A vote for something different
Since Brexit and since Trump’s election, it has seemed more and more possible for the unlikeliest result of an election to become the reality. For decades, Nova Scotia has taken turns electing provincial leaders from three main parties: creating Progressive Conservative, Liberal, and NDP. But they’re not the only candidates on the ballot. On May 30th, when you step into the voting booth, you’ll see from the Atlantica and the Green parties.
Who are the leaders for these parties? And what do they stand for?
It would be easy to characterize these two parties as the “far right” and “far left” options, but both leaders defy conventional description. They have a lot in common. They’re both experts in their respective fields, and they’ve been motivated by personal concerns to shake up Nova Scotian politics. They both want long-term economic sustainability to be favoured over short-term political gains, a ceasefire on clearcutting, and fixed election dates.
Meet Jonathan Dean and Thomas Trappenberg.
Trappenberg was a founding member of the provincial Green party. He was originally involved and interested in the federal arm of the party, but when the party needed a leader, he volunteered.
“After all, education and health care, things I really care about, fall under provincial jurisdiction,” says Trappenberg.
Trappenberg was originally born in Germany, moving to Halifax after completing his post-doctorate. His day job is working as a professor of computer science at Dalhousie. His interests are physics, robotics, climate science, neuroscience, karate (he is a actually a karate teacher) and Japanese fencing.
When asked if he is worried about the international surge of far-right values, Trappenberg emphatically disagrees. “People are tired of the same old, but it’s going both ways. In the Netherlands, in March, the green party there quadrupled their support. In January, Austria elected a green president.”
As Trappenberg sees it, for your typical disenfranchised voter, “green is increasingly being seen as a valid option.”
Trappenberg became interested in politics out of frustration with a lack of decision-making over environmental issues. “As a scientist, I can see the data and facts, and it really makes me want to do something, because I see it being ignored. A lot of scientists are getting into politics for the same reason,” he says, pointing to Andrew Weaver in B.C. as an example.
Politics runs in the family. Trappenberg says he remembers a lot of kitchen table conversations about it growing up. Now his son, 18-year-old Kai Trappenberg, is one of the youngest candidates in the race.
If Trappenberg had to condense his platform into three ideas, it would be to have a more open and honest leadership, strengthening local community by cutting tax breaks for big corporations and cost accounting. Trappenberg explains that cost-accounting means the creation of a better way to measure how we are doing as a province; moving beyond measures like the GDP to a more well-rounded societal barometer.
“In Bhutan, they have the Happiness Index,” says Trappenberg. “If we measure progress in a more thorough way, we won’t have to rely on politicians in power that say ‘things have never been better’ and opposition parties who say ‘things have never been worse.’ We could wrap things like average income, poverty levels, environmental concerns into one index, and say, we are at a six now, but in four years we aim to be at a nine.”
Trappenberg clearly cares deeply about environmental issues, but he talks more about a diverse range of issues. “The health of our environment and our soil: these are important points for the Green Party, but we have actually moved on from just being concerned,” he says. “Out of that concern came new discussions and ideas about how to move forward.”
Jonathan Dean is a fresh face in Nova Scotian politics. The Atlantica Party was ratified last summer after a four year hiatus. (The party was originally registered in 2009). Dean and two other co-founders were at the helm. According to Dean, the two others involved in the creation of the party can’t be seen to be politically motivated because of their jobs, but they also can’t sit still and see what’s happening to this province continue.
“This all started because a group of people would get together and discuss the issues we’re facing as a province,” says Dean. “And eventually we decided to do something about it. Now we’re running in an election with 15 candidates, less than a year out from our [second] founding.”
For Dean, the most pressing issue facing Nova Scotians today is the provincial debt.
“We owe more than $15 billion at present, and interest rates are going up internationally,” he says. “I come from an economics background, and what’s happening now scares me. Other parties don’t want to say the d-word.”
Dean worked as an investment researcher in Toronto for 10 years before deciding moving back to Nova Scotia. When he got here, he says he was shocked by how unprofitable it has become to run a business in the province: “The government alone cannot create wealth and prosperity. It can’t create jobs. But it can create the conditions for dynamism. As it stands, Nova Scotia is essentially anti-business.”
Dean, if elected, would create a tax break for Nova Scotian businesses, cut number government employees, and implement a 15-year plan to become debt-free. “Irving and Walmart are not incorporated here in Nova Scotia,” he says. “When I say I’m going to create a tax break for Nova Scotian businesses, I’m thinking of mom and pop shops, lobster fisherman, small printing companies, freelance graphic designers. Those are the people that will see the benefits.”
Dean has worked with the Ecology Action Centre to adopt a series of their recommendations, and agrees that the government needs to begin investing in more sustainable endeavours. Dean backs motions to protect coastlines and to promote green transit.
“I support a ban on clearcutting 100%,” he says. “I grew up on a farm in Hants County, Nova Scotia, and it looks like they just nuked the land out there. I’ve got nothing against the logging industry. I’ve done it, my grandfather has done it. But it is not the industry of tomorrow. The focus we currently have on it doesn’t make sense.”
While Dean places less emphasis on social programming than some of the other candidates, he is a firm believer in smaller governments and reduced taxation. As he sees it, if the province goes bankrupt, none of the programming as it currently stands will survive.
“Our party wants to put Nova Scotia on the map,” he says. “Make it a Have province. We’re losing our young people to places like Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver. All three parties represent the same thing: spending and more debt. You can have that, or you can have change.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.