New Green leader renews party’s pledge to invest in the North

The Green Party is sticking to its proposed plan of paying $2 billion to get the Northwest Territories connected to southern power grids, says new leader Annamie Paul.

Paul, a lawyer from Toronto, takes over leadership of the party from Elizabeth May after a year-long race in which eight contenders vied for the role, including Yellowknife doctor Courtney Howard.

Pal told Cabin Radio the plan adopted by May – connecting Yellowknife to the South Slave’s Taltson hydro dam to reduce diesel use and provide cheaper, greener power – still stands.


It is essentially the same proposal already being pursued by the NWT government, which is trying to acquire federal funding to pay for it.

Paul said any federal government should be using money to “stimulate our economy … and build a coast-to-coast-to-coast national electricity grid that runs on renewable energy.”

She added: “That’s one of the things we talked about in the last election and something we’re still committed to.”

Improving access to technology and high-speed broadband in the North is another of the Green Party’s top priorities under her leadership, Paul said.

She said she fully supported recent federal investment to help Northwestel reach its goal of providing unlimited internet packages. More broadly, she said her party would pursue using the internet to open up more employment opportunities.


“There’s no point in getting upset about people working in extractive industries if you don’t have other options for employment,” Paul said.

“Getting the same quality of broadband services up into the North is absolutely essential. It’s something that you need if you’re going to be talking about greening economies in the North.”

Paul said the North would be “right at the heart” of the Green Party’s proposals to combat the effects of climate change.


She said northern Canada’s changing climate was “sounding the alarm on what we can expect more generally in the future.”

A Green Party in power would prioritize helping people to adapt to changes already taking place, then speed up action to address the crisis nationwide.

The Green Party has previously said it would seek to cut Canada’s carbon emissions by 60 percent before 2030 – a far more ambitious commitment than those given by other federal parties.

Paul, who won the party’s leadership contest on October 3, is the first Black permanent leader of a federal party. She is the fifth woman – and first Jewish woman – to hold such a position.

She will now attempt to win the Toronto Centre byelection, called by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after former finance minister Bill Morneau resigned, in a bid to earn a seat in Parliament.

Below, read the transcript of our interview with Annamie Paul. The interview is also available on the October 9, 2020 edition of Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News.

Paul speaks after winning the Green Party leadership contest. Photo: Brittany Gawley

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Meaghan Brackenbury: How did it feel to win the leadership contest?

Annamie Paul: It felt great for me, as someone involved in a whole team that had been working so hard for a long time, under really difficult conditions. I had to do something that had never been done before. And it also felt really great because – you know, as someone who comes from a group that had been traditionally underrepresented in politics, knowing that it was going to be easier for the next person was just a really good feeling. I know that it really is good for everyone in Canada when you have diverse representation in politics.

You’re the first Black permanent leader of a federal party, as well as the first Jewish woman to hold the role. Do you think your win could signal a new era in representation in government?

I sure hope so. It’s 2020, and I’m only the fifth woman to lead a major federal party. The fifth, and two of those five came from the Green Party. So, considering how many firsts I represent, considering how few women there have been, I’m hoping that I am helping to permanently turn the tide so that we’re going to see a lot more women not only running but winning, [and] a lot more people of colour running and winning.

It would be just so nice to feel like this is the moment that things change, and we don’t hold back. I hope that this inspires more people to feel like it’s possible.

The entire world is warming, but the North is warming faster than the rest. Where do we fit into the Green Party’s climate plan?

Right at the heart. As you said, the North is warming faster. Our changing climate is having more of an impact, and [the North] is definitely acting as, unfortunately, the canary in the coal mine, sounding the alarm on what we can expect more generally in the future. And so for the Green Party, whenever we think about the North and look to the North, the first thing we think about is: how can we help people there cope with the changes and adapt to the changes that are already happening? Because it’s already upon us. It’s not theoretical, and people have needs. There’s some urgency related to those meetings at this moment.

It also gives us a sense of urgency in terms of how quickly we can speed up what we’re doing, and what we’re pushing the government and other political parties to do to avert the very worst impacts of the climate emergency on behalf of people who live in the North, and of course, people across Canada.

When Elizabeth May was leading the party, she promised the North $2 billion in federal funding to get us hooked up to southern power grids. Is this still a plan you are considering?

These are the important differences between the Greens and other political parties. When our leader presents a policy idea or plan, that policy idea or plan has to either be an adopted policy of our members, or consistent with the policies that we have in place. So, it’s not so much the leader’s plan as it is the party’s plan.

Absolutely. In the last election campaign, we talked a lot about how to connect the North, not just in terms of electricity grid, but in terms of broadband access as well. For us, it’s really important that we stop the disparity and reverse the disparity that there is between the North and access to services in the North, infrastructure in the North, as compared to the south and to the more urban settings.

I would really like to see us using the money that we’re going to be spending to stimulate our economy – amongst other things, to build a coast-to-coast-to-coast national electricity grid that runs on renewable energy. That’s one of the things we talked about in the last election and something we’re still committed to.

You mentioned broadband access. Covid-19 has really highlighted the digital divide. Where do internet, technology, and addressing those divides fall into the party’s plans?

We know there have been multiple announcements by the government in terms of getting accelerating broadband access and making major investments in getting broadband access to remote communities. And so that’s something we absolutely support – it doesn’t have to be our idea. If there’s a good idea and something that’s going to help people in communities, wherever they are, then we’re all for that. We’re very supportive of that.

There’s no point in telling people “you shouldn’t use diesel” if you’re not providing an alternative. And there’s no point in getting upset about people working in extractive industries if you don’t have other options for employment. So getting the same quality of broadband services up into the North is absolutely essential. It’s not just a quality-of-life issue, it’s something that you need if you’re going to be talking about greening economies in the North. We will support any initiatives moving in that direction, and certainly it would be a priority for any Green government.

Last time, when Elizabeth May was here, she discussed green mining. Do you think greening the mining industry is doable?

Our party has acknowledged, absolutely, that mining is something that’s not only an important industry, but it’s also something that is going to be necessary in order to support our move toward a green economy. But the key for us is to make sure that everything is done in a green way. We want to, in the short term, manage extractive industry in a way that limits its environmental footprint, and the way you do that is through more stringent regulations, through reporting, through enforcement throughout the mining industry.

Of course, in the long term, we recognize that it’s very important to reduce our reliance on mineral extraction. That being said, I come back to what I said before, which is that you have to provide alternatives. If we’re going to be moving, eventually, toward reducing our reliance on that type of extraction, then we have to be offering other opportunities for people in those communities; no one is seeking to displace communities that had originally been organized around mining.

It was really important to us during the campaign to talk about issues that matter to communities in the North, and to rural and remote communities. In the lived-experience part of politics, I’m from Toronto but my family is from very small communities in the Caribbean – tiny, tiny little islands which have many of the same issues as communities in the North. Low-lying islands in the Caribbean have been deeply impacted already by our changing climate, for instance. They really struggle with food security and access to affordable food, and certainly things like reliable internet and broadband service, and how to diversify their economy.

So even though it’s a different context, I was really sensitive to that during the campaign. We had lots of people from remote communities on our campaign. We wrote a whole policy piece about mining in particular, and how to do that in an environmentally responsible way. We wrote policies on rural and remote communities. It’s something we’ve been thinking about throughout the leadership race, and it’s definitely going to be an important thing for me as I continue forward as leader.

Rural and remote communities in the North are Indigenous communities. How you are planning to work specifically with northern Indigenous communities to meet party targets while being respectful of Indigenous autonomy?

This is about Indigenous self-determination and Indigenous sovereignty. I always approach these situations as an ally by first asking, “What is it that you need from me?” as opposed to what it is that I can do for you.

My experience as a part of the Black diaspora is one where we have continued to suffer through the legacy of colonialism and its impact on our culture around the world. I feel a very strong sense of allyship. During the campaign, a First Nations woman from BC who had been a co-chair of the Assembly of First Nations and ran for [the Green Party] out in Victoria, we made a point of writing statements together on Emancipation Day [and] on National Indigenous Peoples Day talking about the allyship and the parallels.

So what I want for Indigenous peoples and my relationships with Indigenous peoples in the North is what I would want for myself as a Black person living with colonialism. That is really to first make sure that the agency is with the leadership and the people in those communities; that wherever possible, I’m providing the opportunities for them to think for themselves and on behalf of themselves, because the leadership is there and doesn’t require any middle person. I’ve had some wonderful messages of congratulations from leaders in various First Nations communities who are seeking to work together, and I’m going to make that a top priority for my leadership of the Green Party.

In the last year, we’ve seen Black Lives Matter protests and people responding to the police violence and brutality that communities of colour face. We’ve seen a lot of people calling out systemic racism within Canada. What should the federal government be doing to help address these deep-seated issues in the country?

Police brutality falls into everyone’s jurisdiction. When we’re talking about things that are fundamental human rights, when we’re talking about things that are basic civil liberties, then I reject – and I believe that people in Canada reject – the notion that those things are the jurisdiction of any particular level of government, and therefore are not of interest to the other levels, or the other levels are powerless to do anything about them.

When we’re talking about fundamental human rights – access to a free and fair trial, the presumption of innocence, the freedom not to be stopped without probable cause – then that is something that involves all of us and involves every single level of government. My expectation of the federal government is that it exercises one of its fundamental obligations, which is to provide for the protection of every person in Canada.

During the campaign, we launched a petition calling on the federal government to create a national database of disaggregated data that tracks the use of force by race, ethnicity, gender, and other identities in order to fully understand the scale of the problem. This is the first step in creating and evaluating any measures that you take in order to combat it. There’s a lot that the federal government can do in order to help us to dismantle systemic racism in our criminal justice system.

And this is an area, particularly, where I would call on every single person in Canada who wants to be a true ally to the Black community and Indigenous peoples, because we suffer grossly disproportionately the impact of the racism within that system. Black people and Indigenous peoples are the most incarcerated, the most often killed by police. We serve longer sentences, we spend more time in solitary confinement, we are more likely to be stopped and searched, we are more likely to be arrested for minor drug offences. I could just go on. The federal government has to be at the heart of the solution to that.

At the Green Party town hall for candidates about the North, you mentioned the importance of autonomy over food – food production, food security, food sovereignty.

I believe that sovereignty and self-determination is exactly that. That means at times, the directions either our party or the Crown might wish to take with respect to issues related to food – animal agriculture, for instance – may diverge. That’s just something that we have to accept, if we are truly serious about Indigenous self-determination and sovereignty, and do what we would do with any other nation that we are seeking to influence or to have adaptive policies, which is to discuss, to negotiate, to incentivize, all the other things that we would normally do.

If we’re talking about changes to our diet, certainly I do support the move toward, to the greatest extent possible, a plant-based diet. We may feel that way, but that does not mean First Nations feel the same way. We shouldn’t have any more right to impose our view on those communities and those people than we would any other nation.

When we talk about how we’re going to move toward more food security in the North, when we talk about how we’re going to adapt our approach to animal agriculture to make it more sustainable and to help to meet our greenhouse gas emissions targets, we have to remember that our policies are not only on behalf of most people in Canada, but we also have to make sure that we approach First Nations and Métis and Inuit people respectfully, and negotiate whatever agreements we seek to have with them about a shared understanding of what that means.

It’s always difficult to have nations and nation relations but, if you’re really committed to engaging sovereignty and self-determination, it just has to be that way.