On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a by-election for the British Columbia riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith, which had been vacated by NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson. Malcolmson, a well-known and capable parliamentarian, was first elected in 2015 when the NDP swept all ridings on Vancouver Island, save Elizabeth May's seat in Saanich-Gulf Islands. The NDP's success on Vancouver Island was one of the few bright spots of the 2015 election for New Democrats - as 2015 saw a marked reduction in the number of MP's from the rest of Canada.
Malcolmson resigned her seat earlier this year, after she was either called on by the BC NDP to help win a crucial provincial by-election on Vancouver Island - or she saw the writing on the wall for federal NDP and decided there was no better time to find something new. Her seat was formally vacated on January 2, 2019 - although she spent months campaigning for the provincial NDP on the public dime prior to the by-election being officially called by NDP Premier John Horgan (see: "MP Malcolmson to run for provincial seat in Nanaimo by-election," CFAX 1070, October 24, 2018). Malcolmson's by-election bid proved to be successful, and she replaced former NDP MLA Leonard Krog in the provincial Nanaimo seat that Krog had previously vacated to run for Mayor of Nanaimo (in which he was successful).
|Paul Manly & Elizabeth May|
Green candidate Paul Manly hopes to put an end to this game of 'musical New Democrats' by emerging from the May 4th by-election as the MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith - and the first Green at the federal level to win a by-election, and only the second federal Green ever to be elected, anywhere.
And all of the signs that I'm seeing are pointing to the significant possibility that he might just do that.
Manly has been campaigning in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding for some time now. Manly, a well-known documentary filmmaker, is also the Green Party's shadow cabinet critic for International Trade. He's made a significant commitment to the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding since he decided to challenge for the seat in the 2015 general election.
2015 General Election Results
The 2015 elections results are telling. Remember that this was an election that saw Liberals across Canada swept to power - often with only marginal local name recognition. But the NDP managed to take all of Vancouver Island. And the Green Party was one of the clear losers in 2015, as anticipated support identified in pre-election polling bottomed out - likely due to voters making strategic decisions at the ballot box about the best way to stop the Conservatives from winning. Or perhaps Trudeau's promise of reforming the electoral system and acting on climate change were enough to lure potential Greens away. Whatever the reasons, the outcome of the 2015 general election was a huge disappointment for Greens, who had confidently been speaking about something called 'Fortress Vancouver Island' prior to writ being dropped (see: "2015 Election Aftermath: Hard Lessons for Greens," Sudbury Steve May, October 29, 2015).
|Nanaimo-Ladysmith - General Election 2015 results|
Although finishing 4th in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, Manly was still able to rack up an impressive 19.8% of the vote - improving on the Greens 2011 effort by over 12.5%. Manly's made a clear commitment to Nanaimo-Ladysmith and to the Green Party. And the results show that the Green Party has been a strong believer in Manly, too, given the significant financial investment made by the Manly campaign in 2015. It's that investment that might start to pay off now as we get deeper into the 2019 by-election. Green Leader Elizabeth May has said already that Manly has dusted off some of those 2015 signs for re-use - so that's one expense that he'll be able to minimize!
And of course the fact that the Party leader herself was in the riding the day that the by-election announced shows just how serious the Green Party is about winning this one.
NDP Abandoning Ship
Besides Manly's lawn signs, there are plenty of other signs that suggest that the Greens are going to be strong contenders in Nanaimo-Ladysmith. Malcolmson, who was a strong critic for the NDP on Parliament Hill, did her Party few favours by quitting before finishing off her term. Her early departure is one of several made by NDP elected officials from that part of B.C. - a list which includes Leonard Krog as well as former Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart, who resigned from the party last year in order to run (successfully) for Mayor of Vancouver. Stewart's seat was recently won by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh - a victory which put down what appeared to be an imminent caucus revolt. It also ensures that the NDP will now head into the fall 2019 General Election under Singh's unpopular leadership.
And then there are the New Democrats who have resigned for other reasons. Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen might be the best known in the rest of Canada, but it's Victoria MP's Murray Rankin's decision to sit out the general election that might have more of an impact in Nanaimo-Ladysmith. Rankin, a former Law Professor, was a a rising star for the New Democrats. He is also that Party's critic for Justice and the Attorney General - and the NDP certainly could have utilized a strong voice in that role with everything that's now going on in Parliament with LavScam - but shortly after Singh triumphed in Burnaby South, Rankin decided to call it quits (see: "NDP MP Murray Rankin won't run again," CBC News, February 28, 2019).
The perception is that, under Jagmeet Singh, the NDP is a sinking ship and their electoral fortunes are about to go down. Certainly, just about every seat currently occupied by a New Democrat MP from Quebec is at serious risk. Most people don't even know who Jagmeet Singh is - and those that do know him perceive him to be a bit of a political light-weight. Personally, I'm a fan of Singh's - but I've been following his career since he accomplished what I thought to be an impossible task - being elected as a New Democratic MPP in my former home riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton. That said, Singh has not connected with voters in the same way that he's connected with me. And it's not that Singh has a particular problem with ethics (in the same way that Andrew Scheer or Justin Trudeau appear to) - it's just that voters don't know who he is (see: "Nanos survey finds Canadians believe Elizabeth May is most ethical party leader," CTV News, February 26, 2019).
Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, too, believe that many of the currently-held NDP ridings will be in play this fall - and that many are ripe to fall to the Liberals. Think about this for a moment. In 2015, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was forced to call 3 by-elections to replace high-profile Conservatives that had deserted his sinking ship (and one by-election to replace a New Democrat who had left federal politics to run for the Ontario Liberal Party right here in Sudbury). All 4 of those by-elections were actually called in accordance with legal requirements - but they were never held. Harper established a months long writ period for all 4 by-elections - and ultimately all 4 were cancelled when the General Election was called.
Trudeau could have done the same thing. In fact, Malcolmson's resignation was only effective as of January 2 of this year, while Patrick Brown, Dean Del Mastro and John Baird all vacated their seats in October 2014 - effectively leaving those ridings without representation in parliament for almost an entire year. So why did Trudeau opt to call a by-election where the result will see someone sent to Ottawa for just a few months (and maybe only a couple of weeks of actually sitting in the House of Commons), only to have to turn around and face a general election?
Narratives for the General Election
To me, Trudeau's decision is yet another sign that the NDP aren't likely going to hold the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding. It's actually a brilliant political move on the part of the Liberals - who, despite the ignominies of LavScam, continue to show that they know a thing or two about self-preservation. Think about it. If the NDP go down in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, how might that play into the Liberal narrative that they are the only party that can possibly hold back the regressive tide of Andrew Scheer's Conservatives?
And the thing is, this narrative doesn't even need the Liberals to win - it just needs the NDP to lose. Preferably to the Liberals, for sure. Then Trudeau can try to reclaim the mantle of the leader of the party best poised to champion a progressive agenda (despite the considerable evidence to the contrary - but election campaigns aren't really about 'evidence' now, are they?). If the Conservatives win, the Liberals will simply say, "See? This is what happens when progressive voters don't get behind Liberal candidates."). It's probably the second least-desirable outcome for the Liberals, but it would still be better than an NDP victory in Nanaimo-Ladysmith - as an NDP victory will surely tell the public that the NDP remains competitive and should not be written-off by voters.
But what if the Green Party wins? That, too, will be a victory of a sort for the Liberals. You can bet that a Green victory in Nanaimo-Ladysmith will be used by the Green Party as evidence that the Greens are going to be serious contenders in the fall general election - and maybe even replace the NDP as Canada's 3rd Party. That might seem a stretch now, but if the "NDP is collapsing" narrative really gets going, strange things could happen. And with an NDP loss in Nanaimo-Ladysmith - hot on the heels of an NDP loss in former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's riding of Outremount - you can bet that's the narrative that both the Greens and the Liberals will be trying to advance.
And Greens, let's not kid ourselves here. The Liberals would very much like to use our Party as a counter-weight to the NDP. The rise of another progressive party will only split the progressive vote further - allowing the Liberals to campaign for the votes of centrists and those on the right who may be growing uncomfortable with the Conservatives' embrace of white nationalism. Who can forget when the B.C. Liberals told voters to vote for the B.C. Greens - so as to avoid a provincial NDP government (see: "Smyth: Why Christy Clark loves the Green Party," the Vancouver Sun, April 6, 2016). It's because the Liberals firmly believe that the NDP and Greens are fishing for votes almost exclusively in each other's ponds that has led the Liberals to discount the Greens as an electoral sideshow, or a foil to be used against New Democrats. After all, isn't that what happened on the Island in 2015 - and again just recently in the provincial Nanaimo by-election that saw Sheila Malcolmson emerge victorious after a collapse of the B.C. Green Party's vote? (see: "Nanaimo results have positives for BC Liberals, disaster for Greens," February 4, 2019).
Manly is the Strategic Choice
Well, here's the thing: the evidence actually suggests that when Greens do well, they pull just as many or more votes from the Liberal Party than they do the NDP (and usually some from the Conservatives as well). It's not like a pendulum clock that swings back and forth between New Democrats and Greens - a strong Green campaign impacts all of the other parties. In strategic scenarios like those facing voters on Vancouver Island in 2015 and in Nanaimo, provincially, in 2019 - voters are most likely to opt for the candidate seen as the most electable. But most by-elections aren't based on those strategic scenarios (and the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election certainly isn't). And, perhaps more importantly, what if it's the Green Party candidate that actually appears to be "more electable"?
I argue that in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, Paul Manly is the more electable candidate. And I think voters in Nanaimo-Ladysmith will see it that way too. At this time, the NDP hasn't even nominated a candidate (although it looks like they'll be deciding between two well-qualified contestants - see: "Candidates hit the campaign trail as Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection called," the Nanaimo Bulletin, March 24, 2019). The Liberal candidate, Michelle Corfield, is going to have her work cut out for her to deliver in the riding in the way former Liberal candidate Tim Tessier did in 2015. Tessier rode the crest of the Trudeau-tide and managed to improve the Liberals standing by almost 17% over 2011. But since then the Liberals have broken numerous promises and purchased a leaky pipeline for over $4 billion. They're also presently mired in a scandal that could see the RCMP called in to investigate the Prime Minister's Office.
For Nanaimo-Ladysmith voters who don't want a Conservative or a Liberal, the strategic choice this time is Paul Manly. And if progressives are afraid that a Conservative might win (which is unlikely for a few reasons - including the presence of the ultra-right-wing People's Party in this by-election), Manly is still the best choice. And for those voters on the right that don't want a Liberal to get in and really, really don't want a New Democrat - guess what? Manly is a strategic choice for them, too.
Crystal Ball Gazing
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigning in Nanaimo-Ladysmith will be more for waving the flag than anything else. As with Burnaby, the Liberals probably don't think they can win this one - but they'll still put in a decent effort (they've got the money to be able to do so), and if things come together and they do win, awesome for them. But if they don't, no biggee - especially if the NDP goes down.
But the NDP are going to put a lot of resources into holding Nanaimo-Ladysmith. I expect that we're going to see a very nasty campaign on the ground there over the next month - and most of the nastiness will be directed at Paul Manly and the Green Party. The NDP have a particular and peculiar hate on for the Green Party, and frequently go out of their way to spread false information about what the Green Party stands for. I've seen everything from "The Conservative Party bankrolls the Greens" to "Greens are Liberal dupes" to "Greens are a one-issue party" - and that last one tends to have a little more resonance with voters. Mostly, though, it's the only canard that a vote for a Green is a wasted vote. If the NDP comes at Manly with that one, I fully expect voters to see through it.
But make no mistake - the NDP needs to hold Nanaimo-Ladysmith. If they lose this by-election, like a house of cards, every single NDP riding on Vancouver Island will be put at risk. No, that's not entirely true: every single NDP-held riding on Vancouver Island is already at risk. A Green victory in this by-election may just be evidence of the inevitable - and the inevitable in this case is the collapse of the NDP, nation-wide. Even if the New Democrats manage to hold Nanaimo-Ladysmith, ridings like Victoria and Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke are still going to be in play for the Green Party in the general election.
Manly's message, though, can put him over the top. He personally is committed to the riding, and he represents a political organization that is actually serious about doing politics differently - approaching decision-making from a values-based and ethical perspective. And the Green Party really is the only national political party that has a serious plan to deal with the climate crisis. And Manly will certainly let voters know that the Green Party also has a lot of really good ideas about other issues - including a national pharmacare program. With the Greens, voters can get all of the NDP's good ideas, without the LNG (or the Sherbrooke Declaration - sorry, that's a personal aside - it won't play in Nanaimo-Ladysmith).
It's About Paul Manly
It's Manly, though, and the team he's been assembling that's going to help convince voters that this really is the right time to back the Green Party. Make no mistake - a Green victory in Nanaimo-Ladysmith will really, really help Green fortunes in the upcoming General Election. That's why Elizabeth May has called this an "all hands on deck" moment. What? Did you think she was using a nautical reference, while tweeting from the ferry on its way to Gabriola Island, where she and Paul kicked off the by-election campaign on Sunday? Or perhaps you thought the "all hands on deck" shout-out for Greens was made in contrast to the NDP's call to "Abandon Ship!"
And this brings us to the final sign that helps convince me Manly can win - Greens from across the nation are poised to help him do just that. New Democrats? Well, which ever candidate is eventually selected can expect some outside help, but a lot of the NDP's serious campaigners are tied up with the Alberta provincial election, where they'll be pushing for more bitumen and fracked gas pipelines. In contrast, a lot of the Green Party's serious campaigners are already on the ground in Nanaimo-Ladysmith (or elsewhere in Southern Vancouver Island) and have been for some time.
So Greens - this one is important, and it is totally within reach. And you can help - with your time, or with your money - or both. If you'd like to donate to Paul's campaign, just follow the link. If you'd like to get involved (which is great experience for your own upcoming local campaigns), send an email to Green Party of Canada campaign manager Jonathan Dickie at: firstname.lastname@example.org - and let him know you'd like to make some calls for Paul.
(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)