Monday 3 October 2011

An interview with Green Party leader James Beddome

I sat down with The Green Party of Manitoba leader James Beddome for a coffee at Stella's on Sherbrook. I do not guarantee that the transcript that follows is 100% accurate, but it is at least a close approximation:


Anybody Want A Peanut?: So, some background: you're studying to become a lawyer ... what brings you into this nasty, dirty arena of Manitoba politics? Why not work as a lawyer for 10 years, make a pile of cash, and then enter politics?

James Beddome: You know, politics has always been my passion. At a very young age I have wanted to get into politics. I think I looked at it the other way: law was going to be my way into politics, along with a Political Science and Economics degree. So for me, the question is why not be involved, and how could I not be involved? I literally am a little bit of a political animal, so that's why I am involved and I'm enjoying it as it goes along, and I hope that I get elected as MLA, but if that doesn't work out, then the plan B is I go through law school and I'll see what happens in four years.

AWAP: You did a great job in the televised debate.

JB: Thank you.

AWAP: You have been excluded from other forums, though you seem to be getting more recognition in the media. But as a party that does not have any members in the legislature and does not have a full slate of candidates, why should the Green Party be considered as one of the big players?

JB: I think that all parties should be included, and I extend that beyond the Green Party, because I think it's really important that we get the ideas out there. I think voters are smart enough to be able to determine which ideas are good for themselves, and to not include the smaller parties creates such a structural disadvantage in the sense that all you hear is the status quo ideas. I think it's good for people to hear new bold ideas, even if they're not ready to agree with them, because I think it helps to create change in and of itself.

AWAP: But you have to draw a line somewhere...

JB: Our argument was that we had candidates in 56% of the seats -- 32 of the 57. We did want a full slate. We're going to keep pushing for that four years from now, so our point is we want some credibility, we are becoming a provincial party: we've got a candidate in Flin Flon, we've got a candidate in Kewatinook, we've got a candidate in Brandon, we've got rural candidates and we've got candidates in Winnipeg, so it's not as if we don't have fairly accurate diversity and representation. I should put another diversity plug out there: we have a 50% female slate, we've got I think five candidates of aboriginal and/or Métis descent, and two people you could identify as visible minorities as well as people who are part of the gay and lesbian community, so we have full diversity in Manitoba.

AWAP: Okay. So... tax: In the past 12 years the tax brackets have rarely been increased, resulting in a de facto tax increase every year, and we have one of the lowest basic personal exemptions in Canada, meaning overall we are one of the highest taxed provinces in the federation. Does the Green Party promote any meaningful tax reform?

JB: Ya, we propose bold tax reform, and I have to be frank and admit that we know it will take a while to implement, so what we're trying to sell as a party is that, look, we'll give you the 20-year vision and work towards it rather than people who only look at their four year fortunes. So, to go to our tax plan, it actually deals with what I talked about on the debate which is the universal basic income, and it would work as a de facto positive tax exemption.

The way that we want to structure it is such that everyone is guaranteed a certain set minimum -- let's say $10,000 per year.. maybe that's too high, but it works well for the numbers that I'll use here -- so, $10,000 per year is what people would be guaranteed to receive -- about $800 per month -- so you have that positive amount. Now, on every dollar you earn ... let's go high, let's say 50% -- now I know that's going to scare voters but this is just hypothetical ... but if we're taking 50% of every dollar you earn but you're guaranteed $10,000, when you start earning $20,000 you've actually paid fully back into the system. The system would operate in such a way that it ladders up as you earn an income. It's a more fair way that we think we could reform the tax system. Now it would require a lot of cooperation from the Feds, and we think we could replace a lot of social service programs -- employment insurance, other social services, employment and income assistance programs -- with this, while still retaining some special programs for people with disabilities. So we think it's a bold way to reform the entire tax system. I'm not naive enough to think that it will happen overnight, but that's why I hope we get into the legislature and have some of the resources available to research this, talk to the people in the tax department and have a little more weight as to why I'm requesting this information ... why I should be entitled to have it.

AWAP: One thing that I write a lot about on my humble little blog is Bipole III. We've talked a little bit about this before. If I understand the Green Party's position, it's that the Bipole III line doesn't need to be built at all. We can use our existing capacity and build on that with conservation and clean energy. Is that more or less correct?

JB: That's fairly correct. I would just caution it with saying that we may build it at some point, but what I think is most important is that our own regulator, the Public Utilities Board, is warning that we may lose money on these export deals that we're signing. Maybe over time we'll be able to pay down this debt, but of course Manitoba Hydro wants to increase its debt to equity ratio. We don't have a Manitoba energy plan. We have some good programs like Power Smart, but I don't think we've taken energy conservation seriously in terms actually trying to focus on demand management. Further to that, we think that there is a lot of capacity in southern Manitoba for the 1000MW of wind energy that's already licensed. That adds to your reliability factor because you have some local electricity -- granted intermittent electricity, so there is a need to overcome some of the technological barriers with intermittent renewable energies -- but the fact that we have the base of hydro that we can generally count on I think very much helps us, because we can learn to become leading edge managers in what they call "smart grid technology" and how you manage energy flow with intermittent energy and a baseline of stable electricity, in our case hydro. So, it's sort of like "let's hold off and think this thing through." We don't have to build it right away. The real driver for building Bipole III is Keeyask and Conawapa, so what we're trying to say is let's not just talk about one line, let's talk about the whole energy development strategy and then let's try to map out an actual plan, and I think there are so many more possibilities that might open up if we look into creating an actual plan.

AWAP: Your hair always looks great.. Do you have a stylist you can recommend, or certain products that you use?

JB: (laughing) Really I don't even have a consistent styling product that I use, but thank you. The Free Press has some pictures of my hair dangling in my face so it doesn't always look great.

AWAP: Actually it's better that way.

JB: Oh you think the hair in the face works? Okay..

AWAP: As a former employee of AECL, one thing that caught my eye was a promise by your party to stop, if I understand it, the transportation of nuclear products across Manitoba. I can tell you, as far as risks to the population goes, this is one of the smallest ...

JB: It may be a fairly small risk. I know that they have very secure cement containers. I guess for us the biggest problem though is they want to store it up in Creighton Saskatchewan, is basically the issue, right? They want to store waste coming from Bruce in Ontario in Saskatchewan, and what that means is the waste is going to be transported through our province, and I think that Manitoba needs to stand up and say something. Yes, the risk needs to be mitigated, but not only that it's wear and tear on our highways .. we're basically on the losing end of the stick on that one on so many levels and we need to stand up and say something. Why should we get pushed over by Ontario and Saskatchewan? I do know that it's a small risk but there are a lot of people who are concerned about it and I suppose Greens are not particularly in favour of nuclear energy. The waste factor makes it problematic, so part of it comes from that.

AWAP: All of the other party leaders seem to be in favour of hiring more police officers for Winnipeg, even though we have high per capita staffing levels already. I know you have a different idea about that. Explain ...

JB: Ya, it's about actually interacting police with the community. Basically what we would like to do is embed police officers in the same community on a regular basis. So in my riding here in Wolseley you would have, I don’t know the staffing levels so this is hypothetical, let's say you had 6 police officers, that's 2 police officers per day on a rotating shift. So let's just say .. you would have two officers who regularly work in Wolseley all the time. They would get to know the people in the neighbourhood. If you get to know the people in the neighbourhood they will be more comfortable confiding information and you will also be able to figure out the patterns and habits of people and you'll have a better idea of where you should be keeping a closer eye, and we think that's a way of making policing more effective. The province already funds police officers here in Winnipeg and in other places in Manitoba, and basically what we're saying is, we're fine with that but here is how we want you to implement it. There is a lot of power with the province to actually work with municipalities in terms of offering funding but making it conditional on certain conditions.

AWAP: I was going to ask you about that too, because Winnipeg is a big battleground and all of the parties are planning things for Winnipeg: soccer fields, police officers -- here is how many we want you to hire and how to deploy them. Why is it the province's responsibility to sort of micromanage the city this way in the first place? Why not allow city hall to deploy officers as they see fit, or build soccer fields as they see fit?

JB: Well, because inevitably city hall is going to be coming to the province for money. That's just the reality of finances in Canada. If we're going to be funding the municipalities -- and we should be better funding our municipalities in Manitoba -- then let's try to do it in such a way that we can work constructively together. Too often we have the city and province working at opposite aims, and it's the citizens that pay. We get ineffective government and we get waste of your tax dollars because one level is trying to do one thing and the other level is trying to do the other, and it creates needless expenditure of time and money.

AWAP: Alright, so last question: there are I imagine lots of undecided voters out there who don't who to vote for because they are all promising the same thing or they're disengaged. For somebody who is going to the polling booth on Tuesday, what would you tell them if you could say something? What should be the one issue on their mind?

JB: If they don't want to vote then they need to understand that they're letting somebody else make the choice for them. If they're scared into voting for one party or the other because they're being told they have to vote strategically, they need to understand that a vote isn't just a vote for the party that's going to win, but you should vote with your conscience, vote with your heart, vote for who you think would make your best representative. You're not voting for the Premier, you're not voting against Hugh McFadyen or Greg Selinger. You're voting for the representative of your local area. People should to take that into consideration as well. I'm finding a lot of undecided voters here in Wolseley. This isn't a riding that the conservatives are going to take. This is a riding where you have a choice of a number of people and you have to make that choice.

AWAP: Good. Thank you very much and good luck in the election.

JB: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to do the interview.


The Green Party finished a distant second in Wolseley in 2007, but they have since increased in stature on the political scene. If they have a chance to win a seat, this is where they would do it. It will be interesting to watch on election night.


Rod Rouge said...

Great Interview. Hope James and Co. keep working hard.

The View from Seven said...

Nice work, Cherenkov!

One Man Committee said...

Excellent interview.

There is no question that the Greens have the most audacious platform and I know some people will say that it's fanciful because they have no chance of winning, but it's refreshing to hear about a party looking beyond the 4-year electoral cycle. And there are some interesting ideas worth discussing in there as well.

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