The Ontario provincial election campaign officially began yesterday, after a few months of pre-campaigning — the date was fixed years ago, so even though the election hadn’t been called in the technical Westminster-parliamentary sense, everyone knew it was coming. What’s the first thing Green Party leader Frank de Jong did?
Got on his bike. The news release is, admittedly, delicious:
Here’s the schedule (all times approximate):
Set off from in front of Queen’s Park, cycling to the St. George subway station
(323 Bloor St. W.)
“Ride the Rocket” from St. George to Kipling subway station
(5247 Dundas St. W.)
Cycle to Guelph via Hwy. 5 and Waterdown to Guelph.
Expected arrival at St. George’s Square in downtown Guelph.
Media are welcome to attend.
(It’s the last line that makes it comedy.)
The little stunt did get some attention, which the Greens ordinarily have to claw and scrape to get even their fair share of as a fourth party without an elected member, but I think it’s an exception to the rule that any publicity is good publicity. The Greens’ key issue is in the public mind just now. They’re as hot as they’re going to get. What they need, more than anything else, is to look like serious people.
Bicycling 100 kilometres from Toronto to Guelph on a workday is not the act of a serious person.
As it happens, I have biked from Toronto to Guelph (did de Jong bike back afterward, I’m curious to know, because that’s the hard part). It’s good exercise and a nice ride. But I was 17 at the time and it was summer and I had nothing better to do. De Jong has an election to, if not win, at least break new ground in, and he can do it by presenting economically sound, not-excessively-disruptive, workable, appealing solutions to the very serious environmental problems we face. The Greens actually have some of these, and de Jong is quite good at explaining them. I got to talk to him one-on-one for well over an hour once during the last provincial election campaign, and that conversation more than anything else set me on the path toward the green-conservative views I hold today. He can do it.
Instead, he’s rolling around the province with his arse in the air, saying things like this to the Toronto Star:
He responded to comments that he’s taking eco-responsibility to an extreme, frightening degree.
“It’s not scary. It’s normal,” he said. “It will be normal, once we start being serious about climate change. And Green party people are serious about climate change. We’re not just hot air.”
Biking to Guelph will be normal? No, biking to work will be normal. Biking to Guelph is a gimmick. And whoever wrote “We’re not just hot air” needs to be fired, even — maybe especially — if it’s de Jong himself. He’s made himself much, much too easy to dismiss as a granola-addled crackpot, precisely the image the Greens need to kill if they’re going to get anywhere.
Until they can present themselves as the serious party the Greens’ better policy documents suggest they are, they’re staying in the wilderness.