Discount the Greens

Don’t Discount the Greens…Yet

On election night in 2011, enthusiastic Green Party supporters gathered in an airport hangar in Sidney to celebrate a historic first: the election of Leader Elizabeth May.

The road had been a hard one. Founded in 1983, the Green Party didn’t capture more than 1% of the popular vote until the 2004 federal election, and their growing support didn’t translate into seats until 2011. Since winning the leadership race in August 2006, Elizabeth May has fought against the perception of the party as a fringe group supported only by staunch environmentalists and has worked to position the Greens as a legitimate option for voters. Her inclusion in the federal election debates in 2008 – a first for the party – was a huge victory in the path towards mainstream recognition.

Flash forward to 2015 and the green movement in Canada is politically stronger than ever. Technically, the Green Party now has three Members of Parliament in Ottawa, having pulled two sitting MPs under their banner from the NDP since the last election: Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay-Superior North) and José Nunez-Melo (Laval).

Beyond Parliament Hill, Green Parties have made waves across the country, securing seats in provincial legislatures (Andrew Weaver in B.C., David Coon in New Brunswick, and Peter Beven-Baker in Prince Edward Island) and on Vancouver’s City Council (Adriane Carr, Janet Fraser, Stuart Mackinnon, and Michael Wiebe). These individuals have been vocal, especially in British Columbia, garnering a fairly sizeable following and attracting regular media attention.

Building up to the 2015 election, the federal Green Party would seem well-positioned to make some gains. Tapping into talent from the country’s public broadcaster, the Greens are running former CBC host Jo-Ann Roberts in Victoria, and they managed to snag former CBC senior meteorologist Claire Martin to run in North Vancouver. Beyond this, they also have name recognition with incumbents Bruce Hyer and José Nunez-Melo, former Liberal leadership candidate Deborah Coyne, and they may even be able to build on existing momentum in provinces such as New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island where they hold provincial seats.

So, how are they doing in the polls? The short answer: not well enough. Elizabeth May is expected to maintain her seat, but existing seat projections don’t have them making any gains. Across the country, the Green Party is polling between 5 to7%, surpassing the 3.91% they managed to achieve in the 2011 election. However, their support is still too diffuse to translate into more seats – a problem the party regularly contends with.

Even in B.C., where some firms have them polling at close to 15%, they are struggling to pull ahead outside of May’s riding of Saanich Gulf-Islands. This can be at least partially attributed to the strength of the NDP in the province. May is trying to chip away at the NDP’s support by pointing to Mulcair’s wishy-washy stance on pipelines, but it remains to be seen whether this will be an effective strategy.

Even still, don’t discount the Greens yet. As is repeated multiple times each day, this is the longest campaign in modern history – a lot can still change. And with upwards of 50% of voters still undecided, there are still plenty of votes up for grabs.

Even if the momentum of the green movement doesn’t translate into seats for the party this time around, there may be more room for them in the future. With two out of the three main party leaders (Mulcair and Trudeau) promising electoral reform, this may be the last federal election fought under the first-past-the-post system, making it easier for the Greens to translate their support into seats down the road.