In 2011, the good people of Saanich-Gulf Islands in British Columbia voted to elect Canada’s first Member of Parliament from the Green Party. Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, has been an inspiration for all of those who run under the Green banner at federal, provincial and municipal levels in this country. This past May, British Columbians again elected a single Green – Andrew Weaver - this time to the B.C. provincial legislature. Although it’s happening slowly, Greens are showing that they can be elected in Canada, even under our archaic First Past the Post electoral system.
Many in the Green Party had hoped that Elizabeth May might be joined by more MP’s prior to the scheduled 2015 federal election. Two Green candidates had major breakthroughs in by-elections in Victoria (Donald Galloway – finishing second) and Calgary Centre (Chris Turner – a close 3rd) in late 2012. Greens put our hope in Deputy Party Leader and former NHL tough-guy Georges Laraque to lead the Party to victory in a by-election in Bourassa, but after a long summer of campaigning, Laraque was forced to drop out of the race just days before the by-election was called, in order to devote his time to deal with unexpected fraud charges brought on by the collapse of a business deal.
In December, 2013, Elizabeth May was joined by Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Bruce Hyer, who had formerly sat as an Independent after leaving the NDP’s caucus in 2012. Since then, Hyer has been appointed Deputy party leader, and has been named the Green Party’s Democratic Reform critic. With a little under two years between now and the 2015 election, might May and Hyer be joined by others in the House? So far, yet-to-be-announced by-elections which must take place this year will be in ridings where Greens haven’t done particularly well in the past.
With each passing day, it’s becoming clearer that the Green Party might be going into the 2015 general election with just two seats - which isn’t bad at all, considering that the Party is still very new to parliament. The Green Party’s challenges are different from the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP – more modest as a result of our size, resources and past history. With this in mind, how then, might the Green Party find a path to modest success? What would modest success even look like for the Green Party in 2015?
Mike Schreiner and Ontario
There are some factors which might help the Green Party of Canada before the 2015 election which are worth exploring prior to discussing a way forward for the GPC. Here in Ontario, we will likely have had a general election before the next federal election, and it could very well be that Ontario voters choose to elect our first Green MPP. Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner has been actively campaigning in the Green-friendly riding of Guelph in the southwestern part of the Province. With a minority government here, which could fall at any time, Schreiner and the GPO have taken a pro-active approach to campaigning, with the hopes that by the time the government falls, they will have made inroads with voters in Guelph. With the sorry state of politics here in Ontario, I believe that Schreiner has an excellent shot of getting elected – but he’s going to need some help from Greens throughout Canada.
And beyond Mike Schreiner, the provincial election in Ontario will give Greens an excellent opportunity to wage aggressive campaigns in a few ridings. Admittedly, the chances for success elsewhere are slim (unless candidates with significant local name recognition step forward). However, winning isn’t the point. Building local organizations from the ground up and mounting a get out the vote campaign will build transferrable skills and knowledge in local riding organizations, so that when 2015 does come around, Greens in Ontario will be better prepared to participate in the national campaign in key ridings (and here I’m thinking of other southwestern Ontario ridings like Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound and Dufferin).
David Coon and New Brunswick
The Province of New Brunswick will be heading into a general election in the fall of 2014. Green Party of New Brunswick Leader David Coon will be contesting the newly created Fredericton South district. Although the NDP have been polling relatively well in New Brunswick provincially, unlike Ontario, the NDP hasn’t really experienced a great deal of success in the province. Currently, the provincial NDP holds no seats in the provincial legislature. A canny and experienced veteran like Coon stands a good chance of finding his way into the provincial legislature – but like Schreiner in Ontario, he may need a little help from his friends.
I’m pretty sure that Greens from coast to coast will be hearing all about the ways we can assist Coon and the New Brunswick Greens at the Green Party of Canada’s Biennial General Convention, scheduled to start on July 18th at the University of New Brunswick’s campus in Fredericton.
While electing Greens to provincial parliaments might not seem like it would help the Green Party of Canada (after all, unlike the NDP, Green provincial parties and the federal party are not affiliated), the fact is that success at the provincial level almost assuredly would be great news for the GPC. The more that the Green Party can show Canadians that it is electable – and a mainstream part of political discussions – the better off we’ll be.
As with the GPO and GPNB, realistically there are likely only a limited number of ridings which the Green Party of Canada will find itself with a decent chance in. That’s not to say that running for the Green Party in the vast majority of Canadian ridings will prove to be a lost cause. Election campaigns can produce unexpected results, and the right candidate in the right location at the right time could end up getting themselves elected despite the odds. Look no further than to the majority of the NDP’s MP’s from Quebec, who were surprised to wake up on the morning after the last general election to discover that they’d be moving to Ottawa.
But we can’t plan for the unexpected. We can only plan for the most likely. So let’s set out a realistic course of action which will see Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer returned to parliament, and joined by a caucus of Greens after the 2015 general election.
First, the Party must identify what it considers to be the ridings which afford the best opportunities for the Green Party. Past experience might play some role in this, but it’s not always definitive. I think it’s fair to say that there are no “safe” Green ridings in Canada – and likely not many which are realistically winnable for the Greens. Suggesting that a riding might not be winnable is not to belittle the Party in any way – it’s just to indicate that another party or perhaps several parties with strong ties and a longer history (and more money!) are likely to make many ridings a challenge for Greens to win. That doesn’t mean, however, that any riding should ever be written off. Indeed, the groundwork for future Green success throughout Canada needs to be laid now – in fact, in many ridings, the foundations for success were laid in the past decade’s elections.
The 2015 election will offer Greens a great opportunity to really build local capacity, especially in many of those unwinnable ridings. The goal here will be more than just showing the flag or even rallying the troops for the 35-day writ period. It will be to identify longer-term supporters and introduce key volunteers to the workings of the Party at the local level and beyond, with the desire to build stronger, more sustainable local teams of Greens. With the phasing out of the per-vote subsidy, stronger Electoral District Associations (EDA’s) will have to step up in the near future with local fundraising initiatives, supporter identification, and general organizational capacity building.
And a stronger Green presence in the House of Commons is almost certainly going to motivate local Greens across the nation!
Sometimes, the personalities involved in a particular race (or not involved, if a strong incumbent has stepped down) will tell a part of the story of a potentially successful riding. Should a “star candidate” come forward, wanting to run for the Green Party in 2015, it’s almost certain that whatever riding they end up running in will become a priority for the Party.
Not that I’m holding my breath that David Suzuki will run for the Green Party!
However, there are others who are engaged with climate change who may look to the Greens as the only party offering a realistic and hopeful vision of the future (because it’s true – we are the only party with that on offer – read my numerous earlier blogs for an explanation as to why that’s so). It could be that a “star candidate” decides that she or he want to join Elizabeth May in changing the way that politics are done in Canada. Or perhaps there are other well-known climate scientists out there, like Andrew Weaver, who are fed up with government inaction, and want to take the bull by the horns.
This is in no way to suggest that I believe only climate scientists should run for the Green Party! Excellent candidates will assuredly come from a host of different backgrounds. By singling out climate scientists, though, I am suggesting that the Green Party may wish to do the same: single out climate scientists. For although Green candidates ought not all be climate scientists, all climate scientists who wish to pursue election to the House of Commons ought to be Greens, in my opinion. But again, the pursuit of star candidates from different backgrounds is extremely important.
Indeed, the Green Party should be actively looking for star candidates. I’m sure that’s already underway. But the Party shouldn’t be limiting itself to national personalities. Strong, well-known local leaders may also present certain star-like opportunities for the Party. Certainly, I could think of one or two here in Sudbury who could mount a decent campaign if they chose to throw their hat in the ring. Candidate recruitment of locally well-known individuals must be a priority of grassroots EDA’s.
Of course, to an extent, the Green Party will have trouble recruiting star candidates, because our lack of past electoral success. If you’re a star and you really do want to go to Ottawa as an MP, it’s not really clear that the Green Party represents the best vehicle to take you there (even though we’re the only zero-carbon choice!). For example, in the recent by-election in Toronto-Centre, I couldn’t help but scratch my head in wonder that Linda McQuaig had decided to run under the banner of Tom Mulcair’s NDP. Now, I understand that McQuaig has always been a supporter of the NDP, but the fact is that Mulcair’s NDP is not the NDP of 10 years ago – it’s not Ed Broadbent’s or Alexa McDonough’s NDP. Based on the pieces written by McQuaig that I've read, almost certainly she would be a better fit in the Green Party. Certainly she wouldn’t have to worry about answering to the Party Whip had she joined the Greens.
That being said, the right candidate in the right riding could spell success for the Green Party. All political parties tend to match resources with expectations (just that the Green Party has both modest expectations and resources), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Party will endeavour to focus on certain ridings. Those ridings are likely to be found in the expected areas of Vancouver and Vancouver Island (where Greens have been elected and continue to poll well), along with Southwestern Ontario (where Greens have done well in the past, and could do well again in places like Guelph).
The 2015 redistribution of ridings is also almost certainly going to create some opportunities for Greens.
I’ll offer one last area where Greens probably could find some advantage: the city of Calgary. Greens have done pretty well in Calgary in the past (relatively speaking), and with Chris Turner’s energized by-election run, coupled with a lack of NDP and Liberal presence in Calgary (again, relatively speaking), Greens could challenge for seats throughout Calgary, particularly if voters start to search for alternatives to the Conservative Party (and I suspect they just might do that). The Liberals and the NDP have some ground-strength in Calgary, but in comparison to many parts of Canada, both the NDP and Liberals are weaker there. Surely the NDP is going to be writing-off much of Alberta as unwinnable, and choosing to focus their energies and resources elsewhere. The Liberals might make a serious play for ridings in Calgary and Edmonton, but it just might be that the Greens can prove more attractive to forward-looking urban Albertans than the Liberals.
Of course, the Party’s chances in Calgary would be bolstered by the presence of Chris Turner himself. Turner is a well-known journalist who mounted a campaign which caught the attention of the national media. Rumours have it that Turner may not contest the Calgary Centre riding again, particularly should a respected friend of his run for the Liberal Party there. Of course, Turner’s home is located in the new riding (and therefor incumbentless) of Calgary-Confederation, so it might be a story of one door shutting and another opening.
Other Parts of Canada to Keep an Eye On
Saskatchewan, too, may create some opportunities for Greens in the urban areas of Regina and Saskatoon, thanks in part to redistribution. While a resurgent Liberal Party on the prairies can’t be ignored, if a quality candidate can be found, there may be an opportunity for the Party there too.
Ridings along the shore of Lake Ontario between Toronto and Newcastle may also prove fertile ground for the Party, as might certain ridings in New Brunswick around Fredericton and Moncton – particularly if high-profile candidates step forward. The eastern part of the GTA has long been Conservative territory, with the Liberals the only party to mount a credible threat outside of Oshawa. A strong Green candidate in Ajax-Pickering or Whitby-Oshawa, or even Peterborough for that matter, could make things interesting.
And then there’s the Yukon. If popular Whitehorse municipal councillor (and former President of the Green Party of Canada) John Streicker decides to contest the Territory on behalf of the Greens again, the outcome might be different next time around.
Again, though, if the right candidate stepped up to the plate, many of Canada’s ridings could prove to be places where Greens could mount successful challenges.
To mount a successful challenge will require a good ground game – that means volunteers, organization and money. In the 2012 by-elections in Victoria and Calgary Centre, all three were present as part of a Green campaign. What was lacking, however, was any substantive pre-writ organizing, given that by-elections were called not long after MP’s had signalled they’d be stepping down. Turner probably had the most lead time – I don’t think that Donald Galloway was nominated all that much before the by-election in Victoria was called.
Given that we know the date of the 2015 election, it stands to reason that in the ridings which we wish to be effective, nominations will be held throughout 2014 – thus giving local Green campaigns a chance to rally around a candidate. It’s important for Greens, I think, to be the first into the fray – to signal to opponents that we’re going to be the ones to beat. I don’t have a problem with putting all of our cards on the table as early as possible, because it really gives voters something to consider. The other parties like to hold things back – policy and platform in particular. One of the things which attracted me to the Green Party in the first place is the fact that Green Party has always made policy documents available to the public through the internet. The contents of Vision Green aren’t a secret. So why not go all in, sooner rather than later?
Successful local campaigns will take advantage of the pre-writ lead up to the general election, and canvass their guts out. Door-knocking remains important – and for that, you need volunteers and co-ordination. Identifying supporters and potential voters is important, for when the writ does drop, you’re going to want to be able to count on the people you’ve already spoken with to come out and cast a ballot – or help out with the campaign. Greens don’t do enough of the pre-writ campaigning, in my opinion – but often that’s also true with the other parties, who seem content to rely on paid advertising between elections to get the message out. Our party’s modestness in many parts of Canada can create some significant pre-writ challenges for sure.
I’m looking for Green electoral district associations to start nominating candidates in 2014 – and I’m hoping that a few EDA’s will nominate a few stars, like Andrew Weaver. Goodness knows that there are a number of frustrated climate scientists in Canada – I hope that a few of them will decide to take a run for office under the Green Party’s banner. I can think of one or two who really should.
A Modest Success
At the end of e-day, how will the Green Party know if we’ve experienced modest success? I don’t think that there’s any magic number of MP’s which we’re going to have to elect in order to lay claim to the modest success mantle. It may be more of a question of knowing it if and when we see it. Some have suggested that ballooning the Party to 12 MP’s should be considered “success”, as this number of MP’s currently bestows Official Party status on a caucus. Of course, this may be changed by parliament after the 2015 election, in part to recognize an expanded legislature, but also perhaps in part to prevent the Green Party from becoming an official party.
I’d rather wait and see the extent of my party’s ambition pre-writ. By that I mean I’d like to see how successful we, as a Party, want to be in the 2015 election. If a number of star candidates step forward, if local EDA’s have been engaging with voters and raising money – these are the signs which will show me the extent of our ambition. Since a Party’s ambition should always exceed its grasp, my own measure will likely be somewhat less than the sum of our ambition – at that time, I may be able to identify a specific number of ridings to win, or perhaps the ridings themselves. A “modest success” is sure to be found somewhere between ambition and the status quo.
A “modest success” is certainly a reasonable pursuit for the Green Party in 2015.
(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 Party of Canada)
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