What can one Green MPP do?
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Mike Schreiner, leader of the province’s Green Party and its sole representative in Queen’s Park, spent his first week on the campaign trail reminding voters what he’s done in his four years as MPP for Guelph — and what his party could do if they win more seats.
Schreiner is jolly and persistent (he spent almost a decade leading the party before he ever made it to Queen’s Park), with an impressive record of fighting for green causes despite his party’s relatively few resources. He’s pretty honest, too.
As the Star’s fact checker, my job this election campaign is to listen to everything our party leaders say over the course of one week and see if they’re telling the truth. I do it to keep our leaders accountable, and because facts matter. A shared understanding of facts builds trust, and trust is the backbone of our democracy.
My experience fact checking during the federal election campaign last year, where I judged our politicians to be largely honest, suggested I wouldn’t uncover a trove of lies this time around.
If Schreiner is any indication, that prediction will hold.
Schreiner stuck to what he knew. In his press conferences and rallies last week, he focused on the policies most central to the Green Party’s platform: mental health, housing, and, of course, the environment. His statistics and claims on these topics largely checked out.
At his campaign kick-off rally in Guelph, Schreiner rattled off a laundry list of things that he’s accomplished in the past four years, both on the provincial level and in his riding, Guelph, from helping to close the Dolime Quarry to delivering funding for youth mental health. When I asked those who worked closely with him or benefitted from each of these wins, they confirmed that Schreiner played a key role and was justified in taking some credit.
The Green leader’s nose grew when talking about his party’s broader role in Ontario’s political landscape, and the policies put forward by other parties.
At an event in London Friday, Schreiner said his is “the only party that is saying let’s have a carbon budget year over year of how government’s going to crush climate pollution.”
The Liberal Party plan, notably, includes a chart that details by how much each of its policies will reduce greenhouse gas emissions per year through 2030, to surpass Canada’s emissions target of 40 per cent below 2005 levels.
At that same event, Schreiner said, “because of how effective (the Green party has) been at Queen’s Park, we see other parties now putting forward plans to address climate.”
While parties’ climate plans have certainly gotten more detailed and ambitious since Schreiner was elected to Queen’s Park — whether that is a result of his advocacy or not is up for debate — the statement that parties are only “now putting forward plans to address climate” because of the Green Party’s presence at Queen’s Park is demonstrably false. By just one example, it was in 2009, more than a decade before the Greens joined the legislature, that then Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty introduced a cap-and-trade system to curb Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, I’d wager that Schreiner was making a political statement here and not legitimately suggesting that the environment wasn’t on other parties’ agendas until the Greens joined the fray. But either way, he clearly overstated his influence, and his words, as he said them, just weren’t true.
Schreiner stretched the truth a couple of times when speaking about the Greens’ ambitious mental health plan.
“That’s why I’m so proud the Ontario Greens are the first party in Ontario history to put forward a mental health strategy to make mental health services available under OHIP,” he said when he opened his campaign May 4 in Toronto.
While mental health policy experts confirmed that the Greens’ proposal to bring uninsured mental health services under OHIP is indeed novel, Schreiner misled here by suggesting that OHIP doesn’t currently cover any mental health services. In fact, many mental health services are covered, including psychiatry, and any service provided by a family doctor, or in a publicly funded hospital.
There are a couple of things that likely worked in Schreiner’s favour this week: First, he had only an hour of filmed speaking appearances (by comparison, the federal leaders I checked last year had three or four times that over the course of a week).
Second, the Green party is an extreme longshot to form government, polling at just 4.7 per cent. As a result, Schreiner doesn’t face as much scrutiny from reporters, and doesn’t get asked about the same breadth of issues as some of the other leaders, making it easier for him to stick to his playbook.
In total, I found 3 false claims in 60 minutes of filmed public appearances. I also deemed 4 separate claims to be a stretch, meaning the claim was broadly true but misleading in the specific context in which Schreiner said it.
That works out to a “dishonesty density” of about one false claim every 20 minutes. As I continue on to fact-check Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca next week, followed by New Democrat Andrea Horwath and Progressive Conservative Doug Ford, this is the measure I’ll use to compare the leaders.