The Green Party of Canada needs a hard-right turn. Not to the extremes that the Conservative Party has taken but they need to drift closer to Canada’s political centre… and with the resignation of Elizabeth May as Leader, this is the perfect time to do it.
Ms. May, as GPC Leader, served 13 years as the face and brand of the Party. Over that time, the Party elected its first MP (her) and finally elected a caucus this fall. During this time, provincial Greens were also elected in BC, Ontario, New Brunswick and formed the Official Opposition in PEI. Those are definite wins that can be attributed to Ms. May’s presence as federal Leader.
However, the Party has failed to grow under her watch as well.
In 2004, then Party Leader Jim Harris ran the first full slate of 308 candidates for the Green Party capturing 582,000 votes and over 4% of the popular vote. Not bad for a Party that had no MPs or media presence competing against political heavyweights like Paul Martin, Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton. Two years later, Harris was able to grow support to 664,000 and 4.5% respectively.
Ms. May was elected as the Leader in the summer of 2006 and had the following election results:
2008 – 937,000 votes / 6.8% support (fielding 303 of 308 candidates)
2011 – 576,000 votes / 3.9% support (May first elected as MP)
2015 – 603,000 votes / 3.5% support
2019 – 1,162,000 votes / 6.5% support
If comparing the Greens of 2004 (with no media or MPs) to the 2019, Ms. May’s tenure was successful. However, the comparison should be done to Ms. May’s first and last elections as Leader. She has not been able to grow the Party brand over 12 years and caucus has still failed to reach official party status in the House of 12 elected MPs.
You can also see this lack of growth within the Party’s financials. In the pre-May and early May years, the Party relied heavily on the vote subsidy. With the subsidy’s removal in 2011, there became a greater emphasis on building a donor pool and raising money. Ms. May’s first full year as leader (2007), the Party raised just under $1 million. In 2018, that number swelled to over $3 million. While the Party more than tripled their fundraising capacity, this did not equate to greater support in the recent election. This doesn’t even factor in the staff and salaries of an MP’s office over the last number of years.
Political opportunities (elected MPs, floor crossers, increased media, Leader’s Debates attendance, increased fundraising) have been repeatedly lost while Ms. May was Leader.
There is a tremendous opportunity in the Canadian political spectrum right now; nobody is chasing the votes in the centre. The Greens, NDP and Liberals are a 3-way race to see who can be the most progressive, and the Conservatives are trying to build a time machine and revert Canada back to more socially conservative era. There is a massive political chasm between the parties, and this is the space in which most Canadians politically reside.
Former GPC Leader Jim Harris was also previously an Ontario Progressive Conservative. His platforms of 2004 and 2006 were still environmentally focused but geared towards the political centre. His was able to draw support from liberals who were tired of the Chretien/Martin feud as well as conservatives who didn’t trust the newly formed Conservative Party. The next GPC Leader is going to have the opportunity of scandal-ridden Justin Trudeau to draw liberal voters and lame duck Andrew Scheer to draw conservatives.
But to take advantage of this opportunity, the Greens need to stop racing for the political left and retrace their steps back to 2004; find a centrist Green politician or an eco-capitalist who willing to open the party to a larger piece of the Canadian electorate. If the goal is to elect more Green Party MPs, this is the best route to do so. If the goal is to make Canadians more environmentally friendly, then create a mechanism that invites Canadians to participate instead of chastising them for less environmentally friendly choices.
Mark served two terms on the GPC’s Federal Council (2006, 2010) and was not a supporter of Ms. May. She didn’t like him either.
References – Voting numbers pulled from Wikipedia. Financial info pulled from Elections Canada