Larissa Shasko is a Master of Public Policy candidate at Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan and is the former Leader of the Green Party of Saskatchewan.
Lately I have been thinking about how the political realm must somehow be elevated in order to solve the climate crisis. We need new political leaders to inspire us, like Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old climate activist from Sweden who started the school strike for climate movement last year. By using her voice to tell the truth, Greta has inspired many people to take the climate crisis seriously while making many other people extremely uncomfortable. In doing so, she has unveiled much of what is wrong with politics and why the political realm is holding up much needed climate change solutions from being implemented. Greta exemplifies why it is so important to stop electing politicians based on how much they fit the traditional image of a politician, an image deeply rooted in masculine stereotypes, the capitalist culture of consumerism, and the endless pursuit of more oil. We need our elected politicians to be more like Greta and less like Trump. But how do we get there?
It is important to remember who was excluded from the political system in our country when it was first created. To a large extent, women and LGBTQ2 people who run for office are still subject to an exaggerated focus on their gender without enough being done to deconstruct the path dependent notion of the traditional image of the politician. Our political system is largely to blame for the ecological crisis we are now facing. In order to solve the climate crisis, we must reinvent what it means to be a politician.
I entered into politics at the age of 23, running as a Green Party of Canada candidate in the 2006 federal election. I spent the majority of my twenties immersed in the political realm, including serving as the Leader of the Green Party of Saskatchewan from 2009-2011. Yet my decision to run for office also meant that I was subject to considerable judgement that was deeply rooted in stereotypical value sets. I heard so many times that I needed to grow a thicker skin if I wanted to be a politician. What nonsense.
I was politically active during an era of political inaction on climate change, which was not easy. Fast forward to 2019 where Canadians are now aware that the climate crisis is real and urgent. This election is about figuring out how we are going to take action on climate change. Yet how can we solve a global crisis that will cause the end of human civilization when our political system is a game and we are all on competing teams? Decades of procrastination are the result of a reactive instead of proactive system, and energy and money are sucked into electoral campaigns instead of working on implementing solutions. And now, we have run out of time.
Greta gets to the root of this problem. She says, “We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win, to get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other. We need to co-operate and work together and share the resources of the planet in a fair way.”
So as Canadians get launched into another federal election, let this election be the one where image takes a back seat to policy. Canadians need to focus on electing a government that can inspire people to work together, especially as eco-grief and panic set in. These are not easy times to live in, and yet somehow we must adapt and become resilient in the face of disaster. To do this, we need to work together.
I think this starts with politicians and voters treating each other with respect. Respect does not necessarily mean agreement, but it means accepting disagreement without turning to hate or silence as a result of disagreeing. There is no place for racism or discrimination of any sort in a respectful place. The political system we still have in this country was founded on policies of discrimination. It is up to all of us to make this system inclusive of everyone who was once shut out by intentionally electing candidates for the diversity of knowledge they can offer.