Meryam Haddad, leadership candidate for the Green Party of Canada, joins Team Advantage to discuss ecosocialism, decarbonization and energy transition, and her positive vision for workers while avoiding ecological catastrophe.
Check out Meryam’s campaign at meryam2020.ca.
For information on the GPC Leadership Contest, visit greenparty.ca/en/leadership-contest.
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Kate: Hello, and welcome to The Alberta Advantage. I’m your host, Kate Jacobson, and we’re joined today by Meryam Haddad, leadership candidate for the Green Party of Canada. Meryam — hello, and thank you for joining us here on the podcast.
Meryam: Thank you. Thank you, Kate, for inviting me. Thank you.
Kate: Absolutely. To start off with, could you tell us why you’re running for the leadership of the Green Party and why people with left-wing or radical or socialist politics should be interested in your campaign?
Meryam: I’m running for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada because I realize that participating in demonstrations and voting during elections would not be enough to change the course of history. I have a stake in the game — I will be part of the people who will live the climate and ecological crisis, and time is running out. And I really believe that it’s time for the youth of this country to have representation in Parliament, and we absolutely need to take our destiny in our own hands or else it will simply be too late. And I decided to run because I feel like my identities will attract and inspire the youth of this country to join the movement we’re trying to build. And people with left-wing — or that are socialist or radical — politics should be interested in this leadership race, and our campaign specifically, because not only myself — I am a socialist — but we have an opportunity for the party to be proud of its left-wing policies and, if there is a socialist leader, we will then see a race of all the parties towards the left instead of seeing them running to the centre-right. And that includes the current Green Party of Canada. So this is where I see the party going towards — to be an unapologetic left-wing party. And that’s missing in federal politics. So we have an opportunity of solidifying the natural alliance of labour and environmentalists; the working class and the most marginalized communities are the hardest ones hit by climate change, and they are at the forefront. And, from an ecological standpoint, we need to act immediately and drastically if we’re going to have a future on this planet. And, in this radical transition, we need to make sure that no worker is left behind, and that’s the main focus of our campaign — we want to provide a just transition to fossil fuel workers by guaranteeing good-paying jobs that are just as lucrative as oil fields are, but even would be healthier and sustainable in time. And if we look at the Albertan economy, we can see what happens when it relies only on this industry to provide the majority of revenue for the province. And we need to ensure that provinces like Alberta, and like Newfoundland and Labrador, have a diverse and robust economy that lives up to the prosperity, basically, that these provinces experienced before. And so we want to invest in the workers, not take away their rights to a great life. Decarbonizing our economy does not mean that they will lose jobs. And other ways that we’re looking at a just transition is: guaranteeing a universal livable income. No one in our society should be unable to pay for food or a roof over their head and basic services. And we saw this during the pandemic, how successful these types of programs can be at tackling poverty. And I could go on all sorts of policies, ideas that we’ve been talking about during our campaign, like defunding the RCMP and a nationalized and affordable internet for everyone — and, really, a Green New Deal and just transition is the main focus for our economic priorities. And let’s mention, also, that what we want to build this Green New Deal with many actors, that includes Indigenous communities, marginalized communities, unions, because they know where work is needed in this country. There’s the municipalities, the provinces, NGOs, grassroots movements, and experts, also, like economists and scientists. So, in our vision for this Green New Deal we want to build, we want to have many people involved in building this because we’re doing this for us. And not only within the party line of the Green Party of Canada. And I believe that our campaign has been really building — it’s a grassroots campaign, it’s really ground-up that we’ve been running it, and we gained up a lot of momentum for the past month until the deadline of the 3rd of September. And, while we’re gaining this momentum, there’s the watermelon revolution that started becoming viral online, and there are some upcoming events that will happen and things that are being organized right now that we’re very excited to bring forward in the near future, from now until the end of the campaign.
Kate: So, you’ve stated that ecosocialism is the only solution to the crises that our society is facing. Can you walk me through how you would define the term “ecosocialism?”
Meryam: Ecosocialism, at its simplest, is the recognition that the root cause of the climate crisis is the runaway greed and overconsumption that capitalism promotes. A company’s sole goal, whether it is an oil company or in Big Pharma, is to maximize profit by any means necessary, and this means cutting corners, basically — so, it means jeopardizing the safety of workers, it means continuing to ravage the environment when scientists have been saying that we are heading to an apocalypse if we don’t dramatically change our ways. And policy creation under ecosocialist principles is guided by compassion and sustainability, and the goal is to put money in the average person’s pocket, not to help the richest Canadians buy their third yacht. [laughs] Basically, it guarantees dignity and security for every citizen, you know —
Meryam: — and ensures that no worker is left behind while we save the planet and we transition our economy to decarbonized. And, also, we need everybody on board to fight climate change. Someone living in misery might care about our future on this planet, but won’t necessarily have the capacity to participate in this battle, and the climate and ecological crisis is the biggest social justice issue of our time, and we need to make sure that nobody’s left behind.
Kate: So, one of the things you alluded to a little earlier in this interview is that the Green Party has not historically been a party of labour, or even, really, a party of left-wing ideas. The BC Greens, for example, recently stalled a minimum wage increase.
Kate: And, furthermore, the language of environmentalism and sustainability, it often works to avoid politics or to depoliticize what are really, inherently, political issues rather than engaging in political conflict. Last year, Elizabeth May used the language of “transcending left- and right-wing politics.”
Kate: How would your leadership of the Green Party tackle these problems and this kind of language and ideology?
Meryam: Mhm, mhm. First of all, what’s very important to mention is: the Green Party of Canada is not linked to provincial Green Parties in comparison with the NDP, who has the membership of provincial NDP as part of their own membership. So, where we’re completely separated from one another — and it’s true; the environment shouldn’t be a political issue. The complete destruction of our planet shouldn’t be political. However, it is the other parties who have insisted on making it that way; the Conservatives would like to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that climate change isn’t real, the Liberals would like to do the same because it would affect their wealthy friends, and even the NDP, sadly, is not immune from ignoring the severity of the crisis for the sake of their political allies. And all you need to do is look at their unwillingness to come out against the LNG projects in BC and Alberta. So, it’s true that the Green Party recognizes that there is a need for immediate action on climate, and I believe that our priority is the only one that is credible on the climate crisis. And I understand the criticism of the anti-left-wing messaging, because, in their head, for a lot of Greens, we are not supposed to be on the political spectrum; but for most Canadians, it’s very important, and the messaging is. And I believe the slogan during the last election was not right, because if we look at our policies, the ones that are voted by the grassroots, we are the most progressive on most issues. We need to change our messaging in the future. So, since the start of our campaign, we made it a priority for us to bring in new people into the party; so, young people, labour activists, bold, fresh voices, people that are old members of the NDP, people that were not involved in politics, to complement those already in the party who recognized the natural alliance of labour and environmentalism. They come together. I do not see them apart. It’s true that we haven’t been good in our messaging, and the platform that has been presented in the past, during elections, does not represent what are the policies that have been voted by the membership. And, with me as a leader, I will make sure that our grassroots policies, and the grassroots decisions, are respected.
Kate: You mentioned the NDP and how you feel that the NDP, like other parties, is not credible on the climate crisis. I’m wondering if there are any other reasons you have in addition, or besides, that main one for using the ballot line of the Green Party and not of the NDP. What attracted you towards working within the Green Party of Canada versus working within the framework of the New Democrat Party of Canada as a young person and as someone who’s left-wing?
Meryam: Yes. What I can tell you is that I landed on the Green Party of Canada by pure coincidence — and I’m being completely honest there. The reality is the president of the Quebec wing of the Green Party of Canada is somebody that I used to work with; he’s an interpreter, he used to work with me on refugee claims, and he mentioned that there were some ridings still available, and I pretty much looked at the Green values, I saw myself in them, and I decided to go ahead and run during the last federal election, and it went — I had a lot of fun, he was right. He was right to suggest this to me. And, of course, the results were very disappointing for us, and I went back to my full-time job. A few months later, I was approached by comrades of the party who saw my skills in speaking during debates, specifically, and saw the potential in me of being the next leader of the Green Party of Canada. And it took them time to convince me into running — you know, I did not wake up one day and thought that I would be able to replace Elizabeth May as the Green Party Leader, but I saw very fast that I had a sense of duty and responsibility towards my generation and the next ones, and I believe that we need to be, this party needs to be, honest with itself, and we need to be proud of our progressive policies instead of trying to hide behind a centrist slogan like “Not Left, Not Right, Together, Forward.” It didn’t make any kind of sense with the policies that have been voted by the membership. Other than that, the NDP, if I look at the party — and I’m all for the collaboration, but — you know, there has been some speaking, and I know that there were some town halls regarding the Green New Deal that has been adopted by the NDP — I have never heard Jagmeet Singh say “Green New Deal” from his own mouth. Not even once. This is an example of the lacks that the NDP has. And I think that the Green Party of Canada can become the party of the progressive voices and where all the progressives ally and feel at home. And, again, I am all for the collaborating with the NDP, and I really believe that we need to elect as many progressive MPs in Parliament because we do have only a five to seven years window to save us from extinction.
Kate: So, Canada’s political and media establishment is quite hostile to ideas that challenge the status quo in any meaningful way. Over the past thirty years, the NDP has really, largely, fallen into the neoliberal austerity frame wherever they have gained power provincially, and our media ecosystem is largely owned by a few billionaire families and hedge funds. In other countries, like the United Kingdom and the United States of America, recent attempts to bring social democratic ideas to the political mainstream, such as the Corbyn project or Bernie Sanders’ campaign, have been met from opposition from within their respective parties as well as an incredibly unfair partisan and hostile media. How would you build up support, both inside and outside of the Green Party, to weather a similar kind of opposition to your ideas?
Meryam: First of all, we’ve been trying so hard to bring in new members into the party. We have a lot of support from within — there’s a lot of people that consider themselves as leftists and socialists and ecosocialists within the party. Now, the establishment has another perception, and it’s a bit the same within the Green Party of Canada, but, in time, the governance can change through electing new people on the federal councils, for example. So, there is hostility, also, from the media, but the thing is: the established media has been dying for years, and more and more people recognize the flaws of consuming your entire worldview through the filter of moneyed interests who own the papers and the news networks. And independent media organizations have been gaining a lot of ground lately, and this interview is a testament to that — that I can do an interview on a podcast during an election is something no one would have expected twenty years ago. And independent media will always be the best platform for progressives. And, at our core, we stand against the wealthy elite — why would they ever give us a chance to use their platform to push our policies? And we saw this with Bernie, like you mentioned. He did a lot of independent media interviews as well as live broadcasts on social media, and I feel that, with the way news is going, we don’t have to rely on being covered by the big media networks anymore. And I take pride in this.
Kate: So, the NDP as a party formally affiliated with trade unions, is ostensibly able to use this formal alliance with organized labour to be the voice of working people in Parliament. Of course, as I’m sure you’re well aware, this doesn’t always result in great results for organized labour or for working people more broadly. I’m curious — how would your leadership of the Green Party engage with organized labour in Canada?
Meryam: It’s great you mention labour, and being that I’m on The Alberta Advantage, I’ll talk about oil and gas workers —
Meryam: — because I’ve had many of them asking how we can be oil-free by 2030 and still protect their jobs, right? And part of our proposal for a Green New Deal is — it’s only an idea so far, okay, and it’s only a bold idea so far, but it can be a Green Party of Canada policy. It’s a federal jobs guarantee and free re-training, meaning no matter what happens to your industry, there’s no more layoffs. And we all remember the oil crash, you know — we understand that these jobs are unsustainable —
Meryam: — and everyone sent home, looking for work and struggling to afford to live, won’t happen within a Green New Deal. The Green New Deal will put an end to that entirely. And if you lose your job, you will be given a new one and be trained to do it for free. And not any kind of job — it will be sustainable, good-paying job, unionized and with benefits, and the best way to engage with labour isn’t to make empty promises, like other parties, and continuously claim to be on their side, right? It’s to take action to protect their interests. Even while the NDP is still seen as the party of labour and the party of unions, if we outperform them on labour, then people will take notice. And it’s all about the messaging and what we suggest as policies to replace these jobs. Labour needs a champion, I believe, and who won’t let any single person fall through the cracks. And with the federal jobs guarantee and free re-training, we can be that champion.
Kate: So, if listeners are interested in your campaign, Meryam, and they want to learn more, where should they look?
Meryam: They can have a look on the website, at meryam2020.ca. We are all over social media, also. And you can send us emails at email@example.com. This is how people can connect with us.
Kate: So, if people are listening to this podcast and they are a member of the Green Party and they would like to vote for you — because, as you’ve mentioned, the deadline for registration has passed — how will that process work?
Meryam: The voting will happen between the 26th of September and the 2nd of October, and that’s it. That’s it, that’s the deadline to be able to vote, and the next leader will be announced on the 3rd of October. And hopefully it will be an ecosocialist.
Kate: Incredible. Meryam, thank you so much for joining us here on The Alberta Advantage. It was a real pleasure to have you on.
Meryam: Thank you so much, Kate. Thank you.
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