So, I'm seeing pundits starting to refer to the "green surge" as if it were maybe a real thing. Most recently, the words came from one Canadian media's most well-known pundits, the extremely respectable and always erudite Chantal Hebert. Admittedly, the words "Green party surge" appeared only at the very bottom of her column about former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's musings about the Green Party earlier in the week (see: "Mulcair’s Green party musing exposes the NDP’s troubles," the Toronto Star, February 4, 2019) - but they're there nonetheless. And the context isn't a sarcastic or amused one - Ms. Hebert is actually using the words in a serious way - albeit to say more about the NDP's potential for disintegration than for the Green Party to get its act together.
But Hebert raises some serious questions for the NDP - questions that the Green Party appears to have answers to. Hebert rightly points out that New Democrats are all over the map when it comes to climate action - supporting some fossil fuel enterprises like B.C. LNG federally and provincially, while simultaneously both supporting and opposing other projects, like the Trans Mountain pipeline (which Rachel Notley's Alberta NDP supports, while Jagmeet Singh's federal NDP opposes, and John Horgan's BC NDP kind of opposing-but-not-as-much-as-many-would-like-him-to). Hebert's suggestion that this kind of approach to important policy matters might be problematic for the NDP in the face of a Green Party that has consistently opposed these and other fossil projects because climate change.
And then there's former NDP leader Tom Mulcair himself, openly musing that the NDP ought to be watching the Greens in the mirror given Singh's clear support for LNG (see: "Former NDP leader predicts NDP voters might look to Green Party in 2019," CTV News, February 3, 2019). Mulcair, who is making a pretty big splash in his new role as media pundit, as been on the receiving end of some rather critical remarks from former and existing New Democrats - some of whom are feeling openly betrayed by what they see as an "about face". Others are suggesting - rightly, in my opinion (and I'm not just being partisan here) that Mulcair is simply calling it as he sees it. LNG is going to hurt Singh and work to the Green Party's advantage - if only in a handful of ridings.
But all of those ridings are held by the NDP and all of them are going to be targeted by the Green Party in the federal election. This isn't a secret - Vancouver Island and a number of coastal B.C. ridings are going to be put in play by the Greens - and the NDP's support for LNG is going to work to the Greens advantage there as Greens will be the only ones to say, "Look, we don't support this. We think it's a bad idea. And we'll fight against Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats who want to ram this extremely ill-advised project through."
It was the National Posts' John Ivison that was out in front of the pundit class, with his Boxing Day special about a potential Green Party breakthrough (see: "Really, finally, truly, 2019 could be the year Elizabeth May's Green Party breaks through," the National Post, December 26, 2018). Ivison points to what might be an aligning of the stars for the Green Party - a larger amount of political donations; a flagging NDP; some recent Green successes (and possible future ones) at the provincial level; the Liberal Party's support for Trans Mountain; Elizabeth May's almost certain participation in televised leaders debates; and the Greens approach to politics, personified to a significant degree by the smart, evidence-based approach of our leader.
Of course, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and other Greens have been doing the rounds to make the concept of a "green surge" and "green wave" have long been used as hashtags by Greens and supporters on Twitter - and Greens have been referring to these words for some time now, maybe even as far back as the last election where they were used in the context of "we'll get'em next time - just you wait and see - #greensurge" - a point of view Greens have been very good at subscribing to after elections, but not so great at following up on. Heck, the Green Party even has a webpage now dedicated to the #GreenSurge:
So I'm used to seeing the words "green surge" used in my own echo chamber. But it seems now that maybe they've jumped the pen and are roaming at large. Some might say that pundits like Mulcair and Hebert have jumped the shark instead, hinting that the Green Party might be a big player in the next election. But I don't think that's the case. I'll go with the decades of political intuition that these two pundits bring to the table before I dismiss out of hand that they're not on to something.
Hell, readers of this blog know that I have a bit of a cynical streak in me - especially when it comes to my own party. I've been around long enough to see more than a few defeats snatched from the jaws of victory. I've had my heart broken and hardened enough times to know that it's best to check my emotions at the door and not get caught up in the hype that so inevitably leads to a hangover of depression after E-Day. But even I think there's something happening here.
I just wish I had the damn data to prove it.
Because from where I'm sitting, this whole "green surge" thing, there doesn't seem to be a lot of actual evidence to back it up. Yet.
OK, it's true that the Green Party just reported one of its most robust fundraising quarters ever (which CTV news helpfully reported as not a boon for Greens, but a bust for the NDP - see: "NDP struggles to raise money as rival parties boast of record fundraising hauls," CTV News, January 30, 2018). And sure, some recent polling (aggregated by Eric Grenier on his Leader Meter suggests that May is a more popular leader than Singh - with an approval rating of 31.3% to Singh's 22.8%. But CBC's polling superstar didn't even bother to mention May in his year end polling piece (see: "Year-end polls point to trouble for Trudeau — but no clear signs of collapse yet," CBC News, December 21, 2018).
And that remains a concern. May continues to be left out of many poll-related conversations - because polling companies don't consider her much of a force (and I'm not just talking about polls about which leader would make the best babysitter, either - see: "Poll shows Canadians would prefer Justin Trudeau as their kids' babysitter over Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh," the Tyee, December 31, 2018). And with polling figures that have remained virtually unchanged for the past decade, who can blame them?
|Party Support as at February 5, 2019. There is no "Green Surge" here.|
Yes, that's the kind of evidence I'm talking about. Check out Grenier's poll tracker, updated for February 5, 2019. Green Party support hovers at a little over 7% - which is about the same level that it was at in July, 2018. Sure, that's a almost double the dismal 3.9% the Party achieved in the 2015 federal election - but it seems to me that the Green Party always polls higher pre-campaign than it receives in votes on E-Day. And that's the trend that Greens have to figure out a way to reverse.
John Ivison's alignment of opportunities might be the recipe. But it might also lead to a big fizzle. After all, despite some recent breakthroughs in Ontario and New Brunswick at the Provincial level, the federal Green Party has been almost universally terrible in every by-election held since the Liberals came to power in 2015. Where we fielded a candidate at all, vote percentages range from a truly dismal 1.1% in Bonavista-Burin-Trinity in 2017 (which should actually be marked as a victory of sorts by Greens for getting than many votes in any riding in Newfoundland & Labrador - so way to go, Tyler Colbourne) to a high of 7.9% by Deputy Leader Daniel Green, who finished in third place in the Saint-Laurent riding vacated by Stephane Dion in 2017 (see: "By-elections to the 42nd Canadian Parliament," Wikipedia).
Daniel Green is currently running in the Outremount riding vacated by Tom Mulcair. Election results are counted on the evening of February 25, 2019, he will likely place 4th or 5th, potentially behind the big 3 parties and either the BQ or the upstart People's Party. This despite Green having ties to the riding and being Deputy Leader of the Green Party.
At least the Greens are running a candidate in Outremount. It was decided early on that we would not contest the Burnaby South by-election where NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is seeking a seat. Given the gong show that the Burnaby South by-election has turned into, coupled with Singh's extremely lacklustre performance while publicly endorsing LNG, I suspect that the Party is regretting sitting this one out. Not that Greens could have won in Burnaby South against Singh - but because we would have had a chance to paint a picture for B.C. voters that ours is a party that will be serious on climate change, unlike Mr. Singh's. I argued that the Party really ought to field a candidate in Burnaby, but I think that I was the only one (see: "Courtesy Shmertecy! Greens are Making a Mistake in Burnaby," Sudbury Steve May, December 30, 2018).
Even I am willing to concede that the recent and somewhat unexpectedly poor showing for the Green Party of B.C. in the Nanaimo by-election might not be truly representative of Green support on Vancouver Island. Voters in Nanaimo had a tough choice: vote for the excellent B.C. Green candidate, Michele Ney - and potentially split the vote allowing the Liberals to come up the middle - or support former MP Sheila Malcolmson, running for the provincial NDP - all while knowing that a Liberal victory would likely bring down the government. I'd suggest that many potential Green voters held their noses and voted for Malcolmson, but Malcolmson was hardly a candidate that most Green voters would have held their noses to vote for in the first place (see: "Ney and Weaver statements on Nanaimo by-election," B.C. Greens, January 30, 2019).
Perhaps a little more representative of the Green Party's continual up-hill struggle in B.C. were the results from the electoral reform referendum - results that I'm sure surprised many Greens who had been working their butts off for years to achieve a different result. B.C.'s massive refusal to change its electoral system was a huge blow to the B.C. Green Party and Greens across Canada - and all who have been working at reforming our electoral systems.
Anyway - I really like the idea of a "Green Surge". I'm glad that pundits are starting to catch on (and now maybe some pollsters who have been ignoring the Greens for far too long might also start giving May and the Greens a little more consideration). And I can feel a little something too - so Chantal Hebert, Tom Mulcair's and John Ivison have all given me a little bit of a boost, hinting that maybe I'm on the right track about this.
But at the end of the day, I crave evidence. Hell, I'm a Green - and we're all about evidence. So no matter the tug of the pundits on my heartstrings, I've got to see this Green Surge for myself, with my own eyes, to believe it. After all, there's still a lot that can go wrong for us. An invigorated and savvy Jagmeet Singh might emerge from the Burnaby South by-election and start pushing the NDP's polling back up towards 20% or higher. And then there is always the risk of the election itself devolving into a two-party cage match, with Justin Trudeau and the forces of climate action on one side, taking on bloody-handed Andrew Scheer and his gang of liars on the other in an all-out battle for Canadian supremacy. I get that Elizabeth May and other Greens are already trying to quash this idea by pointing to Maxime Bernier's increasingly racist (see: "Sudbury Soldiers of Odin Member Justin Smith is People’s Party of Canada Candidate For Huron-Bruce," and "Dazed and Confused: People’s Party of Canada Candidate for Sudbury Jason Lafauci," Anti-Racist Sudbury) People's Party as a spoiler on the right, in order to open up some room for voters to feel good about voting for a Green rather than against another candidate. But I'm just not sure that narrative is going to work.
For me, I'm going to wait and see what the future might hold for 3 provincial Green parties before I start thinking that this Green Surge might actually be a thing. Voters in PEI will be going to the polls later this year, and polling currently has the Peter Bevan-Baker's PEI Green Party in the lead, which is just fantastic. But even a Green victory in the popular vote on that Island could see the Liberals returned to government. Still, Bevan-Baker and the PEI Greens are doing something right, and I fully expect that they will make history by shaking up the next PEI election.
And while voters in B.C. and New Brunswick aren't scheduled to go to the polls this year, there's still a good chance that they might end up doing so before the October federal election. In both provinces, Greens could be poised to build on their breakthroughs - but setbacks might undermine what appears to be an uptick in confidence of the Green brand.
But ultimately, Green fortunes are probably out of our hands to a degree. With talk of a Green New Deal south of the border in Democratic Party circles sure to filter into even more conversations about climate change and equity here in Canada (many of which will include, "Why the hell won't the NDP buy into this?" or "There can't be a Green New Deal with LNG"), it may be that AOC will have a lot more to do with our Party's success in 2019 than the NDP.
So I'll wait. And I'll see. And I'll secretly hope like I've never admitted to hoping - since 2011.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)