MERNER

Green Party leadership contender David Merner has a campaign stop in Kelowna on Thursday evening, at 6 p.m. in City Park.

Politics in a time of pandemic offers some advantages over campaigns conducted in normal times, a leadership candidate for the federal Green Party says.

As he crosses the country, David Merner, who was in Kelowna on Thursday, has met with small groups of party supporters in parks, with everyone following physical distancing guidelines.

"Always being outside, it's actually been a very nice way to campaign," Merner said in an interview. "Much nicer than being in stuffy hotel ballrooms. I think we should do this all the time."

Merner, who has been holding rallies in a different city every day through the summer, is one of eight candidates vying to succeed Elizabeth May as party leader.

Thursday was the last day for people to take out Green Party memberships so they could cast a ballot in the mail-in vote. Voting on a preferential ballot begins Sept. 16 with the winner to be announced Oct. 4.

Merner is a lawyer who has worked with both the federal and B.C. governments. A long-time federal Liberal, he quit the party May 29, 2018, the day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would buy and build the ill-fated Kinder-Morgan pipeline for $4.5 billion.

He has helped on several Green campaigns, but lost his own first bid for election when he finished second to the winning NDP candidate with 26 per cent of the vote in an Esquimalt-area riding in last year's federal election.

A top concern he hears from party supporters and the public, Merner says, is how the economy will recover from the effects of COVID-19.

"We have a strong plan for recovery, including the building of a new east-west electrical grid and investments in renewable energy," he said. It will be paid for, in part, he said, by higher taxes on companies that pollute and new levies on Internet giants such as Google and Facebook.

The first phase of such a project would cost at least $10 billion, Merner says, but the plan is fully-costed and feasible.

"Voters demand that Greens be credible on financial issues, and they want to see exactly how we're going to responsibly spend taxpayers' money," he said. "We're committed to doing that. We're not just some remnant of the hippie culture of the '60s."

On Kelowna-specific issues, Merner said he understood a controversial decision by local Greens not to run a candidate in the 2015 election, successfully working instead to elect Liberal candidate Stephen Fuhr.

"My personal preference is to have a Green candidate in every one of the 338 ridings for the next election," he said. "I think that adds credibility to the Green Party brand.

"But if local Greens have a different idea, and think it's to the party's ultimate advantage to work with another candidate, that's something the Green Party leadership has to listen to very carefully," he said.

* Merner will give an address in City Park at 6 p.m. today, Thursday, Sept. 3.