GreenPAC endorsed Jessica Bell in the 2018 Ontario election because of her lifelong commitment to the environment. Jessica is one of five MPPs who our supporters helped elect. Two years later, in the middle of a pandemic, we’re sitting down with Jessica to talk about her journey to politics and how we can prepare for the next crisis – climate change.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What made you decide to run for office?
I’ve been a community organizer for 20 years, working on important environment and economic justice issues. Like many people, I believe we have a responsibility to give back. I decided to run in the provincial election because there are a lot of issues I care about – high quality public schools, land reform and addressing climate change – and I wanted to be able to work on all of them.
In other circumstances we’d be meeting face-to-face, but these are unprecedented times. How has COVID-19 impacted your ability to advance issues that matter to you?
It’s been very difficult. There are so many urgent, immediate problems. People are scared of losing their business, they can’t afford rent, they are scared of being evicted. We had to redirect our energy to helping people one-on-one rather than tackling larger systemic issues like climate change.
It’s clear that COVID-19 has revealed our lack of preparedness to deal with crises. What can we do now to get a hold of the climate crisis?
COVID-19 is a stark reminder that, once a crisis has hit, it is very difficult to address the myriad of issues involved – and they accumulate. We can’t wait for the climate crisis to hit. We need real prevention to get our emissions down now, and that means transitioning to net zero emissions as fast as possible by investing in green jobs, community housing, and sustainable transportation.
There are people that think change is hard to come by in Canada, but during this pandemic we have been able to act quickly and in very dramatic ways. Bike lanes are being built very quickly because no one wants to take public transit. The provincial government is looking into investing in transit because they don’t want the system to collapse.
Before the pandemic started, how had you been pushing for environmental change in office?
I had – and still have – been organizing around the Green New Deal, setting up town halls and attending rallies and protests. We need to be ready as a movement to push forward as much change when there is a moment to do so legislatively. As transit critic, I work to ensure new transit is built, and that public sector projects are using routes and technologies that can increase ridership.
Can you speak about a time you worked across party lines for positive environmental change?
It’s challenging. But one instance was when Metrolinx moved forward on cutting bus routes. Conservative residents living in these ridings contacted me and asked what we could to reverse this decision. I gave these letters to (Progressive Conservative MPP) Sylvia Jones, another GreenPAC endorsee, and she started working to reinstate bus service.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like our supporters to know?
I want to thank them for supporting me and other GreenPAC endorsees. They made a noticeable difference in my campaign and helped me build profile outside of my riding. So I would say: thank you and keep it up – you are helping shape the political landscape for good.