– by Bruce Mason –
Common Ground readers may recall a five-minute video in 2007 that attracted hundreds of thousands of hits and the rapt attention of Canadians, even our out-of-touch mainstream media. It was shot during a protest against a Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) meeting of “leaders” from Canada, Mexico and the US, at a luxury resort in Montebello, Quebec. The video captured three men who were covering their faces with bandanas and carrying rocks, and arrested as police quelled a worsening confrontation. Reviewing his footage, the filmmaker noticed some “protesters” were wearing the same boots as the arresting police officers. Although nervous, Manly posted the footage on YouTube, saying: “I didn’t know who these guys were. CIA? CSIS? Blackwater agents?” Amid a storm of controversy, organizers, officials and the provincial police dismissed accusations as “paranoia”, but eventually came clean: the agitators were their own undercover cops. The feature documentary that covered this incident, You, Me and the SPP, is just one example of decades of diverse, up-close work by documentary filmmaker Paul Manly .
He is Canada’s most recently elected MP, following a landslide victory in the May 2019 Nanaimo-Ladysmith federal by-election. Paul Manly’s election is also one of the most promising – or threatening, depending on your point of view.
The perspective – and lens – of the long-time activist is focused on the looming horizon of our horrifying ecocidal era, in which rich, powerful elites and their enablers appear hell-bent on extinguishing life on the planet, for personal profit.
“An urgent message is going out, to get serious about issues like climate change and taking care of people in our communities, whether that’s affordable housing, universal pharmacare, or better paying jobs,” says Manly.
His strong showing at the polls is a high-profile ripple in the powerful global wave now sweeping across Europe and gathering support for a Green New Deal in the US and Canada. It is one of many obvious signs that resistance is growing exponentially in response to a growing existential danger.
“This can’t be left at the feet of consumers; it has to be government. By not working on transition, politicians are just talking, talking, which is no better than climate denial. It’s climate action and justice delayed. Time to step up with political courage to do what needs to be done, to stop subsidizing fossil fuel, for example,” Manly explains.
People young and old are increasingly seeing climate action – or the lack of it – as the main criteria to judge politicians. “After the previous election I became a grandfather,” reports Manly. “That inspired me to double down and work even harder, because it was again personal for me, like when my daughters were born. And I know I have to fight for the future of that child and everyone’s children and grand-children. I will work across party lines but won’t compromise on this, or let people down.”
Internationally, greens are maturing, organizing, growing and finding success in surprising numbers. Following his fourth-place finish in a tight race in Canada’s 2015 federal election, Manly assembled a relentless, inspired team to leap far out in front. This time out, he won his seat with 38% of the vote (Conservative, 24%; NDP, 23% and Liberal, 11%). Suddenly, a Green vote counted and was no longer considered wasted.
“In 2015, a lot of people wanted to vote for me, but they stopped at the last minute and did the strategic voting thing,” he recalls. “In 2019, more people voted for what they wanted, with their heart and their head rather than in fear.” That has thrown a cat among the pigeons, as the saying goes.
Manly’s positive campaign and decisive election sent feathers flying in the mainstream flock, provoking kerfuffles up and down the federal trough. From the right, Conservatives indulged in Trump-like indignation: one of his films was shown at a 9/11 truther festival! He is obsessed with the rights of Palestinians! and so on. On the left, the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh pecked in circles for something – anything – Green for his increasingly worried and rebellious caucus to latch onto. Even our PM stopped preening long enough to observe that Canadians seem “preoccupied with climate change”.
Preoccupied, presumably, by the floods and drought ravaging various regions of the country, and by the spectre of thousands of Albertans fleeing from yet another horrific wildfire season while premier Jason Kenny bows out of taxing carbon, eyes stinging, and blinded by billowing smoke and short-term small-mindedness. Or preoccupied by the “freak” tornado that hit Ottawa (the second in a year) as central Canada dug out from the worst winter on record.
The plot of the story, Mr. Manly goes to Ottawa, is indeed cinematic. But there’s more to him than meets the eye.
He once described himself as an “orange diaper baby,” the son of Jim Manley, a highly engaged and popular United Church minister and NDP MP on Vancouver Island throughout the ‘80s. The younger Manly often took lunch from his nearby high school to his father’s office, just down the hall from the one he now occupies. He spent many hours seated in the Public Gallery avidly watching Question Period. Not long after his retirement, the elder Manly was, at age 79, part of a humanitarian aid group arrested by the Israeli navy for breaking an illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. As his father languished in jail for five days, Paul lobbied and chided Canadian politicians for their inaction, particularly the NDP for “abandoning its principles.”
Fast forward to 2014 when the local NDP riding executive approved his candidacy. However, the federal executive nixed him, fearful of raising Israel/Palestine issues despite Manly’s repeated assertions that he had much more on his mind and political agenda.
So he called on an old friendship with Green Party leader Elizabeth May. They had met in 1989 at an Earth Day celebration in Ottawa. At the time, he was the front-man for the headline musical act, and May was the main speaker at the event. Now, thirty years later, May welcomed the “champion” of myriad local issues and asked him to serve in her shadow cabinet, with a unique eye to international trade based on his many missions and documentaries. May worked especially hard on his second campaign. After the by-election she was no longer a lone wolf in Parliament and was elated to introduce him as a second sitting Green.
His first days on the job included a welcoming standing ovation in familiar surroundings; his first stand-up in Question Period demanding an emergency government response to the nation-wide crisis in affordable housing (through a return to construction investments, incentives and co-ops, a major issue in his riding); arguing for substantial improvements to Stephen Harper’s climate targets and clean energy initiatives utilizing Canadian technology; delivering a petition on women’s rights; meeting with our national medical association to discuss psychological impacts of climate change; a lunchtime conversation with an expert panel on autonomous weapons (a.k.a. killer robots); and another meeting with experts on security concerns around Chinese acquisition of Canadian businesses, including retirement homes.
That partial list is from his first weekly activity summary, signalling a new era in accountability and freedom from party whips, and demonstrating his intention to deliver on his solemn promise to work hard and not let voters down. Before the fall federal election, he has a small five-month window to establish himself before again defending his seat in the former NDP stronghold.
All eyes are on Paul Manly, who has said it is “personal” – as it now should be for all of us. It is 2019 after all, and Canadians are looking for solutions and fresh eyes, and hopeful vision that lights up, stands up, and unmasks our dark reality. For real action, in real time.
Bruce Mason resides in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding. Among other things, he is the former head-writer of the Vancouver Show, a Province newspaper columnist, national radio executive producer, communications officer at SFU and UBC and author of the book, Our Clinic: Visionary Health Care, Fundraising and and Community Building on Gabriola Island.