Claire Martin up close and off-air

Filling the need for fact-based government

by Bruce Mason

Claire Martin, Elizabeth May and Lynne Quarm
Claire Martin (left) joined by Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Lynne Quarmby.

• “And now, here’s Claire Martin with your complete, up-to-date, revised forecast.” Canadians from coast to coast have learned to listen up and look closely when this former CBC senior meteorologist shows and tells. Martin is one of the most popular and trusted people in this country. She has information we use to get on with our lives. So pull up your chair for a few minutes for what could be the most important forecast of your life.

Claire brought photos of herself to our interview and like millions of people over the past decade, I’m more than intrigued. Pointing to a photo with that trademark sweep of her hand, she says, “This is me as a young emigrant arriving in Canada on a wing and a prayer, standing in front of the Columbia ice-field, 30 years ago.

“And this second one is more recent. See, look closely. The glacier has retreated, melted, by at least 40 feet. Not inches, feet! That’s very, very serious. Not only are we looking at what defines us in the eyes of the world – the Rockies, Banff, Jasper – but also that’s the freezing point, a tipping point. And just a few degrees either way is huge. We must do something, now.”

Just when I expect her to say, “Back to you, Pee-tah,” I realize this is Claire Martin, up close, and off-air and off the cuff. Peter Mansbridge has admitted the most common question he’s been asked is “What’s Claire Martin really like?” His answer: “What you see is what you get. Above all, Claire wants people to understand, really understand.”

Her attention turns to what’s inside the frame of the cafe window: Burrard Inlet. Like everyone else, she’s hoping not to see bunker oil floating on the surface. Hoping, but knowing full well that some of the dirty diesel fuel has mixed with seawater and sunk to the floor. Out of sight, swept under the carpet in the man-made silent collapse of the world’s oceans. Then a quick glance to the mountains in our view – in the North Vancouver riding where Claire Martin is a candidate in the upcoming federal election – highly visible and part of the picture.

“There was a light dusting of snow last night,” she observes with that familiar singsong voice that charmed and informed billions during the Vancouver and Sochi Olympics and weather-related emergencies. “But the snow-pack is virtually non-existent and the local ski hills closed early this season.

“I’m environmentally aware, perhaps more than most laypeople and probably more passionate as well. Have been since I was stationed in Fort Reliance, NWT, as a meteorologist. I stepped from the floatplane and you’ve experienced this: a rush of blood and a deep breath, a sudden and spontaneous reaction to the realization that something so beautiful and pristine was part of my new country.

“Environmental policy is clearly the backbone of our party. For most Canadians, acting on Climate Change is also a top priority. This will definitely require a party with backbone. But I intend to communicate candidly with business people – as well as every other North Vancouver voter – to raise awareness that we must transition to a Green economy. Fundamentally switch our mindset to renewables. The good news is this will be more profitable, as well as preferable. It’s an undeniable fact; the evidence is everywhere in the world and growing exponentially – a new, different economy. We’ve got to catch up, get off fossil fuel and greedy resource extraction.

“Here is an example of what I’m fighting for: a return of the west coast ship building industry. It’s in our blood, our DNA. We’re good at it. It’s part of our proud history here and in the Maritimes. We can build very good, clean, green, non-combat vessels in North Vancouver. Construct better, more efficient, environmentally friendly ferries here in our harbour, rather than purchase them from Poland. [Create] new and renewed infrastructure to include apprenticeship programs and meaningful, long-term work, truthfully good jobs from which people can go home to their families every day.

“And I’m also keen to converse directly with youth. The first email request I got at was to speak at Argyle Secondary School and I replied, ‘Yes, Yes, Yes,’ even though they can’t vote. I also want to be in their sandbox, so to speak, not just in business. So I’m on Facebook and Twitter; that’s @ClaireMartinGPC. Tell me the truth, what you want me to do, in 140 characters. I’m listening. I know your pain, your disillusionment.

“I left the UK at the end of the Thatcher era, witnessed the long, awful and infamous miner’s strike, with something like three million unemployed and the mindless distraction of the Falkland War. It was rough, much like what is now taking place here. Younger people can, and do, make change when they get more directly engaged, informed, active, demand a better future. And vote, please vote, even if not for me.”

Voters got a taste of Claire Martin, politician, at an English Bay Green Party press conference, shortly after the spill. “This is no way to run a port,” she said, from the podium, “systematically dismantling the infrastructure that was set in place to deal with these incidences. That is detrimental to Vancouver. We’ve lost the Coast Guard and have to get that back. Now we’re also losing the Maritime Communications Centre and will be remotely controlled from Victoria.”

She was standing shoulder to shoulder with other Greens, including Lynne Quarmby, who is running next door on the electoral map (Quarmby is the Green Party candidate in Burnaby-North Seymour). Martin says, “I’m told that Lynne went back to her lab and cried after deciding to put aside a brilliant career because she knew she had to. Elizabeth May started contacting me 48 hours after I left the CBC in Toronto. I had taken a management position in independent TV production back here at home. So I turned her down until friends also started saying, ‘You’ve got to do this.’ And I must admit there was a bit of a hole in my life.

“Believe me, Lynne and other Greens aren’t running for fat pensions or to become rich lobbyists. And we won’t be whipped into shuffling behind some party line while abandoning our constituents and promises.”

Weather apps are now more popular than social networking, navigation/mapping and gaming apps. But you should also know Martin is on the expert panel of the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization – akin to the World Health Organization – the authoritative voice for 200 countries on the state and behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the oceans, the climate it produces and the resulting distribution of water resources. She has personally travelled across Africa and China, by invitation, to share her expertise.

Martin, Quarmby and the Green Party with Elizabeth May – voted by her peers as our hardest working MP – at the helm, are united on the urgent need for fact-based government. At the English Bay press conference, an impassioned Quarmby informed folks about the threat to life from the perspective of an internationally known biologist. She threw in the fact that the blobs washing up on shore are thick residue leftovers from refining and so dirty and sulphur-rich that regulations prohibit burning it in land-based facilities. And that ships are dumping more pollution into the air than all of the cars in Vancouver and Kinder Morgan gets a cut of the clean-up bill. And when the spill is bitumen, the sea and coastline will not recover in our lifetimes. She added that, in the meantime, we are stripping away one of Earth’s greatest carbon sinks – the Boreal forests are now disappearing at a rate exceeding deforestation of the Amazon – and dumping green house gases into the atmosphere while subsidizing bitumen extraction to the point where taxpayers are now losing money with every barrel.

According to Quarmby, May and Martin, ideologically-based decisions are literally killing us. Claire has personally felt the sting of cutbacks. She was identified as a “surplus” “redundant” employee during the federal cutbacks in 1995, slashed from Environment Canada when our government decided we didn’t really need to talk directly with a meteorologist when a tape recording would do. Robo-call anyone?

Unemployed and untrained on-air, Martin took up an offer to try TV, the first qualified meteorologist to do so. Six years later, her international colleagues chose her as the best presenter of weather in the world. And again the next year. And the next.

Martin says, “I’m getting calls from scientists across the country wanting to know if Greens have their say, can experts expect the same. They are asking, ‘Will we be allowed to speak again, share our research without fear of losing our jobs or funding and no longer have to first go to Stephen Harper and his ‘communication’ team?’

And of the latest at ‘Mother Corp,’ Martin notes, “The cuts to the CBC are beyond belief – what? – 1,400 people since April 2014? Too many of us forget that the CBC is a ‘service,’ in the true sense of the word. It exists to serve us as citizens, rather than consumers. Canada needs and deserves a vibrant CBC and the future right now for our public broadcast is anything but.”

It’s time to get Claire Martin back on TV, this time on Question Period. Even if it means moving her back east, away from her beloved west coast. With Quarmby and May in the lineup – how’s that for strategic voting? Civility. Likeability. Honest MPs who know what they are talking about – worth listening to and voting for.

Get Claire Martin’s attention on Twitter @ClaireMartinGPC or via

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic.

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