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Will He Be Green Leader?

Thursday, July 6, 2006

It terms of leadership candidates for the Green Party of Canada, David Chernushenko’s looks like the your worst nightmare…if you’re the leader of one of the other Big Four Federal political parties that is. Not only is he currently one of three deputy leaders of the Green Party, he’s ran as a candidate in the last two Federal elections in the riding of Ottawa Centre, garnering the largest number of votes for a Green candidate of any riding in the country in the last election.

As a businessman, he owns Green & Gold Inc., a Green energy-consulting firm that advises corporations, manufacturers and governments on energy efficiency and cleaner production in order to save money and create new business opportunities. As an educator he’s the founder of the non-profit Clean Air Champions.

He was also a member of the International Olympic Committee's Advisory Commission on Sport and the Environment. He helped shape both the Toronto and Vancouver Olympic bids. He’s worked for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and the United Nations Environment Programme.

And to top it all off, he’s the only true bilingual candidate in the leadership race. He also says he’s fluent in a third tongue: the language of common sense, which he hopes to use to persuade more Canadian voters to go Green.

With this killer resume, Chernushenko is out to prove himself fit to lead the Green Party and it turn prove to the general public that the Party is ready to lead and govern. “I’ve got five priorities that I’ve put forward to show how we are about so much more than the environment, but also how the environment touches on everything that we, as humans, do,” explained Chernushenko in a phone interview Thursday.

“The one I like to lead off with is eco-logical or Green economics,” says Chernushenko about his biggest priority. “It surprises people to hear a Green talk about economics and it surprises people even more to hear a Green talk knowledgably about economics and have quite a clear vision of the shifts we need to make in order to have the economy work for us rather than us working for the economy.”

In the past two Federal elections the Green Party has run a candidate in all 308 ridings in Canada; nearly three times as many candidates that the party ran in the 2000 election. This past January, the Green Party won 4.5 per cent of the popular vote, quite nearly even electing a Green MP in the riding of White Rose, with third place showings for Green candidates in Calgary West and Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. Chernushenko makes it clear what he thinks has been holding the party back from winning a seat in Parliament.

“More than anything we're just not yet fully understood by most voters,” he says, “I talk about how any progressive Canadian could, and indeed should, be voting for the Green Party, if people knew what we were about. But people still have a very limited assumption about what the Green Party is and that’s, ‘nice people protecting the environment’

Chernushenko says that he especially enjoys talking with people who end up having a true “awakening” about all that the Green Party entails. Communication is Chernushenko’s method to spread the party’s base, by appealing and reaching out to groups outside the Greens’ “comfort zone” and getting the electorate familiar with the party’s ideas between election cycles.

“We’re only going to get elected when we get 20 or 25 thousand voters in one riding and my job as a leadership candidate and ultimately should I win as leader, is to get the party better understood.”

Chernushenko doesn’t see this as an overnight development though; from his own experience he’s pragmatic enough to know that it’s not about promising to put a Green in Parliament by the next election, but instead to continually build a broad base of party support. But Chernushenko is optimistic too, he sees the rise in the Green Party’s profile and uses his own success as a candidate as a model of how the party should measure success.

Chernushenko’s 7000 plus votes in 2006 increased from the roughly 4700 he got in 2004, and for the next election he looks to hit the 10,000 mark. As party leader, Chernushenko would like to see the party focus on its money and energy on 20 ridings it had the strongest showings in, while continuing to build support cross-country.

Part of Chernushenko’s uphill battle though, is the modern phenomenon of strategic voting; but even here he has a strategy. “I’m using the exact terminology that other people use and turn it on its head. A wasted vote is a vote that you cast for someone you didn’t really like because you thought you were voting strategically. But a strategic vote is when you have a strategy:'I like these people, I believe in what they’re saying. They can’t win in this election but if I vote for them I’m going to get them that much closer so that in the next election, more voters like me will vote for them and qualify them for more financing.' That’s voting strategically.”

Much has been made lately of the Official Opposition, or rather lack there of; when asked about what a Green opposition would do in today’s Parliament, Chernushenko gave three criteria: principled, practical and newsworthy. “We would be offering positive alternatives to the way things work now, we’d be putting them out there for the party in power to (we hope) adopt, because an opposition party isn’t just about saying ‘no’, it also has important role to play in saying, ‘here’s a better way of doing it’. Were going to put most of our energy into building things.”

Chernushenko credits the team he’s built in Ottawa Centre for getting him this far and believes that it’s his strong record for building teams and getting his message out that will tip the leadership scales in his favour.

Chernushenko will be in Guelph for a meet and greet at the Bookshelf Green Room on Sunday July 9 from 6 to 8. The Green Party of Canada’s Leadership convention will take place in Ottawa on August 24-27.

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