Green Party of Canada: An election result with mixed blessings

Well that was an eye popper of an election, wasn’t it?

Last night, Elizabeth May became the first Green Party candidate elected to Parliament in Canadian History. She didn’t win by a little, and it wasn’t a squeaker. The Green Party annihilated Gary Lunn, former Minister for Sport with the final numbers coming in at 46.26% for Elizabeth May, 35.59 % for Gary Lunn, of the Conservatives,  11.89% for Edith Loring-Kuhanga of the NDP and 6.26% for the hapless Renee Heatherington of the Liberal Party. There isn’t much point in dragging over the entrails of the SGI race, it boils down to the fact that the Green campaign successfully picked up the bulk of NDP and Liberal supporters, carved a little wedge out of the CPC support, and Gary Lunn’s vaunted organisational strength failed to get his voters out in sufficient numbers, whilst the Greens did not fail at the GOTV.

So what does this mean? First off, it means that Elizabeth May now has a great deal more credibility on the national stage than she did 24 hours ago. The growing doubts in the minds of many electors will be erased, and the simple possibility of electing Greens has been established. When Elizabeth May talks to reporters in the House in Ottawa, it will be as a sitting member, not as a spectator in the gallery. Elizabeth May will enjoy a substantially larger salary than she had as Leader of the Green Party, and will now have funds for Constituency office(s), staff in Ottawa, and Saanich Gulf Islands. That is pretty good news for her closest supporters, who might have been on the unemployment line in a few months otherwise. In SGI itself, there is now the opportunity to work hard at the constituency office, and cement the ridings votes in one at a time by doing what good constituency offices do, helping the electorate in their dealings with the Federal Government. I suspect that Elizabeth May is about to learn a whole lot more about the inner workings of the immigration department! Then there is the televised election debates. There is no way in hell that Elizabeth May can be excluded next time, for what it’s worth. Perhaps I speak too soon though. In a Canada with a majority CPC government, any nastiness now seems possible, and somehow I don’t find it implausible that the CPC will enforce their own criteria for debate inclusion on the broadcast consortium.

For the rest of the Green Party of Canada, it is pretty bad. The vote total came in at 3.9% with (approximately) 575,000 votes. Ouch! The 2004 election, was considered a great victory for the Green Party, which came out of nowhere as Jim Harris led the Green Party to an electoral showing of 582,247 votes nationwide, and a vote share of  4.3%. Jim Harris was deemed to have failed in the 2006 election, because he only grew the vote marginally to 4.6% of the vote, and his replacement as leader, Elizabeth May grew the vote share to just shy of a million, and 6.8% share of the ballots cast in 2008. I have yet to dig through the electoral results to see just how this collapse in green votes has impacted various ridings and regions in Canada, but even a casual glance reveals a crushing blow. Ottawa Centre, the riding built up by David Chernushenko until his departure from the Green Party collapsed with a final tally of  5.04%. Far from getting their expenses rebate (at 10% vote level), they halved their vote, and lost a whole bunch of funding from the per-vote subsidy. Bruce Grey Owen Sound had a heartbreakingly close result, with a 9.98% vote share. It looks like they may have missed their rebate by a handful of votes. Guelph, once the strongest Green Riding in the country was annihilated with a vote share of  6.29%. That is good news for Elizabeth May, there is no way that any rivals can rise to challenge her from the embittered Guelph Greens. In fact, the only Green Ridings that I found quickly that will get their election expenses rebate is Dufferin Caledon, led by the able Ard Van Leeuwen, Vancouver Centre, led by Adraine Carr, and SGI with Elizabeth May. I am sure there will be a few others, but the long term strength and growth of the Green Party in Toronto was squashed last night. I cannot speak for the rest of the country, but I know that the Green Party leadership fiasco last summer literally eviscerated the Toronto area ridings, when all their hard work and planning for a leadership convention was superceded by the constitutional shenanigans to avoid the mandated leadership race. Most of those activists simply left the Party in disgust, and as a result, the Greens had no detectable presence in the bulk of Toronto for this election.

So that leads us to a (quick) discussion about the finances of the Green Party of Canada. The National Party fought their usual battle in council about how much they would borrow for the election. Well, the bad news is that they raised their borrowing limits at the last-minute, but the good news is that most of it will be repaid immediately out of the elections expense rebate the National Party will receive. This means that unlike in 2008, the Green Party will be starting from a debt free position. Of course, with a massive drop in the number of votes received, the Green Party’s funding from the per vote subsidy will collapse from close to $2,000,000 per annum, down to $1,150,000. I am willing to bet that for however long the subsidy remains, an empowered Elizabeth May will be withdrawing the revenue share from the EDA’s, and bolstering the central office with those funds. Whether she does, or not will shortly be rendered moot, since the CPC will undoubtedly press their partisan advantage on all fronts now. I can guarantee that the per vote subsidy will be gone sooner than later. Either the Green Party of Canada leadership is going to suddenly become expert at organising at the grass-roots level and fundraising, or they are going to be eliminated at the riding level, and permanently hobbled at the National level. I have said it before, although I doubt that I will bother to say it again, the current leadership are very poor managers, and I do not belive that they will manage to become adept fundraisers and organisers. Since the membership, and EDA organisations imploded across the country, there is no other place for them to look for organisational strength. There was still a vestige of experienced Greens who were hanging on to see if Elizabeth May would lose, and a new leader would be selected, but that hump will evaporate now.  The GPC Leadership has not exhibited much interest in building at the local level to date, so this implosion is likely to be sustained. That means folks, that we have likely witnessed the birth of the Elizabeth May party, and the end of a National Green Party of Canada. Hey, maybe I am wrong, what do you think? Can the Green Party survive the elimination of the vote subsidy with Elizabeth May at the helm?

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