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Environmentalists turn away from Greens to support ‘anybody but Harper’ campaign

Former Green candidate Ben West is now supporting the NDP candidate in his riding. A calculated decision that he hopes will help defeat the Conservative government.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

Elizabeth May's Green Party ought to be able to count on a strong network of environmental activists on Canada's West Coast to expand her party's presence in the House of Commons on Oct. 19.

Instead, she said she's under "friendly fire."

"As Greens are about to be elected to Parliament to defend our coast, to stop Kinder Morgan and to push for real climate negotiations in Paris, suddenly our friends pop up from behind the trees and start machine-gunning us before we can get to the finish line," Ms. May said in an interview Thursday.

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A number of environmental leaders and policy experts are urging voters to opt for strategic voting, bypassing the Greens in favour of a party that could unseat the Conservatives.

Ben West is a former Green candidate who has helped run a number of the party's campaigns. He's also the head of Tanker Free BC, and in his Burnaby North-Seymour riding, the Green candidate is Lynne Quarmby, a Simon Fraser University professor who was arrested in 2014 during a Kinder Morgan oil pipeline protest. Only the Greens have come out against the pipeline project that Mr. West strongly opposes.

But he is supporting the New Democratic Party candidate in his riding. It's a calculated decision that he hopes will help defeat the Conservative government.

"It's heart-wrenching to not give your support to people you have a lot of love and admiration for," Mr. West said in an interview. "Unfortunately, in this case it doesn't seem like the right thing to do."

He is not alone.

The Green Party took just shy of 4 per cent of the vote in the 2011 federal election, but secured an electoral breakthrough with Ms. May's victory in Saanich-Gulf Islands.

The Greens believe they are competitive in 16 ridings across the country in this election, especially on southern Vancouver Island, where Ms. May and B.C. Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver had made breakthroughs.

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David Ellis is an activist who has dogged Kinder Morgan over its existing oil pipeline, and on the e-mail discussion group Landwatch, he urged his eco-allies to vote Green: "It is all about creating and supporting powerful worldly ideas and policies that other parties will follow."

The posting sparked a strong response on both sides of the debate. Guujaaw, the former leader of the Haida Nation who has led multiple campaigns to stop logging, was succinct in his advice: "Get rid of Harper. Voting Green won't help that."

Tzeporah Berman and Valerie Langer, well-regarded eco-warriors in B.C.'s long-running battles to save old-growth forests, are urging voters to support the Greens in just one riding – where Ms. May seems assured of re-election. In five other Vancouver Island ridings, they are urging an NDP vote as part of the "ABC" effort – Anyone But Conservative.

Ms. Berman says it is not a pro-NDP stance. "I have endorsed Mira Oreck [NDP] in Vancouver Granville and Joyce Murray [Liberal] in my riding, Vancouver Quadra," she noted.

George Hoberg, a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in green policies, said environmentalists feel "trapped into voting for a party that doesn't have a strong environmental platform but has a realistic prospect of sending the Conservatives packing,"

"There are times, sadly, when a vote for the Greens makes it more likely that the Conservatives will win."

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Mark Jaccard is an energy professor at Simon Fraser University who once advised the B.C. government on climate action. He said green-minded voters are naive if they think a vote for the Greens – with some exceptions – will produce change in Ottawa.

"I wouldn't vote Green unless I was in the riding where Elizabeth May or a star Green candidate might win," he said.

Prof. Jaccard said he will decide on election day which candidate in his riding of Vancouver Granville has the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate. "My message is: Vote anybody but Harper."

Kai Nagata of the Dogwood Initiative said he isn't convinced that these kinds of endorsements will shift voters. His organization is simply focused on ensuring environmentalists cast a ballot on Monday.

"Whatever else is going on in the race, if you can't get people who share your values physically to the polls, then all this strategic voting is academic."

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