It has been a big year for Maria Ohisalo. After her Green party’s impressive showing in the April parliamentary elections, the 34-year-old former academic was appointed Finland’s minister of the interior, one of the key portfolios in the centre-left coalition government. Soon after, in June, she was chosen to lead the Greens.
Before entering politics, Ohisalo rose to prominence as a talented academic whose research focused on poverty and food aid. Known for her pro-immigration stance, she will face tough opposition from the far-right Finns party in the coming parliamentary term. MONOCLE met her in the government’s historical House of the Estates to talk election strategy and taking on populists.
MONOCLE: What are your key goals now that you are a minister?
MARIA OHISALO: My main goals are to combat climate change and reduce poverty. In many ways these issues are interlinked. It is often the low-income individuals who suffer most when environmental taxes go up. This transition needs to happen but it needs to be fair. I will focus on cross-border co-operation in security and safety issues. We need to work together on a European level to address challenges such as natural disasters and cyber threats.
M: The far-right has adopted a hard line when it comes to immigration. Is a clash with them inevitable?
MO: The anti-immigration parties often claim that immigration is not discussed in Finland yet I find myself discussing it every day. The far-right talk about borders but we need to reframe the debate and talk about common responsibilities. We cannot close our eyes to the fact that, around the world, more than 70 million people are refugees. We need to take care of them together.
M: As the leader of the Greens, what is your recipe for beating populism?
MO: Two things: education and media skills. People need to feel that they are part of the political process and have a say. Populism feeds on disillusionment and poverty. [Populists] spread misinformation and lay the blame on external actors such as immigrants. We need to ensure that people don’t fall for this, while at the same time reducing poverty. We also need to be careful not to exaggerate the spread of populism. In Finland, 80 per cent of the population doesn’t support the Finns party; the large majority support rule of law and the EU.
Back in May, Alberta’s premier Jason Kenney threatened to separate from Canada if the Liberals are re-elected in October. The reason? The federal carbon tax had gone into effect a few weeks prior, which Kenney claimed would kill jobs in the province’s already depressed oil sector. While the Conservative politician’s threat is hollow, voters in the western provinces have long complained that their concerns fall on deaf ears in favour of Ontario and Québec. Here is what the west wants addressed in the run-up to the election.
1. British Columbia: Rising rents and a lack of affordable housing have forced many out of the market in the metro Vancouver area. Younger voters want a commitment to building rental housing and a clear path to home ownership.
2. Alberta: Alberta’s oil sector suffers from high unemployment. Despite Trudeau’s support for the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project, many Albertans believe a Conservative government will revive the sector.
3. Saskatchewan and Manitoba: The federal carbon tax has raised production costs for prairie farmers. Voters want to cap – or scrap – the tax, which has made it difficult for farmers to be competitive on the global market.
Communist China turns 70 on 1 October. President Xi Jinping will lead the celebrations with a military parade, a naval armada and the opening of a second international airport in the capital. Up until recently Xi could afford to pat himself on the back. After all, China is in rude health while its former Marxist mentor, the Soviet Union, expired at 69.
Everything is being done to ensure that there are no surprises on the big day, though Hong Kong’s restless protesters could yet spoil the party. With the world watching, Xi will want to show patience and maturity on the day. Most people expect any crackdown to come afterwards.