would support that. There’s a variety of mining that has to continue in NWT. It’s the largest private sector, directly and indirectly, it’s the largest stimulator of our economy. But also other industries: the construction industry is important. Greens would work to retrofit existing buildings to make them energy-efficient, which is going to lower costs for businesses and residents. And it’s also providing employment and it gives people the opportunity, with the right training, to have good jobs closer to home. We would work with communities, with Dene, Métis, and Inuit self-governments, to achieve the construction and the infrastructure that they need in their communities, for housing and for safe water.
Also tourism, is increasingly becoming important in the North yet it’s under-developed and under-advertised. There needs to be more support to that industry but also there needs to be more infrastructure for it. We have a lot of land that’s tied up with the territory in Yellowknife, and that could be turned into tourism developments, into hotels. In the communities we can be working with Dene, Métis, and Inuit governments and groups to best develop tourism in that way.
Your party has said it is committed to a nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples. If you could bring it down to the NWT level, what does that relationship look like if you’re elected as our MP?
Well, nationally, it’s a council of Canadian governments that would have federal, territorial, provincial Indigenous governments and peoples working together on solving the common problems. Then in the North, we certainly want to advance the settlement of land claims and to fully support self-government by the Dene, Métis, and Inuit governments, who are likely the best-situated to know what works in their communities.
How do you advance land claims?
They’ve taken a long time and the sense that I’m getting, the feedback I’m getting, is that it’s often the GNWT that is holding them back. That is the difficult party, if you will, at the table. I think often there’s not a strong incentive for negotiators and the different parties to settle. We’d work to change that and also to have a tribunal that would work to help mediate and settle where necessary because the lagging-behind is not helping. It’s not helping the people that the governments serve.
The bulk of housing funding comes from the federal government and I’m wondering, what do you think can be done quickly to solve some of the more desperate housing needs for the NWT?
Well, it is a desperate situation. I can remember a tragic situation when I was in one northern community: I had a client who was one person in a small house that had about three generations in it, but too many people and not enough bedrooms. And he talked about the frustration of not having anything that was his own and feeling like he never had his own space. And while I was still in that community, there was a suicide. Not him, but somebody in that house actually took their own life. The pressures of housing were part of that. It does need to be immediately addressed.
So we would do things to keep the cost of housing lower by energy refits. But that’s only a partial solution. There needs to be immediate funding for more housing but it needs to be done in cooperation with the local governments. We’d be working with the Dene, Métis, and Inuit governments to allocate the funding in the right way to do what’s needed quickly. Some of the strategies include that the Greens would revive a private member’s bill, C-344 on procurement, which is a bill that requires people getting federal contracts to maximize the benefits to local communities. So that was something that would have benefits for local Dene, Métis, and Inuit businesses and cooperatives. Another way we would fund big infrastructure is through the Canada Infrastructure Bank. Canada used to fund major infrastructure projects through borrowing from a central bank at low or very low interest. Even the Second World War was funded that way. And this changed in the early 70s when Canada started borrowing from private banks, so suddenly we were paying interest and got into a debt trap. But other countries have shown that this – the central infrastructure bank – that model works, it’s one of the things that Germany has done. So we would use it to fund major infrastructure investments like housing and clean energy.
The NWT has a shortage of qualified healthcare professionals and broader needs in fields like mental health, addictions treatment, and Child and Family Services. As a candidate, what do you want to work on in the broader area of health?
Health is often what it comes down to. With the kids, for example, we would be increasing federal childcare funding.
Attracting health professionals is something that I’ve been hearing feedback on. People are concerned that where there are jobs, they’re not being filled. We are not always able to attract and retain professionals in health and other fields. And I think housing and the cost of living is one of the things that is keeping people away. I mean, we have a good thing going here, this is a good place to live. Certainly, those of us who are here know what a good place the North is to live. We need to do a better job of marketing that to healthcare professionals and other places so that they realize the outdoors here… what a positive thing the proximity and the quality of the outdoors here can be for their own mental health.
But we also need to work to bring costs down. And, for example, more local food production. Here in Yellowknife the Co-op, through hydroponics, is growing its own food for sale and that’s keeping costs down and also providing a source of healthier food that’s local. We need to do more of that. We need to support greenhouses and hydroponics, it’s part of the Green Party platform. It’s not being done enough, like there are starts of it but not enough. I talked to a local businessman who has a plan for that and just needs some support from the federal government and hasn’t gotten it thus far. He wasn’t getting it from the Liberals. Also with us, a lot of things come back to climate change. That is our number one. And that’s a health factor as well. Because if we don’t take action on climate change, we are going to be seeing increasing problems that are affecting people’s health. So that’s a health issue as well.
Some people see the Greens as traditionally a one-issue party. As a candidate, how do you hope to break out of that?
Well, we do get labelled as a one-issue party. And as Elizabeth May said when she was in Yellowknife, if you were going to be a one-issue party, then survival of the human species is not a bad issue to hang your hat on. Because that is our number one. And realistically speaking, if we don’t form a government, then what we hope to do is to have the balance of power. We know we’re going to gain seats. So we hope to have the balance of power in a minority government situation and be able to use that as a pry point to insist on climate action. To hold the government’s and prime minister’s feet to the fire on climate action.
We do have a full platform and not only do we have a full platform, but it’s been fully costed by the parliamentary budget office.
But it’s also important to consider how the party has changed over the years. I can remember years ago in Halifax, being at a gathering when the then-Green Party of Canada leader was passing through town. We had about a dozen people in a room for the national leader and it was a quiet potluck.
And look at how things have changed. We had Northern United Place packed, the downstairs overflowing into the upstairs when Elizabeth May was here. Climate change, the environment has become a number-one issue for Canadians. So yeah, things have changed. And I think what people need is people need the permission to vote Green because I think, deep down, a lot of people – whether they admit it or not – are concerned about what’s happening in the environment. They know that the Greens will do something about it, they want to go Green, but they’re just not sure about it. And I think what we’re seeing now is that there’s a critical mass. You’re seeing signs appear around town and there is kind-of an organic process – they’re not just planted there by us on public property. People are requesting them and want them on their lawns and people are willing to show that they’re Green.
There’s a tradition at every election that people vote for people they don’t really like because they’re trying to outsmart and outflank their neighbours, who might be voting for somebody that they like even less. And my message is that the only strategic vote is voting for a party that really will represent your interests, that really will do the right thing. And that is voting strategically, because otherwise we end up with… you see what we end up with. We’re getting people that we don’t really want. So people need to know that there’s a critical mass out there, and that other people are voting Green too. And it’s OK to vote Green. We’re making huge gains, not just in this riding, but across the country.
And another thing that people need to consider up here is that the Green Party does not have so-called whipped votes. So in the House of Commons, other parties have a so-called party whip and direction from the leaders. They have to follow the party line. Elizabeth May on her first day in the House of Commons, sitting way up in the nosebleed section, she could see that all the other MPs had a piece of paper on their desks. And she asked one of the pages: “Where’s my piece of paper?” What she was told was, “You don’t get one. Those are from the other party leaders. It’s for their backbenchers and their MPs, telling them: ‘This is how you have to vote in all the votes that are taking place that day.'” The Green Party doesn’t do that.
Obviously, we have our policy, our platform, our principles that are rooted in six key Green values – but a Green MP can vote their conscience. And so that means that in the North, particularly, a Green MP is free to speak out and vote in the House on behalf of northerners. So for example, a week ago, when the Liberals came out with a new gun-control measure, one that was going to impact negatively on northern hunters, I didn’t need permission from my party leader to speak out on that. I would oppose that for the sake of northerners. I didn’t need party permission to do that. So although we’ve got lots of members in BC and in Ontario, they aren’t going to determine what I say and do for the North.