It wasn’t the breakthrough she had hoped for, but Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says a minority government is a relief. The Greens have tripled their seat count from the last election – from one MP to three – and Ms. May says she still hopes her party will have influence in the next government of Canada.
But she says the Liberals can expect no support on anything from her party so long as the Trans Mountain pipeline project moves forward.
“No. There is not a single way,” she said in an interview.
Ms. May arrived at her party’s headquarters on Monday night when the party was leading in just one seat in New Brunswick – and it was enough to cheer.
“This was a children’s crusade,” she told supporters, her voice cracking with emotion. She vowed to ensure that the minority government would be pressed by the Greens to act on a climate plan to protect their future.
Ms. May’s hope was to end the day holding the balance of power in a minority Parliament – an objective that cannot be engineered. But as the results came in indicating a minority government, any gains made by the Greens will be seen as a victory for a party that has long fought to shed the image of a one-person party.
Ms. May worked the room of supporters with the comfort of someone who is not staking her political future on the outcome – she had effectively given her notice before the ballots were counted. Win, lose or draw, she said, the party would have to find a new leader after this election.
This was Ms. May’s fourth election campaign as leader of the Greens and it began, as it always does, with great expectations for a breakthrough.
Ms. May’s relationship with Canadian voters has been a dance with a commitment-phobic partner. Between elections, her party enjoys popular support that ought to translate into opposition party status, and her leadership approval ratings are strong. But at the altar, when the time comes for voters to mark their ballots, that affection evaporates.
Since her own electoral breakthrough in 2011 as Canada’s first Green MP, Ms. May’s party has added just one seat.
The Greens had cause to be optimistic this year, despite the party’s failed campaigns of the past.
Since the previous federal election in 2015, Greens have made electoral inroads across the country, winning seats in four provincial parliaments.
Climate action emerged as a top ballot-box issue – a natural advantage for the party that has built its platform around a plan that aims to wean Canada off fossil fuels faster than any of the other parties.
And the field of competition seemed to offer opportunity. Jagmeet Singh’s NDP began the campaign mired in doubts, the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau had displayed ethical lapses and Andrew Scheer of the Conservatives had not established his presence. The Greens offered a home for disaffected voters of all stripes.
The battle was always between the NDP and Greens, fighting for third-party status.
While Mr. Singh exceeded expectations, Ms. May’s campaign suffered some self-inflicted wounds.
The Greens’ platform appealed to those voters who seek social justice, as much as fiscal conservatives. The NDP used that broad appeal as a weapon, warning progressive voters that the Greens were ready to combine forces with the Conservatives to take Canada backward on issues of social policy.
The Greens also faced questions about the way they are governed. Ms. May says she is only a spokesperson for the party and any members of a Green caucus would be unwhipped in Parliamentary votes. That opens them up to questions about the values the party stands for. Could anti-abortion Green MPs vote in Parliament to reopen a debate on access to abortion, she was asked? Instead of dismissing the question as hypothetical, Ms. May gave one of her unscripted answers – and then spent the rest of the campaign insisting her party would never undermine a woman’s right to choose.
The party’s strength was its ambitious plan to tackle climate action.
“It’s a climate referendum,” Ms. May told reporters on Monday morning. She said this election will determine whether Canadians actually want action on the threat of catastrophic climate change.
But the Greens were selling their plan in a crowded field: Everyone wanted in on the action now that voters were concerned about the issue.
Canadian voters have been told for decades that they can have it all – an economy that relies on increasing sales of fossil fuels as well as climate leadership, she noted, and persuading them that is not the case is not easy.
Ms. May needed to convince Canadians that this was the election where they needed to make some hard choices.