For the Green Party of Canada, two islands will hold the key to whether the party can make its hoped-for electoral breakthrough in the Oct. 21 federal election.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May’s party is running candidates in every region of the country, but her time in this campaign has focused on the seats where Greens have been embraced by voters: Vancouver Island and Prince Edward Island.
There are pockets, elsewhere, where the Greens could pick up seats, including the oasis of environmentally minded voters around Guelph, Ont. In Quebec, the Greens are running a separate campaign with its own resources.
Nationally, the Greens have elected just two members of Parliament, both of them from Vancouver Island. In this campaign, the party is funnelling its resources in particular into six B.C. seats that cover the southern half of Vancouver Island, which includes Ms. May’s Saanich-Gulf Islands riding.
The Green strategy, since the start of the campaign, has been to target seats where Greens have been elected federally or provincially, says national campaign manager Jonathan Dickie. “As we have started to elect more MPs, MLAs and MPPs across the country, we have been able to show our elected representatives are doing a good job. … It opens the door for voters,” he said.
Since the previous federal election in 2015, the number of elected Greens in Canada has increased dramatically, with members now sitting in the legislatures of B.C., PEI, New Brunswick and Ontario. That growth brings additional organization and resources to the federal campaign, as the provincial parties lend their expertise to the national effort.
Southern Vancouver Island holds the greatest potential for the Greens. It’s where Ms. May made history as Canada’s first elected Green MP, and it is home to three provincially elected Greens who currently hold the balance of power in the B.C. Legislature.
Racelle Kooy, the Green candidate for Victoria, started knocking on doors in the spring; if the Greens can pick up another seat anywhere, this is a likely place. The Greens came in second place here in 2015, fewer than 10 percentage points behind the NDP’s Murray Rankin, who is not seeking re-election. (Jo-Ann Roberts, the candidate for the Greens in that race, is now running in Halifax.)
In Ms. Kooy’s campaign office in downtown Victoria, custom murals on the walls brighten what is typically a utilitarian workspace. Stylized orcas in kelp beds dance along the wall, at Ms. Kooy’s request, as a reminder of the fight to save the region’s endangered southern resident killer whales. “People can relate to them,” she said.
The New Democrats stand to lose the most here if the Greens can pick up seats in B.C. and for the past week, the party has brought in additional resources to Vancouver Island. The popular NDP MP Nathan Cullen, who is not seeking re-election in his northern B.C. riding, was in Victoria on Tuesday, warning voters that progressive voters need to unite behind his party to stop a Conservative government.
The rivalry between the Greens and the NDP in this campaign has been intense. During a campaign stop in Victoria on Oct. 3, Ms. May accused the New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh of desperate and dishonourable attacks. “We haven’t been gunning to hurt the NDP, but they seem to be training most of their fire on creating fake stories about us. I have great patience and I try to find a wellspring of compassion for all, but Mr. Singh is straining my patience.”
In pockets of Atlantic Canada, the Greens have been boosted by recent success at the provincial level and have replaced the NDP as the progressive choice for many voters. That’s particularly true in Prince Edward Island, where the provincial party took more than 30 per cent of the popular vote in April and formed the Official Opposition for the first time.
That historic breakthrough, and the Greens’ three new seats in the New Brunswick Legislature, has encouraged federal candidates around the region. Ms. May has paid particular attention to increasing support here, visiting the region frequently and weighing in on local environmental issues.
“The most interesting thing that I’ve seen is how ready people are for a change,” said Barry Randle, the Green candidate in Central Nova, where Ms. May has called for the end of effluent dumping by the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou, N.S. “They’ve seen this pendulum go back and forth, from red to blue, red to blue, and nothing ever changes. Nothing ever improves. But with the climate crisis, people are realizing the change has to come, and it has to come now.”
He thinks one thing in the Greens’ favour is the lack of an anyone-but-Stephen-Harper sentiment that swept across Atlantic Canada in 2015. That means voters may feel freer to follow their conscience, instead of voting to keep someone else from winning, he suggested.
“This time, we can actually vote for what we want, instead of what we don’t want,” Mr. Randle said.
But while it’s projected the Greens could draw more votes in the Maritimes than they ever have, one political observer cautioned against reading too much into recent Green Party success at the provincial level.
“I still think it’s going to be a real struggle for them. I don’t see them picking up any seats in Atlantic Canada,” said Peter McKenna, a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.
The Greens have been able to attract some quality candidates on the island, including former provincial party president Anna Keenan – but she’s running in Malpeque, PEI, a riding that has been Wayne Easter’s Liberal stronghold since 1993. Her work on electoral reform raised her profile provincially, and she could make things interesting, however.
Much of the Green’s success in PEI has to do with provincial party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, a family dentist who has styled himself as an unconventional politician doing a new style of politics. But while trying to convince islanders his party is PEI’s next government-in-waiting, he’s avoided wading too deeply into divisive environmental issues that are such a big part of the national party’s brand, Prof. McKenna said.
“In Prince Edward Island, politics is really personal, and Peter Beven-Baker is the driving force behind the party here. He’s hugely popular. But this hasn’t really crossed over into federal politics,” Prof. McKenna said. “Islanders are also very pragmatic. They vote with an eye toward who’s going to form government, and they want to ensure the transfer of resources and political goodies continues.”
Mike Schreiner, the Leader of the Ontario Green Party and the MPP for Guelph, is the sole Green in the Ontario Legislature, and he has parachuted into Green campaigns in B.C., New Brunswick, PEI and, most recently, in Manitoba. He says Ms. May’s Guelph rally early in the campaign drew an over-capacity crowd.
“You are seeing a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. "That level of ground game doesn’t exist in all ridings but in the Greens’ top 20, 30 ridings, the organization is more robust than it has been [in past campaigns].”
He said the party doesn’t have the resources to mount a solid campaign in every region, so it has to be strategic. Vancouver Island, the East Coast and his pocket of green-minded voters in Southern Ontario are the most promising.
“We only have so much capacity.”
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