How Green is My Convention?

Elizabeth May
Some Green Party members may have noticed that our convention planning hit a hiccup last week. The local Central Nova team has been working for months in the planning of the first national political convention ever to take place in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. The basics were all in place months ago -- the main plenary sessions being at a local museum and the hotel next door providing everything else. And then, something completely unforeseen struck. The hotel providing our catering (local, fairly traded and organic) as well as the location of all the policy workshop spaces and some key meeting rooms, and most of the accommodations was closed by local authorities. It was a shock to the whole community and a real disaster for its staff. But for the Green Party organizers, we started losing sleep. The first source of relief was that a new hotel was opening nearby. It had been under construction for months and would be open in time. Yes, it was a longer walk from the museum, and no, it did not have enough meeting spaces, and, no, it could not provide fairly traded coffee with the free continental breakfast and, no, there was no kitchen planned so catering was out. But it did have nearly enough beds, even if they were roughly twice as much as the hotel that was closing. Of course, it was a major chain hotel so we would have to bend to the inability of very helpful local staff to change the rules. It could all work, but it started to feel a bit “un-Green.” Then I had a few chance conversations with friends in the community. “A shame,” one said, “that you cannot find a way to use all the smaller local hotels.” Another suggested we look at Pictou, a neighbouring community without any one big hotel, but with many little ones. Our key logistical local organizer, Marlene Wells, and I started going through the list of hotels and phoning each to find out if they had room. 4 bedrooms at one bed and breakfast, 70 beds at another motel with small cottages. All told, we booked every available bed in more than a dozen different, small and locally owned inns and motels to reserve over 200 beds and 150 separate rooms. One of the largest has a kitchen and dining room. Then there are the campground spaces and local billets. Some accommodations cost a bit more than the hotel that had to close. But only the most luxurious with full breakfasts came close to the cost of a room in the new hotel. And, with extraordinary good fortune, the Pictou cultural centre, the DeCoste Centre, a big and beautiful space was available for the full 3 days of the convention. Still, we needed break out rooms and places for simultaneous policy debates. The DeCoste Centre could only be divided into three meeting spaces. We needed more. So Marlene started calling the churches in walking distance for use of basement space. She found good space, reasonably priced with church guilds willing to cater… and yes, they were fascinated to hear about fairly traded organic coffee. After several panicky sessions crunching numbers for beds and catering and meeting spaces, Trudy Watts, New Glasgow staff, Debra Eindiguer in Ottawa, Marlene and I decided we could pull it off in Pictou. Pictou is beautiful and has a lot of heritage buildings. It is right on the harbour with a replica of the Ship Hector that brought Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia in 1773. (there is a pulp mill on the other side of the harbour…it has changed hands four times since it was first built in the 1960s. details in my book, At the Cutting Edge) Some of the bed and breakfast spaces and Inns are in lovely and gracious old buildings. None of them are chains. We hope that everyone coming from across the country will see the effort we have made to stay very Green in our choices. We will run a shuttle between New Glasgow and Stellarton and Pictou for those who were already booked there and who want to try out some of the fabulous restaurants in different parts of Pictou County. It should all reflect our values and give lots of support to small and local instead of big and global…. The changes have all been made. We are back on track for a great convention. We have an impressive line up of speakers, from one of Canada’s leading climate scientists, a lead IPCC author, Dr. Gordon McBean, to former Ambassador for Disarmament the Hon. Doug Roche, to Holly Dressel on her new book on health care and former Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray on the urban agenda. PLEASE do contact the Green Party office in Ottawa. We need to know how many children are coming to plan for the children’s Green agenda. With all the different kinds of choices, we hope that you will check in with the national office to make sure the places we reserved can be used, or that we can release them in time to avoid charges. It will be a fabulous convention. All we need is you!