At Home in the Riding: Summer in Saanich-Gulf Islands

Elizabeth May

Summer finds me mostly at home in Sidney-by-the-Sea, in my glorious riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands. Nevertheless, I am pulled away from time to time. As national Green Party leader, I marched in Toronto Pride and then made stops at the Calgary Stampede and in Saint-Boniface for a byelection. After marching in Vancouver’s Pride parade, I will be heading east again for Montreal Pride in August and a bit of campaigning for my Green cousins in New Brunswick before an early-September round of 10 Town Hall meetings. My favourite pride parade falls in early September — Salt Spring Island Pride, in which it seems half the population marches and the other half cheers us on!

At home in the riding, I concentrate mostly on meetings with constituents. There are always events and commitments, but one can hardly complain about spending an afternoon playing bocce ball — a fundraiser for our local Chamber of Commerce.

I dragooned my constituency office staff into competing as the Royal Ascot Bocce Ball Society. While we were eliminated in semi-finals, we did take the crown for best costumes (above).    

As is the case anywhere in Canada, my constituents talk about the weather. But the conversations in this century are definitely different from those in the last.  Increasingly, as we comment on what a glorious sunny day it is, there is a strong note of worry. Where is our usual rain?  

Last summer saw British Columbia in flames. This summer, we are wary. The interior of B.C., areas in the Okanagan, are already experiencing serious wild fires.  We are keenly aware of the fires in northern Ontario, as well the horrific ones elsewhere around the world. The loss of life in Greece due to fires was dwarfed by loss of life to floods in Japan. 

This overlaying of extremes is a hallmark of climate change. The longer lingering of weather fronts has been linked in studies by Rutgers University researchers to the wobbly jet streams. The jet stream is, scientists believe, being weakened by the warming of the Arctic. The pronounced, forceful east-west jet stream at mid-latitudes of previous climate systems was propelled by the strong differential between the cold Arctic temperatures and the hot equator.

With a warming Arctic, the jet stream has become loopy, literally “loopy” in shape, figuratively “loopy” in impact. The loopy jet stream creates strong fronts sitting long enough in place to create severe drought in one area, with heavy deluge rains on the other side.  

Meanwhile, as those of us lucky enough to live on southern Vancouver Island enjoy our near perfect-weather, we know that across Canada, most people have experienced unseasonably hot, and even dangerous heatwaves. Globally, the last few months have smashed through record after record. These extreme high temperatures run at odds with the predictable trends in La Nina years when cooling is expected. The World Meteorological Organization has already determined that 2018 is on track to be the hottest La Nina year ever, with records being smashed from Los Angeles to Oman to Siberia.  

“What’s unusual is the hemispheric scale of the heatwave,” Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University told the Guardian (“Heatwave sees record high temperatures around world this week,” July 13, 2018).It’s not just the magnitude in any one location but that high temperatures are being seen over such a large area.”

Yes, in Saanich-Gulf Islands, we talk about the weather, but we talk about it in the context of the climate crisis. And that leads to conversations about the Kinder Morgan pipeline. The latest news is that the sale of the 65-year old Trans Mountain pipeline includes the Puget Sound pipeline, and with that, the triggering of a possible U.S. government National Security Review. There is a lot of interest in that development.

People are also talking a lot about changing our voting system. It was a very large message from the 2016 cross-country hearings of the All-Party Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform that far too few Canadians are familiar with our current voting system. In a national poll, only 40 per cent of Canadians could accurately identify our current voting system as First Past the Post (FPTP) – even when given a multiple choice set of possible answers!

In an era when alt-right populists are on the rise, the worst possible voting system is one that allows a minority of voters to elect a majority government. In a weird way, the election of a Conservative Ontario government led by Doug Ford has increased support for fair voting in BC. Only winner take all systems (like FPTP and ranked ballots) allow the popular vote to so seriously diverge from the seat count. I sure hope we can carry a referendum to ensure we vote for change.

In the meantime, it is summer. And we are Canadian. So open a cold one, and fire up the barbecue. Enjoy. 

Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, is the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.