Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party stands astride Canada’s political reality like an unmovable colossus. Scandals and legal suits are not changing public opinion, and the Conservative Party remains poised to achieve another significant electoral victory in 2015. The Conservative war machine continues to pump out disinformation and vitriol aimed at the Leaders of the two largest Opposition parties, along with anyone else (from artists, journalists, academics and environmentalists) who dares get in its way. Its weapons are funded by right-wing partisans, and fuelled by a generally uncritical media.
“Stop Harper”, a rallying cry first loosed by former Senate Page Brigette DePape, probably best sums up the current reality for politically engaged Canadians who don’t subscribe to the Conservative Party’s view of Canada and its future. Amongst the majority of Canadians who did not vote for the Conservative Party in the 2011 general election exists a small percentage of Canadians who voted or thought about voting for local candidates representing the Green Party of Canada. With strong new leaders now heading the opposition Liberal and New Democratic parties, these Green supporters are going to be faced with tough decisions leading up to Election Day 2015. The choices that they make will resonate throughout the Green Party and its local subdivisions, and will impact everything from candidate and volunteer recruitment, fund raising, and ultimately our future electoral success.
Questions for Local Greens
In Part 1 of this Series, I asked the question, “Is the Green Party still relevant?”. In that post, I looked at the current Canadian political scene, and some of the factors which might influence the electoral success of Greens. The previous post ended with questions about how local Green Party campaigns could expect to fare, given the realities I had identified. Could Green Members and supporters end up abandoning the Party in the pursuit of what some might see as a more over-arching goal: that being to “Stop Harper”? Can electoral co-operation exist between the Green Party and the Liberals and/or NDP, in any form?
These are the questions that local riding associations are going to have to face over the next two years, as the Party begins to pull itself together and re-energizes for the next federal general election. It may be that local Greens want opt to pursue the course which the Green Party pursued in the Labrador by-election: to sit out the election and support one of the other Opposition Parties. Others might choose to run a candidate with the goal of accomplishing other results which can be useful during the next election, if circumstances might prove more favorable at that time. These tasks might include: getting the candidate’s name out there in public realm, associated with the Green Party; working with volunteers on phone and foot canvasses in an effort to build local voter databases; and, developing a strong and experienced core campaign team.
It may very well be that in certain ridings, there won’t be much in the way of conversations amongst Greens at all, given how thin Greens are on the ground in certain parts of this nation. And with the federal redistribution of riding boundaries intended to impact the 2015 general election, it may be that some Electoral District Associations (EDA’s) are deregistered, and a critical mass of Greens needed to form an EDA in new ridings proves difficult to find and/or sustain.
In the recent past, the Green Party has committed to running candidates in all of Canada’s 308 ridings, largely to show evidence that the Green Party is one with a truly national reach (and to demonstrate to the Broadcast Consortium a real and significant rationale for the inclusion of our Party Leader in the televised Leader’s debates). Right now, it’s unclear whether the Party may have the same objectives in mind. The notion of demonstrating "national reach” isn’t as necessary now as it has been in the past, and in theory, if the Broadcast Consortium follows its past unwritten rules for participation in the Leader’s debates, Elizabeth May will be appearing in those debates (although that being said, in the 2008 election, the Consortium opted not to follow its own long-established practices and originally did not invite May to attend – the same could happen in 2015, especially if the other Parties threaten to boycott if the Greens are present. Remember: the Green Party does not have official Party status in parliament). Given this circumstance, running candidates in all Canadian ridings may or may not be a priority of the Party in 2015, depending on whether one thinks May will be invited to the debate.
Considerations for Electoral District Associations
If running candidates in all ridings isn’t a priority of the Party, then it may be that EDA’s will have some sort of a say in whether they choose to nominate candidates. Likely, it hasn’t occurred to many EDA’s that they might actually have a choice in the matter at all. After all, don’t EDA’s exist in order to find, raise funds for and select a candidate? Well…yes and no. Candidate searches and elections readiness may be some of the roles of an EDA, but they aren’t the only roles. It may very well be that there are some Green EDA’s who view the need to nominate a candidate as purely a secondary function – and for those EDA’s, it may simply be assumed that it’s their choice whether someone will represent the Green Party in their local riding. So while some EDA’s might not realize that they might have a choice in running a candidate, other EDA’s might not realize that they don’t have a choice but to run a candidate.
And this has everything to do with the structure of the Green Party of Canada, and some recent decisions made by grassroots members related to the powers of EDA’s in relation to the Central Party. Keep in mind, though, that most ridings in Canada don’t actually have a local Green Party EDA, so the discussion below does not apply.
Could a local Green Party EDA decide not to nominate a candidate to represent the Green Party in the 2015 election? What options might a local EDA have? Some of the discussions that I’ve heard about co-operation have had to do with the idea of joint nomination contests with other Parties, such as the Liberals and/or the NDP (but not necessarily just those two other parties). Generally, I’ve discounted those conversations, because I can’t conceive of a circumstance in which the Central Liberal or New Democratic party would ever allow non-members to vote in a local nomination contest (despite the ability of non-members being allowed to do so in the recent Liberal Leadership contest). Simply put, the Constitutions of both the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party forbid this – so rule out joint nomination contests.
Of course, Green Party Members could always resign and take out memberships in the other parties, in order to participate in a particular nomination meeting. This practice has been going on for ever – it’s certainly not unusual for members of one party to join another for whatever reason. Likely this is already happening, as Greens start to line up behind what they perceive to be Liberal or NDP candidates with a good chance of winning, especially in Conservative-held ridings. The problem with this approach is that a small core of Greens must be left behind in order to fill roles in the local Green EDA which are required by Elections Canada. If this handful of members don’t retain their membership, the Green EDA will fold.
Some EDA’s might decide to get creative, and try to nominate members of other parties to represent the Green Party in a particular riding, with or without the permission or endorsement of the individual nominated. This might happen in ridings which are currently held by a strong Liberal or NDP MP, or where there might be concern that even a modest Green Party campaign which captures 3% of the vote might end up splitting the results, and electing a Conservative. To those EDA’s, I suggest that they check their Constitutions first, because it’s probably written somewhere that a nominated candidate must be a member of the Green Party. Of course, Constitutions can be amended, right?
Finally, some EDA’s might simply opt to not nominate a candidate at all. They may either decide to not hold a candidate nomination meeting, or to hold a meeting with only one name on the ballot – that of “None of the Above” or “NOTA”. In the Green Party of Canada, voting for NOTA is always a choice. So if NOTA is the only name on the ballot, or receives the most votes, it may be that the EDA would consider that an expression of the will of local Greens in the riding, and the expectation would then be that no one would represent the Green Party in the general election.
The Local vs. The Centre
All of these scenarios highlight the notion that when it comes to candidate nomination in the Green Party, the buck stops with the EDA. That’s actually not the case, as the Central Party has a very clear role in the candidate selection process. I won’t get into specifics, but suffice it to say that there are a couple of times during the selection process where the Central Party’s approval of a nomination contestant and/or nominated candidate is required. That being said, for the most part, the Central Party has proven reluctant to interfere in nomination contests, as they really are a clear expression of the will of grassroots Greens at the local level.
What’s less clear is whether the Central Party will choose to over-ride decisions of local Electoral District Associations which may choose not to run candidates. Or even if the Central Party could if it wanted to. Frankly, there is little precedent to guide the Party forward here. In Labrador, while local Greens were consulted about whether a candidate should run or not, there was no EDA in place to make a decision about a candidate. Local EDA Constitutions might hold the answer – especially if whether the selection of a candidate is listed as a purpose or requirement of the Association (and it very well may not be with some of the older EDA constitutions, written at a time when the priorities of the Party were not the same as they are today). However, given the NOTA option on all candidate selection ballots, even if the requirement to hold a contest is clearly spelled out, the selection of NOTA over a real person (or the listing of NOTA as the only candidate) could still lead to circumstances where a real living breathing nomination contestant is not selected by the local riding association.
If this happens for whatever reason (and presumably it would be more likely to happen in EDA’s that are looking towards electoral co-operation with one or more of the other parties in 2015), what are the options of the Central Party?
Back in 2010, grassroots members of the Party gave the authority to Federal Council to provide each and every Electoral District Association with new local Constitutions, to be based on a template developed by Federal Council. This action has yet to be implemented. But, if the Green Party’s Federal Council wanted to assure the opportunity for the Party to have living and breathing Green candidates stand in every riding in the 2015, there remains this membership-endorsed method for doing so, simply by replacing all existing EDA Constitutions with new Constitutions which prescribe a particular process for candidate selection (and which limit the ability of local Greens to amend their Constitutions). Of course, this approach may appear to be heavy-handed and not in keeping with the Party’s values which seek to promote local democracy, especially in those ridings where Members may have already opted co-operate with another party, and not nominate a Green candidate. That being said, the Central Party may still wish to consider having a Green on each and every riding’s ballot, in order to continue to demonstrate the truly national reach of the Party, so that the odds are increased for May’s participation in the televised Leader’s debate.
Of course, in ridings without Electoral District Associations, the Central Party is able to appoint a candidate. Local Greens may recommend a candidate to the Central Party first, but ultimately, the decision to appoint a particular individual rests with the Party. This is the same in other national political parties.
The Time To Talk About This is Now
In the lead-up to the 2015 election, these are the sorts of discussions which Greens can expect to have amongst ourselves, at the local and national level. What are the priorities of the Party? Do we need to have a Green nominated in every riding? What is our commitment to the notion of electoral co-operation, and can that commitment be interpreted to extend to cross-party conversations at the local level? Greens tend not to be particularly partisan, as a rule of thumb, so there’s probably a lot more tension in our Party between the Central Party and local subdivisions. The “grassroots” nature of the Party is taken very seriously – as it should be, I believe – because we generally share the value of representative democracy.
Over the next several months, Greens are going to have to figure this out – because at some point in the near future, the tension between the Centre and the Locals will be tested over the issue of electoral co-operation. At some point, a decision is going to have to be made about whether it’s ok to not nominate a local candidate to carry the Green Party’s banner in 2015. That kind of decision needs to be an informed decision, and based on the rules of the Party. While it’s bound to make some unhappy, if the decision is explained in the context of our current political reality, it may receive greater acceptance. In my experience, for a number of reasons, explaining these sorts of decisions hasn’t been one of our Party’s strengths. With that in mind, I hope for a different outcome this time around.
Given the unresolved issues around electoral co-operation, is the Green Party of Canada still relevant in our current political circumstance? Some pundits have suggested that we should simply fold up shop and work to have either the Liberals or New Democrats elected, because they have the better chance to Stop Harper. Indeed, many pundits believe that a vote for the Green Party is no better than a vote for the Conservatives, because a Green vote takes away a vote for a New Democrat or Liberal. With this in mind, the question of the Green Party’s relevancy appears to remain unanswered at the conclusion of Part 2 of this series.
In Part 3, this dyed-in-the-wool Green Partisan will definitively answer the question about the Green Party’s relevancy on the Canadian political scene, primarily by looking at what the Green Party of Canada has on offer versus the other parties.
(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)