With 9 opitions on the Green Party of Canada's leadership ballot, what's it going to take for one of the 8 leadership contestants to emerge victorious on Saturday, October 3 2020?
For some, there just is no path to victory. For just about everyone else, the Ranked Ballot is going to get a serious workout before anyone will emerge victorious on Saturday. While it could be that a single individual will reach the 50% threshold within the first 3 rounds of counting, that scenario seems incredibly unlikely to me, and it has everything to do with the apparent strengths of each of the campaigns of the more serious contenders.
By way of background, the Green Party of Canada uses a one-voter one-vote model, so every member's vote carries the same weight - as long as their ballots remain in play. The Ranked ballot allows you to rank all 9 options - or as many or as few as you want to. There are 9 options on the ballot because the Green Party of Canada always includes a "None of the Above" (NOTA) option on all ballots in every vote that it holds (not just for leadership).
Barriers for Pundits
There has been no polling released to the public that could help voters figure out who the frontrunners are. That leaves pundits like me with a lack of viable information to form our opinions. As you are reading this blogpost, please keep in mind that my opinions are just that - opinions. I have used some metrics to help inform those opinions, including fundraising data, which has been published by the Party monthly since July. Fundraising data published by Elections Canada at the end of Q2 also includes the names of donors who contributed, so there is an opportunity there to figure out how many people are contributing to each of the campaigns at that point in time. So even knowing how much each contestant raised at the end of August, and the number of contributors to each campaign at the end of July - well, you can see that fundraising data is a limited metric. Limited, yes - but not useless.
Some have suggested that social media posts are a good bellwether of voter intention. I mostly disagree, because of the limited number of social media engagements that are available, as well as their overlap. Posts on social media represent a small fraction of voters - but they do say a little something about the intentions of engaged Greens, and for me, that says something about which contestants might have momentum, and those that don't.
Unfortunately, due to the high caliber of each of the campaigns, it has been seriously hard to determine momentum. I can say with a degree of certainty only this: there are two sets of contestants - those that can win, and those that can't. And the former group is more than twice the size of the latter group.
Going forward, you need to know that this post is going to be seriously informed by my own hunches - hunches that I've developed after over a decade of membership in the Green Party, sure. But they're still hunches. I'll try to explain myself as best I can where some additional explanation might help shed light on my opinion. But I have to say, predicting an outcome for this leadership contest has been one of the more difficult political tasks that I've set for myself.
Membership - Who Votes
Membership in the Party was estimated at around 23,000 at the end of the 2019 election. This leadership contest has apparently seen a striking 12,000 new members sign up. Let's break this down a little bit.
23,000 members at the end of the 2019 election likely include a fair number of single-purpose members. Those who signed up to support a certain election candidate, for example. Many of these members are not engaged members, and many will not be voting in the leadership contest.
In contrast, those members who have recently signed up are far more likely to be motivated to vote in the contest - likely that was the reason they've signed up in the first place - because they want to vote for a particular candidate.
What membership numbers can't tell us, though, is which candidates are more likely to be supported by which group of members. There may be a few factors that shed a little light on this - for example, Elections Canada Q2 fundraising numbers showed that Annamie Paul had the highest fundraising total, and that it was distributed among the most individuals, making her funds raised per person amount the lowest out of any contestant's. That suggests to me that she received a lot of small donations - sometimes just $10 - enough to cover the Party's membership fee.
That's one thing. Another is the reported surge in new members - many disgruntled former New Democrats (or even existing New Democrats, if you believe what you read on Twitter and Facebook - and I do - there's nothing really preventing someone to have membership in another party vote in the Green Party's leadership contest, even though it is against the rules, other than maybe one's personal ethics) are apparently joining the party to support one of several leadership contestants (more on that below).
Long story short: new member are likely to vote, but there are likely fewer of them (12,000) than existing members (23,000). But if only half the existing members vote, it's likely that the decision will be made almost equally by new and existing members. This becomes important when we examine a few of the campaigns in more detail - for the path to victory for some of the candidates lies through existing members, while others will be heavily counting on new members to push them above 50%.
Let's now look at the ballot options.
None of the Above
None of the Above ran a truly lackluster campaign. That said, after 8 long months of robocalls, Zoom meetings, flyers, "debates" where nothing is actually debated, and did I mention endless Zoom meetings - I think None of the Above's chances have improved somewhat. That said, only a cynical contrarian like me would ever think of ranking None of the Above first on their ballots. But keep in mind - the Green Party is filled with cynical contrarians like me (and for the record, while I might have thought about doing it, I didn't actually do it).
Still, None of the Above is likely to be the first casualty of the ranked ballot. And I don't expect to see any preferences being redistributed to the other contestants (because...None of the Above!).
The Party can anticipate fairly static results for the first two rounds of voting. Really, it's the relative placement of each contestant towards one another (or at least for the top 6 who might have a chance at winning) that will matter most in these first two rounds.
But before we get into that, let's discuss the two no-hope contestants, and why even their preferences aren't likely going to have much of an impact on the race when they drop off the ballot.
One of the other few things that I am relatively certain of in this leadership contest is that Meryam Haddad will be the second contestant to be eliminated from the ballot. Haddad's campaign suffered from two significant problems, one of which was out of her control, the other which was of her making. Throughout the contest, and especially in the week leading up to voting, Haddad found herself in hot water with voters and the Party over several public comments she made - about wanting to make the Green Party more hostile; about endorsing the provincial B.C. Ecosocialist Party (although she denies she endorsed that party); and about making accusations against former Green Party leader Elizabeth May being part of a "pattern of harassment".
While some have clearly been energized by Haddad - especially her attacks on the Party and Elizabeth May - I think it's fair to say that most Greens, including those new to the Party, have pretty serious affection and respect for May. Attacking the Party for what amounts to doing its job (the Party ejected Haddad from the leadership contest over what it refers to as Haddad's bringing disrepute on the Party for endorsing the BC Ecosocialists over our provincial cousins, the BC Greens; Haddad appealed, and was reinstated), and May for agreeing with many Greens that her support for the Ecoscialists was entirely unbecoming for a Green Party of Canada leadership contestant will have cost her support up and down the ballot.
Note that these weren't rookie errors on Haddad's part - at least I don't think they were. Haddad's actions, looked at her from point of view, might even be considered principled. Haddad, a member of Quebec Solidaire, is a self-described socialist. She is running for leadership of the Green Party so that she can lead the Green Party into becoming a socialist party - something that is no longer recognizably a Green Party. Haddad is part of an insurgency being waged against the Green Party by outside forces who would transform the Green Party.
And that's the other reason why Haddad never really had a chance. Although her actions might resonate with this insurgent group - whom many of the new members and a few of our original members clearly belong to - she was never their figurehead, their chosen one. She may garner some top rank support from the socialists, safe with the knowledge that they can then rank Dimitri Lascaris No. 2 and still keep him in the game. This might count for as much as 5% of top ranked support, but likely little more.
And now we get into that part of the ballot where I am seriously going on hunches, as just about anybody from here on in can win the leadership.
Glen Murray should have been able to leverage his serious past advantages as Mayor of Winnipeg and a cabinet Minister in Ontario's government led by former Premier Kathleen Wynne. He's the only leadership contestant in the race to ever have been elected to, well, pretty much anything. His resume is deep, and his understanding of the issues are second to none.
But his campaign has just never really caught on. Greens outside of Manitoba and Ontario don't know him very well - and Greens in Ontario might be more used to voicing their opposition to him, rather than their support. Murray's first tactical mistake of the campaign happened before the campaign got under way: he should have run for the Green Party in the 2019 federal election. He didn't, and that has really hurt his chances, as he now looks like a bit of an opportunist, sweeping in on a leaderless party to take it over. That several other candidates are doing the exact same as Murray, it's likely Murray's past Liberal credentials that make Murray's actions a little more egregious in the eyes of Greens.
And Murray has had a few mis-steps along the way. To me, it's pretty clear that Murray doesn't have a lot of respect for our marquee carbon fee and dividend policy to fight climate change. And lately he has gone on record saying that there may be times a Green caucus uses a whip on certain votes. And that's pretty much anathema for Greens.
Does Murray have a path to victory? If there is one, it's a very dimly lit path. Murray is going to have to outperform one of the following: Howard, Paul or David Merner, with 1st rank support and the preferences of Andrew West (which won't amount to much, but which still could see a plurality flow to Murray). If he accomplishes this, it'll be Howard, Paul or Merner ejected from the ballot before him, and he might be able to keep building on the basis of preferences from the other two. He's not going to pick up any support from Lascaris, and he'll get only minimal support from Amita Kuttner. Murray needs to stay ahead of Howard, Paul and Merner. If he can pull that off, he just might win this thing.
But I still think that's a longshot, given how the campaigns of Merner, Howard and Paul appear to have had a lot more resonance with Green voters. And with Murray having done himself few favours to dispel the notion that he is an outsider, that's going to cost him support up and down the ballot - and it's why I'm selecting Murray to be eliminated in Round 4.
If there is one leadership contestant for whom I feel unprepared to make an informed guess about, it's Amita Kuttner. Their campaign has appeared to be a serious enigma for me. It's generally been a positive campaign, but at the same time, I has been only moderately successful in attracting voters.
So I've got to judge Kuttner's campaigns relative to that of the other campaigns. Kuttner's path to victory is, I think, extremely difficult. It requires Kuttner to stay ahead of one of Merner, Paul, Howard or Murray AND to be ahead of Lascaris on that round that he's eliminated. I expect that Kuttner can pick up enough of Lascaris' preferences to propel them over the 50% margin, if it comes down to a straight fight between Kuttner and one of Merner/Pau/Howard/Murray.
And if it comes down to a straight fight between Lascaris and Kuttner, I also think Kuttner can likely win, as long as they and Lascaris are fairly close in vote percentage heading into that last round - and especially if it were Paul or Murray who had just been knocked out (because I believe Paul's and Murray's preferences are the least likely to go to Lascaris, while a greater percentage - but not a plurality - of Howard's and Merner's might end up with Lascaris).
Watch for Kuttner's position on the first ballot, relative to Merner/Paul/Howard/Murray. If Kuttner is ahead of 3 of these, they may have what it takes to make it to the end. If Kuttner is behind 3 of these, I think they're out. And I think they will be - behind Merner, Howard and Paul - that's why I'm selecting Amita Kuttner to be eliminated after the 5th round.
Howard has run an extremely effective, very positive, if limited campaign. Greens who are taking the time to check her out are liking what they're seeing. She hasn't upset any applecarts, and you'd be hard pressed to find any Green who has an axe to grind with her.
All of this is why just about every voter is going to rank Howard somewhere near the middle or the top of their ballots. And if a few things in the count break her way, she could win this. Like Murray, though, Howard needs to stay ahead of one of Paul, Merner and Murray on ever round of counting, as we can expect a good deal of their preferences to break to Howard should they be eliminated. Unlike Murray, Howard is probably well-positioned to pick up a fair number of Kuttner's preferences too.
But Howard's sure path to victory is the following: if she remains on the ballot after both Kuttner and Lascaris are eliminated, I believe she'll be the next leader of the Green Party of Canada. Lascaris' preferences - if they don't go to Kuttner - will probably mostly end up with Howard.
This is a longshot though, as I don't foresee Howard having the staying power to outlast both Kuttner and Lascaris - and that's because I think that as long as one of Kuttner or Lascaris remains in the race, a plurality of their preferences could be expected to go to the other (although I remain very uncertain about whether that's true in the case of Kuttner.
Howard's campaign could have benefited from a little more exposure, a little more money, and a little more familiarity with the Green Party. Although she has never run for the Party before and has opted to take the plunge in our leadership contest, unlike Murray, Greens just seem to consider her more "one of us". Which is not to suggest that some aren't troubled by her desire to seek the leadership as her first political action in the Party.
I just don't think that Howard will be able to overcome this feeling that I have that Greens still don't really know her. And it is just a feeling - although it's informed by a number of factors as I've indicated. Yes, I think her campaign has experienced a little momentum in September, and that might be enough to push her above Murray. But I just don't think she's going to be able to outflank Merner or Paul - and, along with bumping Murray off the ballot, that's where her path to victory has to lead.
I believe Howard will bow out in Round 7.
Look, let me be clear about something. If Paul has signed up a majority of those new members, she could potentially win this thing on the first ballot. Her campaign was the first to really take off in the spring / early summer, and she's raised a tonne of cash for the party. She's received the most mainstream media attention of any candidate, and now she's running for the Party in the Toronto Centre by-election. Without question, Paul has been the "candidate to beat" in this leadership contest.
Some have suggested that she has benefited unfairly from Elizabeth May, who has appeared at events, and helped her fundraise. I don't think there's any question that appearing at May's side has left an impression with voters that Paul is the real deal - if not the "annointed one". Whether one interprets that impression as a positive or a negative is informed by one's feelings for Elizabeth May.
Therefore, Paul's path to victory seems pretty straightforward: claim the top position on the ballot and pick up enough preferences from Murray/Merner/Howard to propel her above 50%.
What prevents Paul from winning it all are two contestants: Amita Kuttner and Dimitri Lascaris. If Lascaris is close to her after the first ballot, we're going to be in for a long night. Lascaris can count on more of Kuttner's preferences that Paul can. If Kuttner outperforms Murray/Howard/Merner, than Lascaris will probably win it. If Kuttner drops off before two of Murray/Howard/Merner, Paul may have a much clearer path to victory - as long as she is ahead of Merner at this point.
And here I am back to Kuttner again, and just being uncertain of where their campaign fits in with this contest. I have a sense that a good number of Kuttner's preferences will break to Lascaris, and to a lesser degree, Merner/Howard. If Merner and Howard are still in the race when Kuttner drops off, if Kuttner has an unexpectedly high amount of support, that could be the end of Paul.
And that's why I'm selecting Paul for elimination in Round 7. I do think Kuttner will perform more strongly than suspected, out-performing Murray - and even if they drop off before Howard and Merner, ultimately a good number, if not a majority, of Kuttner's preferences will work their way to Merner - enough to boost him above Paul.
Lascaris is the leadership contestant that everybody seems to love or loathe - at least among engaged members of the party. Lascaris' path to victory is a simple one on paper: sign up a hell of a lot of new members, and convince enough existing members the he won't be toxic for the Party, as some (like me) have claimed.
Without question, Lascaris has ran a masterful campaign as leader of the insurgency. A good number of those approximately 12,000 new members are likely here for his campaign. He's used his time in the campaign to steer away from the divisive issue of Israel/Palestine and BDS (although his supporters appear to want to talk about nothing but). He's done a very good job of pretending to be a moderate radical - and it might be enough to convince Greens who aren't paying attention to what's going on to cast their ballot for him, or to rank him high so that he gets their preferences when other contestants like Howard or Merner drop off.
Those paying attention have been sounding the alarm, though. We realize that Lascaris is here to transform the Green Party into a socialist party, taking us backward, and pretty much killing any hope we have of being electable. Lascaris, a former New Democrat who worked on Niki Ashton's losing leadership campaign (to take the NDP further to the left), has surrounded himself with disgruntled New Democrats and others who refer to themselves as "ecosocialists". Their objective is to create a confrontational party that champions nationalization and the elimination of capitalism as preconditions for fighting climate change. They sincerely believe that any effort to reduce emissions is doomed to fail under a capitalist economic system.
Thing is, I'm not so sure I disagree with all of that (although nationalization of the fossil fuel industry, just at a time where we can expect it to seriously start losing shrinking due to disappearing demand). Capitalism is a serious barrier to climate action.
But so is not being at the table - and that's what Lascaris and his followers seem to want to gloss over. Canadians aren't going to elect a socialist party to power - not now, not for a long while. The NDP has been around for, what? 60 years? And they've never formed government federally. And the NDP isn't socialist enough for these socialists.
Alarms have been sounding about the socialist insurgency, and about Dimitri Lascaris himself. Lascaris was one of the key players in the 2016 Green Party BDS episode, at that time being a member of Elizabeth May's shadow cabinet. Lascaris was later booted from Shadow Cabinet for a critical open letter he wrote to then BC Green leader, Andrew Weaver. He ultimately left the Party, joined the NDP, and when they rebuffed his candidate, came back to the Green Party just as May announced that she was stepping down.
Without question, a Lascaris victory will lead to an existential crisis for the Green Party. It's no secret that May is no fan of Lascaris', and others believe that the direction he will take the party in will mean a decade of being lost in the wilderness. I just don't see May staying the in the Party should Lascaris become the next leader. Greens on social media are already pledging to join May in leaving the Party, not wanting to waste valuable time and energy on a cause that has no hope for a Party whose fundamental values will have shifted with a new leader.
All of that said, Lascaris appears to have a pretty good chance of winning. But a ballot count that goes 8 rounds is probably going to be a problem for him, as his best chances of picking up support will be after the elimination of Haddad and Kuttner (and to a lesser degree, Howard and Merner). He's going to have to be very close to 50% when Howard or Merner come off of the ballot.
A strong showing in first ranked ballots are what Lascaris needs to win (and you might just as well add his first ballot percentage to Haddad's, because her preferences are going to overwhelmingly flow to him).
I keep seeing David Merner being referred to as "everybody's second choice", and there appears to be something to that. Merner has run a solid campaign that has seen him play friendly with just about all of the other candidates. There is certainly no doubt that Merner would make an excellent leader for our Party. And he's also the one most likely to find himself being sent to Ottawa after the next election, having finished a close second in the 2019 race to take his home seat of Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke. Merner also benefits from being the Vancouver Island candidate, where Greens are thick on the ground.
And I think he's going to have the staying power to take the whole thing. If it comes down to Merner, Lascaris and Paul, as I am predicting, if it's Paul that ends up existing the ballot, Merner is very likely to win it. If it's Merner that leaves, depending on how close Paul and Lascaris are to one another, a Paul victory might be a little less certain, as some of Merner's preferences will go to Lascaris. If it's Lascaris that drops off, Merner should be able to take it.
What to Watch For After the Initial Results are Announced
Round 1 will be the most important round for the ballot. We should be able to see some of the trends start to develop at that time, but we probably won't be able to rely on those trends to extrapolate a winner, unless either Lascaris or Paul have captured a serious amount of the vote. If either are up above 40%, it's probably game over. If Paul is above 35%, I don't see how anybody is going to catch her.
And frankly, yes, it's only Paul and Lascaris out of the serious contestants (Howard/Kuttner/Lascaris/Merner/Murray/Paul) that I believe could find themselves with such a large percentage of the vote. But even I don't think that's going to happen.
If Paul, Merner, Murray, Kuttner or Howard get over 25% in the first round, that's likely going to be enough for them to cruise to victory. The same is not necessarily so for Lascaris.
To read Lascaris' chances for success based on first round placement, do the following: add his percentage to Haddad's, and then take 2/3's of Kuttners. If he's at 50% with that, he'll probably win. If he's close, there's a good chance he'll win. If he's at 40-42%, I don't think he's going to do it.
If Kuttner/Murray/Merner/Howard are bunched up in the middle, the way that they exit the ballot will matter. In my scenario above, I have Murray exiting first, followed by Kuttner. But if the order of exit changes, that might be to to Paul's benefit or detriment, depending on whether Lascaris is in the race on the final ballot.
(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)