Voters in Nanaimo-Ladysmith may have wondered if a by-election so near to this fall’s federal vote was worth the trip to the ballot box. But their decision to send a Green MP to Parliament – the second seat for the party – is being taken seriously by political parties, commentators and citizens as an indication of the Greens’ rise to mainstream politics.
On Monday, Paul Manly won 37.3 per cent of the vote, ahead of second-place John Hirst of the Conservative Party with 24.8 per cent. Despite holding the riding since 2011, the NDP fell to third place, with 21.1 per cent. The Liberals’ Michelle Corfield trailed with 11 per cent of the vote.
Pollster Nik Nanos said the win is indicative of a broader narrative that some Canadians are skipping over the Liberals and the NDP and seriously looking at the Greens as an alternative progressive party focused on the environment.
“It shows that the Green Party brand is on the political menu for Canadians,” he said.
“The Nanos polling suggests that the Greens eat the lunch of both the Liberals and the New Democrats – that for disappointed Liberals, or New Democrats who are not as enthusiastic about [leader] Jagmeet Singh, they’re looking at the Greens as an alternative to both of the other traditional parties.”
But if the Greens want to carry their recent success forward to the general election, they will have to be ready for a higher level of scrutiny on their platform and their vision for Canada, Mr. Nanos said.
They will also need to use their momentum to attract solid local candidates, he added, which is especially important in campaigns when people are disappointed by the mainstream parties.
Mr. Manly said his hometown advantage was a factor in his victory.
“In other places in Canada where the Greens have won provincially – in PEI, in Guelph, [Ont.], and New Brunswick – there’s ground teams that have had success and built capacity, so when they have a good, local candidate that people know and respect in the community, they can win,” he said.
B.C. Premier John Horgan played down the result, saying by-elections don’t foreshadow general votes.
“I’m saddened that Bob Chamberlin, who is an outstanding candidate for the NDP, was not successful,” he said. “But I believe that the message that was sent to Ottawa by the people of Nanaimo is that in the by-election, people have an opportunity to make a statement, and they made a statement.”
Mr. Horgan said he has known Mr. Manly since he was a teenager, and wished him well in his career as a Member of Parliament, following in his father’s footsteps.
Jim Manly served two consecutive terms as an MP for the New Democrats in the Cowichan-Malahat-The Islands riding from 1980-1988.
NDP spokesman Glen Sanford said it’s possible his team was burned out from successive campaigns.
“It’s just a reminder of how we’ve got to put a ton of energy into every campaign that we do,” he said. “I think that we didn’t really do a good job of converting that sense of urgency to our base.”
Climate has become the biggest issue for voters in Nanaimo, high school teacher Alistair King said.
“That was the ballot box question: What are we going to do about our future? And I think the answer is pretty clear – that we need to do something different as a community,” he said.
“And I think everyone in the back of their minds, at least I did, recognized that this is only going to be a temporary posting, so we just said, ‘Try it before you buy it,’ and people are going to try out Paul Manly and see what the Green Party has to offer.”