On the occasion of the best electoral result in the history of the Green Party of Canada, it’s important to take a few minutes to examine where the party has been and where it goes from here. It’s also critical, I believe, to acknowledge there were some real weaknesses in last night’s results and in the national campaign as well. This discussion is just beginning; here’s my opening contribution.
The beginnings of the Green Party of Canada were inauspicious to say the least. Very little about its founding convention in 1983 at Carleton University is publicly documented. Instead, we have an oral history that describes a mishmash of variously interested activists who couldn’t even agree on what kind of organization they were creating. A member who attended that first meeting, Dan Murray, describes “some guy…walking around handing out mimeographed sheets” saying he should be elected leader. Murray says “the dude was shunned and laughed at. I remember asking him why we would want one of those when every other party already has one?”
After officially registering on August 8, 1984, the federal party (much weaker than its provincial counterparts in British Columbia and Ontario) didn’t hold another federal conference or have a constitution until 1988, and until 1996 officially prohibited the leader of the party from acting as the party’s spokesperson.
Joan Russow, elected leader the following year, made some gains for the party in terms of media attention and electoral success, and, during the 2000 election, embarked on the party’s first national leader’s tour. Yet it wasn’t until the 2004 election under Jim Harris (who had lost the leadership to Russow in 1997) that the party made its great leap forward.
Harris (now somewhat famously) recognized a huge opportunity in the newly implemented $1.75 per vote funding for any party that broke 2% in a federal election. In 2000 the Greens had garnered 0.81% of the vote with only 111 candidates, so Harris figured that even if all they did was run a candidate in all 308 ridings they’d pass the threshold.
He was right, and with 582,247 votes (4.3%) in the 2004 election the Green Party of Canada became a million dollar political organization overnight. This was both an exciting breakthrough, and the result of a “fake it ’til you make it” trick. I joined the party shortly after the 2004 election to discover it only had approximately 800 members. In order to pull-off the full slate, a third of the party’s membership had stood as candidates, sometimes in ridings on the other side of the country from where they actually lived.
Later that year at a general meeting and leadership convention in Bragg Creek, Alberta, there were signs the party wasn’t ready for this sudden success. Members (myself included) spent the first full morning simply arguing over the agenda. When someone proposed it should include a singing of the national anthem they were blocked by a member (who was also, not surprisingly, a former and future candidate) who explained that they “don’t believe in nations.” By the end of the weekend and after substantial amounts of rye whiskey consumption (I leave it up to you to decide if that fact is pertinent) the meeting had improved enough, and I had met enough good people, to become tentatively reassured I was in the right place.
Still, major internal growing pains were never allowed an opportunity to settle down or heal. Minority governments necessitated perpetual election readiness, straining the reborn party’s finances and volunteers, and taking the focus away from important—and, in some cases, still unresolved—questions about internal procedures, governance, and purpose.
The 2006 policy and leadership convention in Ottawa that elected Elizabeth May leader was another huge step for the party. Thanks largely to her pre-established national profile and the influx of new members her leadership campaign generated, for the first time not only did CPAC broadcast the whole convention, but as the leadership results were announced Don Newman himself reported live for CBC Newsworld from the floor of the convention centre. Pundits credited May’s strong showing in the London North Centre by-election later that year, as well as strong results in four simultaneous 2008 by-elections (including my own), with helping to secure further credibility with the national media and, in another first for the party, an invitation to the 2008 election leaders’ debates.
That highpoint was followed by a pronounced denouement. While the party did slightly increase its share of the popular vote in 2008, after much hype it failed to come close to electing a single MP. In addition, comments May made about strategic voting had demoralized and angered a number of candidates and key volunteers who felt like their leader had advised people not to vote Green. As the election night “victory party” wound down at the Supermarket in Toronto, some key party members put on a brave face, but privately had a hard time seeing a way forward.
Following that disappointing result, the party’s Federal Council and Federal Campaign Committee (of which I have intermittently been a member) established several key objectives for the next campaign, but there was an understanding that the number one objective, to elect Elizabeth May, was the only one that really mattered. It was a strategy that explicitly placed all of the party’s eggs in one basket, and which former staffer Mark Kersten described as a Hail Mary pass. As the polls closed on May 2 2011, there was little doubt that the Green Party was heading for either its best federal result ever and a real breakthrough, or a politically devastating result that would threaten its future existence.
The best result yet
The list of people who believed last night’s result to be impossible is too long (and includes too many people within the party itself). But Greens are in the business of accomplishing the impossible, and last night the voters of Saanich—Gulf Islands made history. There are thousands of people who worked hard for years to make this happen, both directly and indirectly, but there isn’t a single member of the Green Party of Canada who could have brought it home other than Elizabeth May.
Nor is there a single measure of success that’s as important or as significant as establishing a beachhead in the House of Commons. Before, May wasn’t even allowed to answer media questions in the Centre Block foyer. Leaders’ salary and core office staff, paid for through public funds if you’re in the House, had to be carried completely by the political operation.
On actual issues, on votes and debates in the House of Commons, one voice will make a difference. Even in the minority Parliaments of the last few years, a strange unanimity has often dominated what should have been controversial debates. In 2007 for example, not a single MP opposed restarting the Chalk River nuclear reactor even though the regulator said it was missing a “key upgrade” that is “key to nuclear safety” and is required to make sure that “the core doesn’t melt down.” Similarly, not a single party in the 40th Parliament opposed the federal subsidy of the commercial seal hunt, even though many Canadians—and, increasingly, foreign governments and trading blocks—do. Further, critical issues like the climate crisis frequently get shoved out of the way by short-term political concerns. Regardless of where you stand on these issues, many Canadians who were previously unrepresented now finally have a voice.
As witnessed by the many Conservatives, Liberals, New Democrats and independents publicly celebrating the results in Saanich-Gulf Islands last night, Elizabeth May’s election isn’t just a victory for Greens, but for all Canadians who value a diversity of voices and want to see an elevation in our nation’s level of political discourse.
The worst result in a long time
And yet, while electing an MP was the only thing the Green Party needed to do last night to credibly claim victory, there’s also some bad news in the results and threats in the future. At less than 4% nationally, the party’s popular vote is the worst result since 2000, falling even lower than in 2004 when many candidates had principled objections to things like ordering lawn signs, asking for votes, combing their hair, etc. The cost of focusing resources on one riding was worth it, but there was a cost.
For example, local campaigns that receive at least 10% of the vote get 60% of their expenses reimbursed. In other words, a campaign that spends $80,000 is guaranteed to start the next election with at least $48,000. That’s a huge advantage in terms of riding strength and stability, and many Green riding associations (EDAs) were just starting to tap into that opportunity and build a fiscal foundation to carry them from election to election. Almost all of that evaporated last night, even in ridings that ran their strongest local campaigns ever only to see their vote reduced by more than half.
The financial sustainability of the national party is also not guaranteed. The per-vote subsidy that gave birth to the modern Green Party of Canada is almost certainly doomed. For the first time since it gained national prominence, the party has to figure out how to fundraise on its own.
One of the biggest stories today is the soul searching and rebuilding the Liberal Party will have to do in the next few years. In the long run that could be positive, but Liberals are only in this position because they were forced. The Green Party isn’t so lucky: it needs to force itself to ask some hard questions and evaluate its own performance.
In addition to fundraising, the biggest challenges (and the biggest disappointments of the campaign) are in organizing and communications. For the second election in a row, the party failed to field a candidate in every riding despite promising to do so. (I don’t buy for a second the excuse that that’s due to a more vigorous vetting process. Frankly, if you’re not even finding rape jokes in the “favourite quotes” section of a candidate’s Facebook profile, I’m not sure I buy you’re vetting them at all.)
With regard to communications, ironically the party can be thankful its Director of Communications started this campaign with zero Twitter followers. I don’t think any of his counterparts would have gotten away with saying intervention in Libya was “sexy.” (See Lisa Raitt.) And I’m sorry, but when the person writing the alerts you’re pushing to iPhone users can’t compose a proper sentence, then rightly or wrongly, I lose confidence in your ability to govern. It’s not good enough to blame the media. The party needs to take responsibility for its own failure to communicate its message.
This isn’t the first time I’ve openly mused about the Green Party’s future, and despite what I’ve said above, I’m more optimistic than ever. Still, these weaknesses give Greens reason to be thankful for a majority government, if only from a political strategy perspective. This is the first time in the history of the modern Green Party that we know when the next election is going to be. It’s the first time since 2004 that we can stand down from “election readiness mode” and take a step back. We have four years to build a fundraising base, reinvigorate and motivate grassroots volunteers, professionalize (though I know we don’t like that word) organizing and communications and plan to make sure that this wasn’t a one-off. We need great candidates in winnable ridings, and we probably need most of them to start campaigning within the next two years. We need to build our (virtual) bench strength so that when Elizabeth May is done being leader there’s someone who can take her place. (That day will come sooner than it feels right now, and right now, there’s no one.)
Today is for celebrating a hard fought, well earned, impossible victory. The party has come a long way since Carleton University in Ottawa, since Bragg Creek, Alberta, even since London North Centre. Tomorrow, as President Bartlet was fond of saying, we need to quickly move to “what’s next.”
42 thoughts on “The state of the Green Party of Canada”
Well running a campaign with $100.00 donated by the GPC was ludicrous. The central office had begged the members in Skeena to a point that none of the offered to help me. I was totally on my own running a campaign at my own expense (*not the first time though in 2004 the GPC gave me $500.00). To get from one side to the other in my riding is 1000 kms each way. To get from top to bottom is closer to 2500 kms each way. Clearly the GPC had no interest in Skeena. Why did I bother to fight for more equal revenue sharing when I was on federal council. Clearly the decisions made then were over-ruled later.
So we have an elected member without official party status in a government contemptuous of due process and happy to dictate from the PMO’s office. A government intent on ensuring that it remains Canada’s natural ruling party.
The only way I can see success for the GPC is in (likely) irreversible environmental catastrophe, just what Harper’s Church wants. Through the next 4 years we’ll see Medicare gutted, environmental protection eliminated, women’s rights decimated and big business encouraged to wreck the planet.
What have we achieved? Not much.
Great thoughts as always. I only got involved in 08, and I find your précis of Green History really helpful. This being my first post E-day as a campaign manager, I am struggling to absorb what happened in my riding (Beaches-East York). I know the technical details; the Orange Crush, the Liberal collapse, my own decisions perhaps. The emotions have yet to coalesce.
It’s an exciting time to be green. I’m glad that some are thinking about how to make this feeling extend, both geographically, and into the future.
Good post Chris. As usual, you have written just enough that I completely agree with, and just enough for me to quibble about to keep my interest!
My quibble is relatively minor, but does impact your historical analysis. Back in November of 2004, I was a new member of the GPC, having joined during the 2004 election. (at the instigation of my small ‘c’ conservative accountant).
I was recruited to head up a fundraising and membership renewal campaign based in the Gerard Street office, shared by the GPC and GPO. (Remember Jessica Fricassi, and Beth MacKinnon?). When I received the contacts and membership database there were 4,000 current, and recently lapsed members in the GPC, not the 800 you reported here. Your numbers are accurate for the GPO, which had just over 800 members, until that is the Geulph team’s membership chair, (Frank Marchetti) handed in Guelph’s membership lists, which were somewhere around 200 additional people.
The GPC membership had absolutely skyrocketted during the election. The membership numbers ebbed a little the next year, and then bounced back up over the 4,000 mark again during the 2005-6 election.
I only bring it up because you are indirectly overestimating the membership growth that is attributable to Elizabeth May’s Leadership Campaign. As you may remember, I was organising on behalf of Elizabeth in Ontario, and eventually across Canada during that contest, and I can attest to the fact that the EMay campaign sold approximately 900 memberships during the course of the leadership race. The Chernushenko camp did not fall flat, they sold a smaller, but still significant number of memberships. Most significantly, a lot of lapsed and expired memberships were renewed during that race. Suffice it to say that the GPC membership numbers went from just below 5,000 to almost 9,000 over the course of the race, but given the fact that Elizabeth won the leadership with 3,500 votes total, it is hard to say just how many new supporters she was responsible for recruiting.
Am i quibbling? I do not think so, these facts underscore the fact that Elizabeth May does not possess some ability unique in the Green Party. David Chernushenko was in fact the better organiser, but he did not have the media profile that the GPC was seeking at the time. It was the existing membership that made Elizabeth May leader, not the influx of new members as is so commonly assumed.
I too was struck by the cheesiness of some of the communications I received during the election. The railing against the ‘media big-wigs’ in repeated emails made me cringe more than a little. Not exactly a grown-up sort of message and language to be broadcasting to tens of thousands of people.
And finally, I agree that the Green Party met their campaign objective of electing Elizabeth May. I think that this is good as far as it goes, but the inability to walk and chew gum at the same time bodes ill for the future of the party. I have not once since 2006, ever heard an appeal from Elizabeth, or any organiser except for Jim Harris to Join the Party. Fundraising is relegated to relatively junior staffers composing emails to a captive list, or a round of silent auctions once in a blue moon. The importance of EDA formation, training, and building up the ground war elements is simply not recognised by the current Leadership. I never understod why it always has to be either/or in the Green Party. I mean for crying out loud, why cannot the GPC pursue multiple objectives like any other sane organisation? Why does electing Elizabeth mean that nothing effective can happen in any other sphere or endeavour?
Elizabeth May is an extremely polarizing figure in Canadian politics and I think she loses us Greens more potential new supporters than she gains in active support among those Canadians already in our camp.
She is rather like Stephen Harper – her base loves her and supports her strong with donations etc but less partisan Canadians find her strident and aggressive.
The Green ceiling is very very low ( this is the percentage of Canadians who primarily support the Greens or who might vote for it as their second choice.)
Jim Harris never offended or annoyed any ordinary (non-Green Party) Canadian – he only seemed to offend (some) GPC members and supporters .
While other senior Green Parties world wide used to be BEHIND the GPC in national opinion polling percentage circa 2006, this is no longer the case.
I wish Elizabeth would stay on as an MP but resign as Party Leader.
Anything she can do in Parliament as Party Leader she can do as an ordinary MP as she is not the leader of a recognized party.
Thank you so much, Chris, for a well-written, comprehensive and very informative synopsis. It helps give Green voters like me a much-needed overview and historical perspective, and a focused idea of what needs to be done to replicate last night’s victory in Saanich-Gulf Islands in other key ridings across the country. Again, grateful thanks to you.
Great analysis, Chris. Very fair, positive, honest and respectful to all. This is the kind of leadership Greens need right now.
Last night was a breakthrough for Elizabeth–not Greens. This is why so many Greens joke about the “Elizabeth May Party of Canada”.
Four years without an election is a good time to rebuild, but with what?
When you say only Elizabeth could bring it home, you don’t acknowledge the role of 2000 volunteers that campaigned for her. Elizabeth tried to win twice before and lost. The campaign team won the election with hard work–the same hard work and organizing strategies Elizabeth and her clique are opposed to. You may have won, Chris if you had run in the riding with that campaign team.
I think Elizabeth is too much of an egomaniac to sit alone in the corner of parliament as a Green, and I think she will either try to merge parties to get more of the spotlight on her, or leave The Greens high and dry by crossing the floor. No one will vote Green in Canada ever again if she does…
There are enough fringe weirdos that will always keep the party going, but seeing another Green elected will be a huge challenge.
“1983 at Carl[e]ton University”
Murray’s remark is stil apt, if from the way you framed it I have its gist: leader-centricity is & has been the very wrong way to go about a supposed politics of difference. That the current leader has qualities few can match for Green political purposes, is no reason to have succumbed to common party patterns.
“August 8, 1984”
Just a few weeks thereafter, we cast our ballots for the first candidate available, trusting in likelier greater commonality of feeling with someone who would stand for election under that name. We got rather involved with the provincial counterpart at the time, but left off for more private development of dissent through family-rearing & livelihood pursuit etc, there being far too few at the time with that commonality of spirit to advance politically.
“a million dollar political organization overnight”
For various reasons it has been an unfortunate focus for the party, the $. And during this session it is possible that equally overnight GPC legislatively lose that $ source. That is an opportunity to return more to the motivations of before, to being more creative in developing support, outside of regular $-paid-for channels.
The two main parties left standing have their extra-political bases, to which to then turn for $ & other support. Since I became re-involved some 5 years ago, after emerging from those long years of that more private dissent, no one has evinced interest in my urging more localist development of those extrapolitical bases, which should have been natural in the period for Greens to cultivate, there at last being many more of that “greater commonality of feeling” than in the early 80s, woe is our civilization for having been hijacked so fully away from that in the interim.
For all that I have spoken out against some expressions by the party & its leader when I was very actively engaged until fall ’09, I more so found myself pretty much alone defending the leader’s stance on occasion (I recall one acute occasion, e.g. all over page http://greenparty.ca/blogs/7/2009-07-14/stephen-harper-bashes-religious-and-political-protocol ). I chose David C. back then over Eliz. M., in a tough decision; but I am glad to have done my part to assist the latter, although I think the party misdirection of the past few years has been too severe to be compensated by small current electoral success, insofar as a cross-country cadre of localist activists with Green affiliation could have done far more to advance certain causes and public education, regardless of electing one MP. Even if custom unfairly disallows regular channels to outsider parties for addressing the public, as eg noted above re the Centre Block foyer, there are many other ways to creatively generate needed publicity.
This country gets what it deserves, in the current majoritarian electoral travesty. And what is to follow risks eerily matching a prognostication I made in 1990, when asked about Quebec sovereignty, I said, wait 20 years to see the fruit of a young generation’s growing accustomed to a post-Canada world for Quebec. The best focus for Greens has always been provincial; but for me, alas, the way GPO has gone, I quit longer ago than GPC.
I remain possibly willing to re-engage, with both, and of course retain interest, why I am on this page. I predicted, ceteris paribus (presumptuous these days more than ever), a post-modern political alignment of principally a vague left around an NDP-source party (as more experienced among modernist dissidence), and a vague “right” around a Green-like one (an Australian analyst has said similarly for there, re Labour & Green). This is to follow the demise of the main modernist proponent parties, PCs in their precipitous collapse, Liberals in their slower death throes. Cons. are already a post-modern kitsch of a party, with regionalist emphasis, notwithstanding the duping of so many in my Toronto-area into voting for them. BQ is also post-modern, in their seizing upon pre-modern identity. Their demise should in no way be misinterpreted, as has been by square-headed analysts in angloland, as reflecting a demise of the urge to sovereignty, rather the opposite, as that energy behind the BQ more properly focusses provincially. Only if the NDP somehow in a great effort manages to massage (not naked, though; see my post at http://rabble.ca/babble/canadian-politics/body-over-mind ) its Quebec segment into the whole effctively, it is reasonable to expect a referendum or something like soon enough. Hey, maybe Harper will provoke something like a conscription crisis to accelerate all that, what in the expected wake of the recent (election eve even) fake Bin Laden business, likely meant to set up a storyline for more invasions elsewhere, provoked by yet more synthetic terror…it is natural for a GPC to speak truth to this kind of thing, and to the extent it hasn’t or has been afraid to, it is little worth the effort.
(Bluegreen’, I think it’s Fracassi, not Fricassi).
All I know is that here in the Ottawa area, Green campaigns were shredded. A couple of good candidates, people I encouraged to run, didn’t break 10% as their predecessors had. They didn’t even break *5%*.
Only one campaign east of Calgary broke 10% (well done, Ard!) That’s obscene.
I can’t imagine why any of this crop of candidates (or campaign volunteers) will continue to invest in the party after being shredded like this. Losing hurts. A lot.
If Elizabeth had done the job she’s paid to do – support the campaign in 308 ridings – things might have been different. Why is it that when Canadian voters decided to vote for something new, for the “outsiders”, they voted for the NDP, not the Greens?
If the Greens had elected a new leaders – as scheduled – in Aug 2010, isn’t there a chance this new leader could have captured some of this amazing wind of change that just swept over the country?
Do see this: http://rabble.ca/babble/canadian-politics/thanks-greens#comment-1250598 .
Great piece Chris.
While we do have to take some responsibility for the drop in popular vote, most can be pointed towards the lack of ANY media attention – and our absence on the nationally televised debates. Most Canadians don’t vote for their candidate, they vote for a party. I ran against Parm Gill in 2006 (Cons). I remember him not knowing what proportional representation was or that heath care was administered by provinces or who PAUL MARTIN is. Guess what? He’s one of our newly elected MP’s, beating out incumbent Ruby Duala. He was elected because people will believe anything they hear, including those Con ad’s that were borderline lies. The bottom line is we have to kiss some serious media ass and make sure they are talking about us or we can take strip off the Harper Media Action Plan – Take over the media. Global’s Peter Cant, CTV’s Dumb Dumb Duffy, Astral Media’s very own Peter Unsherman and how can we forget good old Sun TV. All of these guys are working for the Con’s now. We have a serious problem in this country and it’s all about brainwashing. This is why Harper can get rid of party funding. He doesn’t need to spend money promoting his party; he’s got Global, CTV, Corus Entertainment, Quebecor and Astral Media doing all the promoting and more for the Con’s. I took it upon myself to continuously screen CFRB1010 (Astral) and Talk640(Corus) in Toronto and to call in at every opportunity and present the green perspective. My head is still spinning from the crap that is being dealt to Canadians by these wack job talk show hosts. The kicker is that it works and brought us Rob Ford, a Con majority and their next goal is a Conservative Ontario. This may sound like an excuse but the media is more powerful then I had ever imagined (after my screening experiences) and if these right wing wacko’s continue their onslaught with no resistance, we will be Alabama in no time.
Thanks for a very informative post, and a helpful post-mortem. We all got shredded in Toronto too, but the lesson I draw is that, alas, local campaigns just don’t much matter anymore. Without a national or regional wave of some kind to ride, you’re not going anywhere; with one, anything can happen. Problem is, I don’t see how we can ever hope to get a Green wave going while being virtually shut out of the major media. If the media’s attitude changes now that we have a voice in Parliament, then putting all our eggs in that basket may well have been the right strategy. And I’m pretty certain a lot of people will be regretting their NDP votes four years from now….
Darryl, you are right, it is Fracassi, not fricassi, (sorry Jessica).
We both know there are problems in governance, and shall we say, management issues in the GPC. Nonetheless, council did decide that the overriding objective was to elect Elizabeth May in SGI, and they did acheive that. Elizabeth`s job was therefore not to support 307 campaigns, but only to put the puck in the net in 1. We can debate the strategic direction taken, and point out the consequences of this decision, but the failure, (if there was one, which I tend to think there was), is in the choices made, and the failure of council to make any accomodation to any other election objectives. Many people in the Green Party will look no further than `1 MP elected`, and conclude that the objective was attained. They will want to build on that success for future, (distant future) elections, and you know what, an entirely credible communications atrategy could be put in place to support growth and development of the EDA`s now. Given that the per vote subsidy is about to disappear, it is not such a great loss to drop the vote share, provided the recovery is planned for, and executed. Who knows, maybe all will proceed with sweetness and light. Maybe not, but the die is cast, Elizabeth May is unassailable now, and whether she is a crappy manager, or a great one, she holds the shrunken purse strings, controls the council, and dispenses the limited perks. Absolute authority, without accountability, but absolute nonetheless.
blue’, too bad you didn’t find other stuff i said to be right…add another one to be right about, my first name is spelled with one ‘r’
I expect that my own potential attraction to re-involvement could be curtailed by some kind of interesting Green rapprochement with certain Liberals, in which case deeper clearer but more uncomfortable expressions of issues will become increasingly a distant possibility. Recall eg Dion leading the adoption of the green shift thing, now he did unusually well on May 2; some others closer to his stripe could make for coming together in some ways (access to resources & privileges allocated to parties with status), leading to some formal arrangements eventually. I remember right after I had suggested the Senate as a means for the Dion Liberals then to have elevated Eliz., there began to be talk of that possibility.
For now, I stick with issue orientation. When I left the GPC, I said I’d still most probably vote for them. That vote now past, I can’t talk about such probability henceforth. We’ll have to see how Eliz. (& the party after her) responds…
Thank you for the excellent break down of ou past and current situation. You’ve got a few years on me with the Greens, so it’s nice to have the perspective.
I’d just like to say that I don’t take kindly to the Elizabeth-bashing I’m seeing here from a few commenters as she’s been working the game plan for this election from the start. The priority was to win a seat, and she did that and more. Consistently she was the only voice in the campaign speaking to issues. Rather than attacks, and for those concerned about her ego, I would point out that on more than a few occasions, she publicly stated how little power she has with our party, including whether she’s permitted to stay on as leader. Frankly, I think she’s done an excellent job of painting a picture of what real democratic processes should be like.
You’re right about our losses across the country, but in the end I think that it was the right call to aim for this “one seat or bust” strategy. Time will tell though, and up help out where I can.
An insightful summary of where the Party’s been and where it needs to go.
Given the unusual movements of voters in this election, I wouldn’t worry too much about the lower #s for the GPC. Many who might have voted Green went to the NDP for strategic reasons, and, let’s face, it there really wasn’t much of a national campaign, especially after Elizabeth May became the victim of the politics of exclusion by the TV consortium.
I think Elizabeth May, as wondrous as she is in so many ways, is a challenge for many voters. The vitriol I’ve heard from NDP supporters in particular is extreme, and I’ve heard that many candidates feel she abandoned them in this election. I don’t know how credible any of these charges are, but her effect would seem to be a a polarizing one despite her desire to promote co-operation, civility, and negotiation. That perception might change now that she’s an MP. (and if she is polarizing, she’s not the only Party leader with that effect, need I remind everyone.) Perhaps people just don’t know how to handle rigorous debate and discussion generated by well-argued policy positions.
The point is she’s here, she’s staying, and she needs to attract voters beyond the GPC base. she now has the opportunity to do just that.
I cannot say enough good things about Elizabeth May. She is the reason I joined the Green Party. We need her to remain a Green in parliament to give us a public national identity. Every TV appearance she makes in the next 4 years is important visual reinforcement. Her election is a huge step forward for the party. It’s our responsibility to take advantage of this momentum.
I’m a brand new Green Party member – joining only about a month ago. It started with asking to have a sign in my shop window (on a very busy street) to attending my riding’s all candidates debate (and asking them a green question) to volunteering my services at phone canvasing. What surprised me the most was how small the Green movement really is. I expected a few hundred people at the Toronto election night party. There were about 50.
In our riding in Davenport (Toronto) the NDP were very well organized and had a small army of volunteers. About a 1/4 of the all-candidates crowd were NDP supporters cheering loudly at everything Andrew Cash said. Orange signs outnumbered the others combined. I’m not surprised they won the riding with that kind of local support.
It seems to me that Green Party recruitment should be the highest priority over the next few years preceding the next federal election. We need our own Green army for every riding. We need to select good candidates. Our goal needs to reach beyond 10% of the vote. We need to run to win.
Until then, I’ll be working to get Frank de Jong elected in Ontario this fall! :)
Chris, thanks so much for this much-needed retrospective and analysis. I’d only joined a few years ago (was living in Guelph during the aborted by-election, though now in Alberta – ugh) but much of the very early history was unknown to me.
The all-or-nothing gamble in SGI was contentious, and we certainly saw the consequences in turnout, and will see more consequences as current supporters leave over lack of support and poor results. Agree with or not, I think it was still the right choice to make given the resources and organization, and at least it was a well-thought out and decisive one.
Like for the Liberals, this four years is a precious opportunity for the Greens, a chance to build a more professional organization, or if you like, one that has a deep, well thought-out plan that takes into account many different likely scenarios, and plans well ahead of time how to handle them.
As an example, being shut out of the debates was a foreseeable likelihood, as was lack of press coverage, yet there was no action ahead of time to try to prevent or mitigate these situations. Worse, the reaction afterwards was akin to that of a bullied teenager, not a well-prepared, serious political party. And continuing to blame the showing on the mainstream media just looks really whiny.
Everything done over the next four years has to be part of an overall strategy to define the party to the public, to take steps to build a foundation that will be needed for the next campaign. Which is also to say that the goals and strategy for the next campaign needs to be decided on now, not in 3.5 years.
With regard to the comments about Elizabeth being polarizing, I just want to add a couple of things. Being polarizing in itself isn’t a bad thing (read Guy Kawasaki), but being polarizing for the wrong reasons doesn’t help. I think an objective look at who the leader (and the party) pisses off, and about what, would be very useful. And similarly for strong points of course. There may well be easy to change things that make a big difference (and I’m not talking Preston Manning glasses and hairdo type changes).
All the issues people are raising – recruitment, candidate selection, fundraising, EDA support – are very important, but all need to take place in the context of party goals and strategy for the next election. And this doesn’t mean focus-grouping the platform or abandoning values, it means focusing on how we can best offer those values and policies to the electorate in a way that makes us a serious choice to consider. With limited energy and resources, we can’t afford to waste any of either.
Good retrospective, if the exact numbers are off, the trajectory is correct. Your points are apt and necessary. The Green Party is seriously overdue for a lively, respectful discussion on many things that have had to slide, but which we need to address if we are to continue on as a serious entity bent on creating change, and not a vocal gadfly Party dedicated to merely bringing a single issue to the attention of voters every election or so.
I vividly recall spending about 8 hours that Saturday in Alberta, in which I missed out on most of the interesting presentations, because I volunteered to help cobble together an omnibus version of all the various constitutional proposals, as secretary, recording everything and inadvertently finding myself as presenter the next day. I don’t even care much about constitutions, but it needed to be done. The result was nit-picked to death by people with axes to grind, who didn’t like the changes that were happening, but who had not attended the discussion, and so nothing was done. It was put aside until next time…
Now we complain we have a leader-centred Party because too many members, many of whom have since left in disgust at the fact that we are leader-centric, were too fractious to pass a constitution that would have mitigated that effect.
So we are where we are, not by design, but by default.
I believe a crucial problem is that the original Green Party was not a Party in any meaningful sense of the word, but rather a free-gathering of like-minded environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists that, because it was so small, could afford to hold meetings wherein everyone got to say everything they liked on any topic, and wherein complete agreement was possible or the topic was left up to their own devices. I remember in 1988 — I was not a member, but I do read platforms — that there were two candidates whose platforms flatly contradicted each other on forestry. But that was OK, because they were fell0w-travelers and diversity was key so different opinions were welcome. Different opinions, yes; different platforms and they came across as flakes.
We still need to shake that first impression, because it’s still hanging around, 25 years later, like a bad smell. The mainstream media shutout has a lot to do with that, because we were painted as kooky way back when, and the general public does not get a chance to revisit that impression until we get into the daily news.
That’s where it becomes so vital for us to have at least one MP, and Elizabeth did the work. She spent time in the riding, she went door to door when not in Ottawa, she has talked to the voters there and that is why she won, because we now have a sensible platform, and because we have at least one person who was willing to stomp around and earn the votes.
If we had 100 such people, over the next four years, we could well become the official opposition. Mike Schreiner has been doing stellar work teaching people that the Greens are a serious, viable political option in Ontario. The mainstream media, however, despite the fact that the reporters universally agree that his Green policies make the best sense, are not allowed to write about his views, because all have editorial policies to ignore him until a Green gets elected into the legislature, which is also true at the national level.
The other parties have such people, but they also get covered every day in the paper, this happened, so Harper, or a Conservative MP gets quoted on the item, and a Liberal gets quoted, and Jack Layton gets quoted, and if it involved Quebec, the Duceppe got a quote, Greens and all the others didn’t get in the paper, except when there was a news item about them. The public didn’t need to have members knocking on their doors, they could read the papers, watch TV, or even just look at the headlines as they walked past. The vital need to have at least one voice on TV, who will now be quoted on every issue, who cannot be ignored is incalculable, because hitherto, all the news stories about the Greens were about how Jim was excluded from debates, about how Ms May was first excluded, then they were forced to include her and then they excluded her. Nothing about platforms, except in the obligatory coverage section and only during the election, nothing about Green views on daily events in between elections.
Voters, as far as I can discern, do not vote very much for a particular candidate, except in certain cases. The vast majority vote by party and not even for the party platform, or for their behaviour, but on how the general tenor of the Party makes them feel. Conservatives want to feel comfortable and safe, Liberals are more adventurous and welcome differences, as long as they don’t cause harm, and NDP supporters have a finely-honed sense of justice and fairness and feel outrage that one person could exploit another. The fact that their respective policies and actions never quite produce the desired effect, and sometimes very counter-productive side-effects, is irrelevant: it’s the feeling that counts.
So we need someone front and centre, in the media every day, to teach people that we are a viable option. So it makes tactical and strategic sense to push all our limited efforts into getting that one voice that will not be brushed aside and now that we have it, we need to back it up while we can.
Mark: “Being polarizing in itself isn’t a bad thing (read Guy Kawasaki), but being polarizing for the wrong reasons doesn’t help. I think an objective look at who the leader (and the party) pisses off, and about what, would be very useful.”
I couldn’t agree more: such an exercise would yield clarity and might even lead to discoveries about where to concentrate recruitment efforts. I can tell you this much: many in the NDP dislike her profoundly for all sorts of different reasons – serious competition for the progressive vote perhaps being one but not the only – though how the NDP can really call itself progressive these days is a bit much given all their centrists policies, and certainly Green candidates, one or two of whom I know, resent their financial losses and lack of air and ground support. But, I agree, the choice to focus on EM’s riding was strategically decisive and yielded results. It’s now up to Elizabeth to pick up the game from there.
Lots of good reading in the comments. Some random observations…
In 2008, the party’s platform was “Vision Green”, a 130-page tome.
In 2010, the platform “Green Book” is 12 pages, very fluffy-bunny stuff.
I’m a past candidate and business CEO. The media doesn’t write about you because the consortium says they should. They write about you because you are saying and doing interesting things. The GPC did very little on the national scene to earn the attention of the media. It’s called “earned media” for a reason.
The internal debate here is between two competing visions of the GPC. There are those, including myself, who think that the GPC is a vehicle for engaging voters in every riding. Our success is measured by total number of votes, which can be translated into power in a variety of ways.
The other group believes that the GPC’s purpose is to be a public “voice” on issues like climate change. Well, we have that voice now in SGI. So the GPC’s future mission will be as a support system for that voice.
Does anyone who’s actually worked with Elizabeth expect her now to start helping local Green candidates develop a higher profile? Why would she do that? It just blunts her effectiveness as the one and only “voice”.
Chris, are you aware of the coverage of the earliest days of the Greens, including the founding conference? There are some articles out there. For example Vaughan Lyon wrote a piece called “The Reluctant Party” – I’m pretty sure it was in ‘Alternatives’ magazine. There are others too.
John Ogilve: “Does anyone who’s actually worked with Elizabeth expect her now to start helping local Green candidates develop a higher profile? Why would she do that? It just blunts her effectiveness as the one and only ‘voice’.”
She has to do both, and she also has to represent the view of the Party as a whole, not just her own personal take on things. If she doesn’t do all of these things, she will have failed as a leader of the GPC and might as well just sit as an independent MP.
Incidentally, when is the next leadership review?
Good article Chris – was glad to hear you speak at the GPO convention recently as well.
Watching the media during this campaign one thing was clear – no seats = no respect. Until we had a seat we were going to be irrelevant. Now, it might have been better if we had more of a regional focus – trying to win a few more BC seats in her immediate area – but regardless odds were one seat was all we had a real shot at once the debate decision was made.
For 2015 it is clear that BC should be the #1 goal of the party – win as many as possible with a clear focus in that region since it will be easier for May to be hitting those ridings and for regional ads to be effective (TV, radio as well as print). If we do well then 2019 will be the time we chase other key areas (southwestern Ontario for example) and shoot for being clearly the balance of power in the HOC. Things could change if the NDP/Liberals merge but assuming all stays as is that is how I feel we as a party should be going.
I’ll echo the thanks Chris, well written. I have my own thoughts going up tonight but thought it might be appropriate to share two of them here:
(fwiw: I was the campaign manager in Guelph 2011, Edm-Strathcona 2008).
1) Whether one agrees with the decision or not, the strategy of electing Elizabeth has been the clear overarching goal of the party for around two years. Achieving this is a milestone for the party and the fact that it happened on the backs of some incredibly talented, resourceful and dedicated people should be appreciated. Too many to mention, but names like Camille Labchuk, Jordy Gold, Katie Gibbs, Matthew Clarke, Debra Eidenguier (sp?), Craig Cantin, Lois Elsby are all people that provided support to my local campaign that were busting their a**e* to make #emayin happen.
2) “what comes next”. Much like the conversation that led to Elizabeth May becoming a priority for this election, a conversation is likely already taking place around what we focus on for 2014/2015. Do we focus on building a national party with strong EDAs? Do we focus on building the BC organization? Do we focus on building the Yukon, SGI, BGOS, Calgary Centre and Dufferin-Caledon? Are we going to emphasize lots of small monthly donations or go after big donors to ensure long term financial viability?
My hope is, much like Mr. Matthew Day suggested, that we choose a few priorities to pursue and find ways to recruit the most qualified and talented people (regardless of previous relationships) in the party to chase those goals down.
Anyway, more coming on my blog tonight.
Really the issue is 50-50 that the Greens did not run a national campaign (and as a result the media got away with ignoring and excluding us, as their frame is around the leader 24/7, lousy as that is) and that Canadians are more and more out of touch with their local candidates as evidenced in the funny NDP paper-candidates winning in Quebec.
There are too few town halls and too few voters who even know a thing about their candidates. People are maybe barely reading their brochures but flipping on the computer or moreso The National to give them the scoop. I’ve seen educated, middle-aged people flip on the National as if it were the daily gospel. And then on election night the Greens are called OTHER and at one point, when SGI had just started to report and OTH had 1 leading or elected, and Mansbridge was doing a summary of all the numbers, he came to the 1 under grey and announced ‘and one independent leading….er, um, that’s the Greens’ leader Elizabeth May.” Revealing how little he was trained to think of the party.
But seriously, our partisan answer and our citizens’ answer should be the same, but I fear many Greens have more of a partisan answer: play the game as determined by others, better. I think we need to fold ourselves as individuals into citizens’ groups and democratic movements riding by riding to get people involved and informed again. We need to produce reports that quote from Hansard and show the voting records of the MPs on various issues with backgrounders. In short, we need far more democratic popular education.
Elizabeth May needs to seed a new kind of democracy in SGI, have regular town halls and engage the citizens on the local level, which I think will lead to a modelling effect as word spreads across Canada – for these kinds of stories “Green leader spends more time in riding nurturing local democracy” spread. We need to practice this ourselves regardless of parties and electoral systems. Latin American style Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire) and even Theatre of the Oppressed (Boal), for little do we realize it, always misrepresenting ourselves in our own mythos as materially wealthy and privileged a country – which is true if you’re not one in 4 or 5 children living in poverty – that we are actually environmentally oppressed, and that means each of ecologically, socially, democratically, and psychologically oppressed. Without social structures to help us sustain and thrive in healthy communities.
So yes, we can continue our linear partisan thinking and wait for some kind of PR system – which may have been closer to reality if the LIB-NDP vote-split in Ontario had not occurred – which increases party power as names come to the Commons from party lists without direct representation of the citizens – something proven already to happen in the case of those weak NDP paper candidates who won in Quebec – or we could advocate for a system that would strengthen local democracy, namely a ranked or preferential ballot, for this ballot would ensure that an elected MP would represent a conglomerate of voters and not simply one block.
That’s the kind of electoral reform we may wish to consider in concert with an MP who models a new kind of democracy in her riding, holding 4 town halls a year and starting citizens’ committees.
Alon, the U.K. just overwhelmingly rejected AV, a type of ranked or preferential ballot. AV is loaded with democratic problems. Proportional Representation is the most democratic and the fairest form of electoral reform out there, in my judgment. But how to get it on the public discourse table. Here area few suggestions:
1) Establish a network of all the grassroots organizations across the country who have or would support proportional representation – a sort of ACTION NETWORK focused on democratic reform.
2) Seek resources and – judiciously – support internationally.
3) Work the media assiduously in an effort to create a wide public discourse about the issue.
4) Begin serious lobbying of the main line parties that might benefit from proportional representation.
5) Lobby provincial parties that would benefit from proportional representation in their jurisdiction to bring them on board the NETWORK.
5) Consider legal options if necessary and possible.
Friendly suggestion on a start for cutting expenses to meet the coming drastic drop in revenue:
The salary for the now more than ever useless Adrienne Carr, and her aide.
Thanks for this very well-reasoned and balanced account. There isn’t much to add, but if I can say anything, it’s the following.
There is bound to be competing views about the direction of the party and a diversity of opinions on the electoral strategy. This party has always had some pretty deep divisions. The unfortunate part is that the divides coming out of the 2008 election were never well-brokered; they were more often denied or pushed under the rug than effectively engaged with. The price was costly with dozens of key individuals simply walking away from active participation in the party, including the candidates of 2 of the top 3 ridings in the 2008 election. No forum was ever made to have a balanced and broad discussion about the future direction of the GPC after 2008. There were some conversations – I certainly tried to instigate some at my blog, and others, like Matthew Day, did the same. But a public blog was never enough – the conversation needed to take place with as many of the party’s members as possible.
Instead, what won the day was a “my way or the highway attitude” which led to the strategy of putting all the eggs in one basket: electing Elizabeth into office. Most Greens, in the end, accepted this, which is all fair and good. But what isn’t fair and good is that we never had the debate about the pros and cons of this strategy. It seemed to simply be accepted as “higher wisdom”.
The result, as you point out, is mixed – the seemingly impossible victory of a seat in the HoC combined with a horrendous slide in popular vote. I think it’s important to remember that it was always going to be like this. The magical notion that the GPC could have its cake and eat it too – that it could put everything into one riding while also gaining popular support – was nothing more than a pipe dream. That some people are surprised is a bit flabbergasting but is the extension of the GPC running an entire campaign without defining what “success” would amount to. I asked numerous times what would constitute success during this election, and whether winning less than 4% but winning a seat meant success, but never got an answer better than “we are going to run the best campaign to date.”
As you say, “these weaknesses give Greens reason to be thankful for a majority government, if only from a political strategy perspective.” I couldn’t agree more. I hope that there are enough people – both honest and committed – like yourself that demand a discussion that welcomes and grapples with dissenting opinions, fosters rather than attempts to extinguish diverse perspectives, and eventually builds a broad consensus on the political goals of the party going into the next election – as well as how to achieve them.
Where does the GPC go from here? It starts with an honest assessment of what worked in SGI and why GPC support dropped across the country. Already, we’re seeing people blame the media for the GPC drop-off (as if there is automatic or even positive correlation between getting press and earning votes — there isn’t).
Did getting less press and being excluded from the debates lower the GPC profile? Sure, it did. But that’s only part of the story, and probably not even the most important part. I suspect the biggest factor in losing over 350,000 votes was that most local campaigns simply had a much more limited capacity to do the very things that proved so successful in SGI — knocking on doors, listening to voters’ concerns, taking informed positions on local issues, networking in the community, identifying supporters, asking those supporters for help, and when e-day comes around, making damn sure those supporters get to the polls. That’s how SGI was won, in spite of the lack of media exposure.
Why did local campaigns have less capacity this time? A variety of reasons, some within the GPC’s control, some not. No doubt the environment was not as front-and-centre as it was in ’08. That hurt the Greens (in part because it is still seen as a one-issue party) in spite of being better organized nationally this time, and diminished the imperative that drove a lot of people to the GPC. We also know that about 1/4 of GPC members left the party in the year leading up to the election for whatever reason (disillusionment with internal divisions within the party, more focus on the economy than envt, less free time, who knows…). The GPC also had 129 nominated candidates withdraw, requiring far too many last-minute replacements to build a strong local team. And so on…
So where to go from here? First, acknowledge that earning votes necessarily requires two simultaneous things — a clear and compelling narrative driven by the party’s spokesperson (leader) *and* strong local teams mobilizing support in their ridings. You need both. The focus on SGI certainly diminished the former, but this is more easily fixed now that EM has a seat. The harder task is growing strong local GPC organizations across the country. EM must focus on being the best constituent MP she can and drive the national narrative, and let someone else lead efforts to build EDAs. A leader-centered campaign and building strong local organizations cannot be mutually exclusive and, quite simply, the leader cannot do both.
A new relationship needs to be established between EDAs and central party. The loss of the public subsidy (Harper promised he would cut it if he won a majority) will necessitate a more stream-lined organization. But the revenue-sharing agreement between the GPC and the EDAs applies only to the public subsidy. So when it goes, EDAs will lose those funds. A new revenue sharing agreement based on fundraising (contributions) will need to be drafted, which should go a long way towards smoothing over relations between the GPC and EDAs. Party members need to focus less on policy pet-projects — the GPC has more policy than can be made into a cohesive platform as it is — and focus more on learning how to run campaigns (both between and during elections).
But these are details — the big picture starts with recognizing that the job of building strong local organizations must start today, and that — more so than getting into debates or getting media (which will happen regardless now) — is what will determine the GPC’s success in 2015.
The people pontificating on “what the Greens should do next” including Mark Kersten, who’s currently a grad student in London, England, and Greg Morrow, who’s currently a grad student at UCLA.
From the Greens on the ground, the ones who actually participated in the recent election, there is a funereal silence…
Accepting, as Greg says, that about 1/4 of the GPC members left before the election, I have two observations.
1) What if the ones who left were disproportionately the ones who were the good local EDA organizers, or candidates?
2) How many who stayed will leave, after this abysmal result?
The comments are almost as instructive as the post. One observation for you. Here is Chris Tindal, a highly respected, and probably one of the best GPC candidates out there, writing for public consumption what the Party will not want to hear. Commenters include:
Rob Routeledge, a gifted and experienced field organiser from the beginning to the end of the Obama Presidential bid.
Mark Kersten, former organiser for GPC.
Greg Morrow: Former National Campaign manager wasn’t it Greg? Executive Director? My apologies if I get the title wrong.
plus other prominent GPC activists both current and former, whom I do not mean to sleight by not naming. All of these people feel impelled to air their advice and comments on Chris’s blog, because there is no place else where anybody will listen to them. We are all talking to each other, because the Party is NOT interested in what we have to say. I am sure that all of us having put heart and soul into this fine Party really want the best thing to happen, we all agree that the Party needs to replenish and reinvigorate the riding associations, which is why we comment. I fear though, that the others might share the extreme scepticism I feel about what will come next. No money, no trained and experienced field organisers, no fundraising skills, no research capabilities, withered and atrophied grass-roots. How will Elizabeth May’s victory in SGI change any of these things, if the Leader does not care, and will not listen? I, for one, am too tired of it all to invest the effort. Is anybody else going to step up to the plate?
See John Ogilvies comment above, and I suspect the question is answered.
All I’m doing here is using a stick to poke the corpse :-)
I was fantastically involved with the GP, starting in the late nineties as a volunteer in Lanark County. I ran as a fairly successful provincial candidate in 2007, hosted the biggest GPO AGM ever, ran for the deputy leadership of GPO, was elected to the federal council of GPC, etc.
I was (it’s no secret) unhappy with how EM hollowed out the GPC to use it as a personal promotional vehicle. I (and others) fought a losing battle to prevent the transformation of the GPC into the “Elizabeth May Party”.
We lost, boo hoo. It’s over. Time to move on. Nothing good lasts.
On to the next good thing. To my mind, looking at this past election, the next good thing is a union of the Lib/NDP/Greens into a cohesive progressive party that can contest the 2015 election.
So I have no interest in spending four years reviving the Green Party. RIP GPC.
I’ve resisted commenting for a while but allow me this opportunity to echo many of the above comments and issue my prediction…
The 2015 election will be the Green Party of Canada’s last.
Well, it won’t be the absolutely last but the last time the GPC will be considered a contender for anything. After 2015, the party will return to fringe party status with the Communists, Libertarians, Christian Heritage, etc. The history of 2004-2011 and election of Elizabeth May will be nothing more than a footnote in the Canadian history books.
There is a “perfect storm” brewing for the Green Party. The reduction and elimination of per vote subsidy will dramatically affect the finances of the party and how it operates and not in a good way. The reduction in the number of votes in 2011 will compound this problem for the Greens. Add to this the absolute lack of party infrastructure (active EDAs, experienced membership, etc.) and this completes the recipe for failure for the party. The election results demonstrated that there is no foundation to build a party on anywhere in Canada.
The end result is that membership will continue to diminish over the next couple of years, experienced staff and volunteers will continue to leave and operating funds will severely limited (reduced members = reduced base for fundraising). The lack of a per vote subsidy and lack of a party base will result in a dramatic reduction of GPC candidates in 2015. In addition, there will be a very targetted effort by the Conservatives to recapture SGI. Will the Greens have the base to draw from to keep this seat???
As a side note – with the appointment of a young NDP’er (Megan Leslie) in the Environment Critic role over Linda Duncan, I fully expect Layton and Co. to offer the portfolio to Ms. May as enticement to join the ranks especially as she finds that being a lone MP without a caucus offers little to party building, staffing, etc.
I’m with John, Matthew and countless former Greens on this…. no point wasting energy trying to revive a dead party. I’m moving on to greener pastures (pun intended).
The Saskatchewan rep position on the GPC council has become vacant: http://greenparty.ca/contact/council. Looks as though Mark Taylor has resigned.
I resigned before the federal election when I moved to Alberta and thus could not represent the members of Saskatchewan.
Interesting read – and I’ll read more on your blog too. In response to your musings here:
“We have four years to build a fundraising base, reinvigorate and motivate grassroots volunteers, professionalize (though I know we don’t like that word) organizing and communications and plan to make sure that this wasn’t a one-off.”
“We need great candidates in winnable ridings, and we probably need most of them to start campaigning within the next two years.”
here’s my comment:
The Harper Government is selling/giving away Canada as fast as he can (tarsand, water, nuclear power plants, jails – wow) – he is dismantling the fabric of our nation.
Having voted Green through several elections – I swung back to the NDP hoping to prevent the Harper Majority. Even so, I was excited as anyone to hear that ELizabeth May was elected. All of us have a problem with the Harper Government, he has plans to change the ridings, add more seats fill up the senate with more Conservatives… It won’t be the same Canada in four years when the next election rolls around, However, by working together NDP with Greens and Liberals we can oust the Conservatives.
You can change our country.
Nathan Cullen wants to put party politics aside to stop Harper Canada. If Nathan becomes the leader his plan is to work with the Greens and Liberals in each Conservative riding and field only one candidate – We would have a public meeting and select by ballot the preferred candidate to which we would all agree to vote for. On twitter, Elizabeth May said she could work with that.
Nathan Cullen is our chance to get NDP votes going to Greens if your Green candidate is the popular candidate of choice in a Conservative riding and Green votes going to NDP candidates without destroying the parties. It’s a good offer – in fact it’s the only chance we have to assure the majority of voters and a possible a win. Nathan believes the NDP, the Greens and Liberals can all work together. With Nathan’s plan the Green party will survive.
So, why should I tell you this? Because the Cullen Team are looking for support. We need as many people as possible to join the NDP and vote for Nathan Cullen. It’s a one person one vote deal. Who is Nathan Cullen anyway?
Nathan Cullen is from BC and he’s for the environment. He put the motion to the HOC to ban tankers on the North Coast (that’s his riding). He stands with the First Nations on Enbridge, the wild salmon people, he says it’s time to deal with climate change. Nathan’s campaign is grass roots support. Not every NDP likes his idea – but I love it. I want to work with my Green friends and I see the greatness in Nathan’s idea.
If you plan to vote NDP in the next provincial election – (to oust the BC Liberals) why not join the NDP now and ensure a better future for everyone and vote for Nathan Cullen.
Why not put your party interests aside and work with us to get Nathan Cullen elected? You don’t have to stay forever but who knows you might like to. It costs $10 or people can claim hardship and pay $1.00. You can’t belong to another party to join but since many Greens didn’t renew their membership they have everything to gain by joining the NDP in the next two weeks. Check out NDP.ca (one membership includes Federal and Provincial).
Here’s a link to Nathan Cullen’s website:
Nathan’s campaign website: Cooperation Frequently Asked Questions (and answers!)
Chris’ analysis frankly misses the most important points:
1. Getting into a coalition is the only viable goal for a Green Party anywhere in the world. On this score, the GPC has made all the right moves including expressing strong support for sympathetic leaders and making explicit deals (as the GPC would have to do after an election anyway). The goal of a coalition was to avoid, now to oust, Harper. May was by far the most vocal anti-Harper federal leader in both 2008 and 2011, and formally supported a coalition (Dion, Layton) which the Bloc was invited to support, but not her. This was a decisive error by Dion and Layton. With the Green popular vote the legitimacy of the coalition in English Canada would have been unquestioned, above 50% total for all coalition parties. [Andrew Coyne even made note of this in his “different electoral system, different coalition”]. May was absolutely correct to make a seat swap deal with Dion and the NDP/Layton absolutely wrong not to assist, instead sabotaging and excluding her. Jack Layton’s most shameful legacy other than bringing down the Martin government to let in a bribing perjuring shit stain, was the exclusion of May from that coalition podium. Had she had her one seat, of course, she would have been much harder to exclude. So the strategic and diplomatic aims of 2008 and 2011 were far more important than the tactical aims of simply increasing a popular vote that elects no one. It is a sign of maturity in the GPC that it adopted the electorally effective goal of concentrating the vote and encouraging vote swapping if not blind tactical (mis-called “strategic”) voting. That paid off in 2011 with 7000 votes swinging from former NDP and Liberal supporters, ones that weren’t evident in the polls to the election day. So the achievement of 2011 was entirely due to this shift of strategy and accomodation of coalition reality. The GPC is best rid of those who think they can form a majority government, or should, or even a minority government. If that has to happen to solve a country’s problems, that country is already a toxic stain and must be dissolved.
2. After 2008 the public became far better educated on coalitions and the need for them, which by definition opens the potential to vote for any party that can beat the Conservative locally. After Titus Ignatievus turned down the PM job in early 2009, a lot of Greens were rightfully disheartened, but they were hardly a force demanding he take the job with their support. In the 2011 election, that failure cascaded catastrophically…
The lower Green vote is a positive sign of electoral sanity on the part of its supporters.
Obviously many former Green voters did vote Liberal or NDP, in larger numbers than were able to effectively vote Green. This is the GPC’s own fault. It could have formally endorsed http://voteswap.ca and encouraged a more efficient spread of swapped votes (or simply documented tactical votes already to be cast to make a case to cast more in the Greens’ favour in key ridings) rather than bullying the leader into silence on swaps. The end result, a lower electoral total, was entirely due to this stupidity of the Council or other candidates. A transparent swapping effort also can take campaigns at 9% and get them to the 10% threshold for refunding expenses, at the expense of campaigns that are going to die at 5% anyway… they might as well die at 1% or 2% and the candidate who loses get credit for mustering the most swaps and potentially electing another Green. The GPC’s whole reward structure obeys the system’s edict to split as many votes as possible from your friends, rather than rewarding them for achieving the goals of policy influence.
3. Since 2011, May has been an exemplary parliamentarian and has been recognized as Canada’s top MP by mainstream media like Macleans. Yet, the party has not caught up to its parliamentary role. May critiques omnibus bills and abuses of power, but there is no effective way to marshal activist or dissident support from outside the party, which was the way the GPC got from 0.8% to above 4% in 2004 (using the Living Platform). The fall in popular support is in part due to a total unconcern with real public outreach, focusing instead on “members”. Meanwhile the Liberals move in the opposite direction, allowing “supporters” to vote for their leader (though still demanding that anyone who declares themselves as such cannot be a “member” of another federal party, meaning no provincial NDP supporters may apply). In parliament, MPs must cooperate on committee and to pass bills. It is poor training for this to always quack a party line in private and exclude even principled supporters of other parties.
Between elections the GPC totally fails as a mechanism to support May or key critics’ parliamentary activity. It solicits donations but not input or help with the difficult outreach and policy questions. This is a consequence of the 2005 takeover by party insiders (including financier Wayne Crookes who was formally sitting on the Council for a while at that time) which May’s team had to oust in 2006.
4. “The per-vote subsidy that gave birth to the modern Green Party of Canada” is gone and so with it should go the grab-every-vote mindset. Good riddance. The structure of that subsidy, which did not even attempt to match or encourage private donations as in the US municipal or presidential subsidy systems, encouraged a bloated fulltime staff to hog jobs that volunteers should do, and can do better. It encouraged grabbing (splitting) votes to remove promising candidates from the NDP or Liberal ranks who may well have been champions for a coalition with Greens, or taken some policies into the House. Restoring that subsidy in its old form should not be a goal of the GPC now.
Aside from advocating simple single-member ranked ballots, matching-grants systems (where say each $10 donated is matched by up to 1 cent per vote) and removing arbitrary participation barriers like the 10% threshold, the GPC could apply its own systemic incentives to get real results (MPs) in an election.
For instance by rewarding a candidate for swapping votes or endorsing any candidate of Liberal or NDP or independent status who will introduce a Green private members’ bill, or to seek a nomination in some other party simultneously with their Green nomination and force the other party to explicitly reject their attempt to get a co-nomination. There are many things a minority party can do where it runs fourth withotu discrediting those who run third or second. That is most of the country.
5. The original, uncensored, 2006 AGM resolution that proposed giving party leadership the authority to deal away as much as 10% of seats to achieve advantage in the rest, which was intended to focus effort on defeating bad cabinet ministers and electing Green top critics, should be reconsidered in 2014. This never reached the floor in 2006 in the form it was written, which emphasized strict conditions to pursue pre-election coalition.
It is a sign of the GPC’s decline as a party of principles that this resolution text may not be available anywhere in its systems – it is certainly no longer publicly available. The many attempts to “revive Living Platform” or some equivalent, even resolutions to that effect, are ineffective if the Party cannot bother to store and recall what was proposed in the past.
I wrote that resolution, and I will not be looking it up or re-submitting it. I and others who worked hard for many years to make the GPC a realistic parliamentary party are proud of May and would be proud of Chris Turner too had he won in Calgary Centre.
He is unlikely to do so without formal swaps or at least the broad offer of support for other parties across the country in exchange for progressives in Calgary voting Green.
Consider the above and rise to something like a “fair” (party-proportional, which is not a fair definition of fair to all) allocation of seats. Even at 4% that is still over a dozen, strong enough to shadow every major cabinet post with a critic. That’s what’s at stake.
In two words: Grow up. The GPC was presented repeatedly with the keys to the future and systematically threw them away to suck its thumb. It even tolerates ongoing civil SLAPP suits by Wayne Crookes against former supporters without so much as kicking him out of the GPC (or GPBC). With supporters like this, no wonder the numbers fall. A party that doesn’t care to actually elect MPs and tolerates gross abuses by its former officers that suppress dissidents and activists and minority parties, has no right to exist.
If May departs the GPC for a high post in another party, the GPC has only itself to blame.
After the Nov. 2012 byelections, another cautionary note. Greens ran second in Victoria, a close third in Calgary, and took 17% in Durham. This is a very high proportion of the vote to take while electing no one. Certainly it would have been better to elect say in Victoria, and swap around some support in Durham, even if Calgary was left to happen as it would.
In byelections effort can be focused on one or a few ridings and there is rarely potential to swap around votes without good on-the-ground campaigns to do so (ones that Greens are motivated most of all to organize). During a general election results can never be as good given the intense media focus on the leaders (even the top two) vying for PM.
Still, vote-splitting on this scale electing such toxic spills as Joan Crockatt to the House by vote-split alone (it would be hard to imagine a worse representative of the good folk of Calgary who elected Nenshi) is quite likely dangerous to the existence of Canada. A few quacking ideologues like Crockatt can permanently shift votes to “Oui” in Quebec, it means less likely moderation of Harper policies even after his own scandals and crimes force him out of office. It’s very dangerous.
So the worst case is not that things continue as they are with no Green representation or not enough to form a coalition with saner parties. The worst case is that a more even three-way split between Greens, NDP and say Liberals under Trudeau (who many seem to support without examining his policies or logic) could elect yet another majority with even less popular support, potentially under 35% of the popular vote. With the PQ in office in Quebec, this will be exploited and it will not be to achieve uniform national or inter-provincial policy. It will be to end Confederation, a goal that is now easily in sight.
The GPC hsa the power to end Canada simply by continuing as it has and not endorsing vote swapping. As I noted, 7000 votes shifting suddenly to Elizabeth in Saanich were a sign of recognition of her co-operative stance and overt offers to coooperate with those she’d have to cooperate with after an election anyway. Even just the offer of swapping as an option seems to liberate votes from those who realize that Greens are across the country disadvantaged. Many then let their NDP or Liberal leanings be set aside to vote for May, knowing it far more likely to be compensated for amply elsewhere than for their parties to end up cheated in the totals.
THEY see you as a viable threat and worthy of support, why can’t the GPC reciprocate for a few principled people?
Vote swapping needs to happen in conjunction with an evolution to proportional representation. The GPC should revive *The Green Party Case* for PR it launched under former leader Joan Russow. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms each citizen is entitled to *equal benefit* under the law. Beside arguments in The Green Party Case, it’s time for courts to consider that each citizen should have *influence* with their vote – as opposed to the system we have where the majority of votes do not change local riding outcomes. The fear of course is the *branding* that may take place by the Conjob party and some media. That swapping parties *do not believe* in their own cause suggesting to members to vote for someone else. We WANT that debate because the counter is *how can you possibly say we do not believe in our own cause when we take away seats from you Conjobs to add to our own count*? A coordinated ABC (anything but Conjob) vote would decimate Harper.
I was part of the small team of people in Kingston who organized the 1983 founding convention of the Greens at Carleton University in Ottawa. If you want to know anything about that process or the convention itself, I can try to furrow through my memory…