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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26 Responses

  1. The Cons claimed they would phase out the subsidies I expect they lied but we might make the next election before the well runs dry.

    Whether the party grows back or collapses depends on May. If she uses the next 4 years to vist all the EDAs who’ve never hosted her we might start building locally again. If she holes up in SGI and ingnores the east its over.

    I don’t see strong anti May feelings in our riding , but there is ambivelence towards the mothership for letting us flounder. A national campaign that actually visited us could have allowed us to hold the 3% of vote we lost even with a bigger local camapaign.

    One thing we are doing is moving to full time candiate mode.. we are not waiting for 3 years we will nominate and promote our candidate, we are starting again within 2 months. We are not going to have big campaigns any time soon so we need long campaigns. With that in mind EDA free ridings must have help from the party pronto.. We funded this all or nothing run in SGI we need the favor returned

  2. I plan to increase my donations to the Green Party of Canada.

    Having said that, if the public financing does indeed go away (there’s no reason to think otherwise), an obvious change in strategy is required. IMHO, there would be no further reason to run candidates that are just names on the ballot. And the GPC should stop running candidates in ridings where there are other candidates who are saying all the same things we are, such as Fin Donnelly in New West-Coquitlam.

  3. @bob
    Obviously the elimination of the per vote subsidy will remove the compelling reason to run a full slate, but without a candidate, GPC supporters in any given riding will have no voice. Rather than stop running candidates, why not get the Ottawa office off their collective butts, and start some genuine field organising, like identifying and recruiting quality candidates?

  4. The Green from Barrie Ontario went from 11% to 5%. Yes you could really use a good candidate here.

  5. Two things were at fault here for the drop in nationwide support… May pointed it out, and I completely believe it.

    First, her national coverage was, quite literally, nil… this was exacerbated by her removal from the debates. And secondly, the people with any brains in Canada (the 61% who didn’t vote CPC) are TERRIFIED of Harper having power… so those 3% felt that their vote was better spent trying to keep Harper out of a Majority situation.

    I can’t really say I blame them… I, for one, am sticking with the Green Party. I’ve voted for them ever since 2006, and this year moving forward I’m going to become a donating member.

    So, do I think that the Green Party can survive? I don’t think “can” is the appropriate word… The Green Party *MUST* survive for the betterment of Politics in Canada.

  6. This year is the first time when I voted since I arrived in Canada, about 10 years ago.

    I voted Green since it matches my current concerns: environment and unrestricted Internet.

    I promise I will continue to support this party and I can gladly say, this is my party now! :)

  7. Here’s the history of the GPC’s popular vote in the past decade:

    2000 0.81 %
    2004 4.32
    2006 4.48
    2008 6.80
    2011 3.91

    The GPC began receiving the indexed $1.75 per vote subsidy in the fall of 2004. The subsidy money was available in the last three general elections.

    The 2004 popular vote was especially impressive as it was pre-subsidy.

    The longest time period that the party has had in which to save up the subsidy for a general election has been the 31½ months in the lead-up to this week’s election. I don’t have the exact number but during that time several million dollars of subsidy were received from Elections Canada.

    Taken together, the plunge in popular vote to a level lower than the 2004 pre-subsidy level is a sign of a badly executed campaign.

    The Mayites will say, “Yes, but the trade-off was that we got a member of parliament elected and that trade-off was worth it.”

    The decision to concentrate the party’s efforts on electing the leader to parliament was rational. Obviously, the campaign to elect the leader well executed. However, I don’t see where there was a trade-off between getting the leader into Parliament and popular vote across the country. If the spending limit in Saanich–Gulf Islands was around $80,000, then most of the several millions of dollars in subsidy could not legally have been spent there.

    The question you folks could be asking yourselves is, why were the national and local campaigns evidently weaker in post-subsidy 2011 than they were in pre-subsidy 2004? That question is relevant whether or not the vote subsidy is eliminated.

    Markus Buchart
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    (Not a Green Party member)

  8. In August 2010, 74% percent of GPC members who cast a ballot voted to hold a leadership review after the next federal general election instead of in August 2010, when May’s four-year term as leader had been set to end. The federal general election has now taken place.

    The GPC members’ resolution may not have amended the party’s constitution. Article 2.1.4.5 of the by-laws posted presently on the GPC web site still says, “The Leader shall be elected in 2006 and every four (4) years thereafter.”

    Does that mean that there will be a leadership review this year or in 2014? Does the party have to hold a special general meeting in 2011?

    By the way and further to my post above, the popular vote drop from 2008 to 2011 was 42.5%. That’s a drop of almost one-half.

    Markus Buchart
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    (Not a Green Party member)

  9. One more thing. If memory serves, the GPC only achieved the full slate in the Harris era:

    2000 111/301 (Russow)
    2004 308/308 (Harris)
    2006 308/308 (Harris)
    2008 303/308 (May)
    2011 304/308 (May)

    Markus Buchart
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    (Not a Green Party member)

  10. @xanth18
    Actually, I monitored the media coverage, (sporadically) over the course of this election, and it was considerable. Given that SGI is a very long way from any media centre, and that Elizabeth publicly announced that she was focusing on her own riding exclusively, there is no-one to blame but the Green Party. Certainly far more media coverage was given than in any election prior to Elizabeth May’s tenure as leader. Also, the strategic voting message has been present in every election since, like forever. The fact is that the drop in support nationally was an obvious, and forseeable corrollory to a strategy to focus all the national campaigns efforts on getting elected in SGI, despite any assertions to the contrary by interested party’s

  11. @markus
    Hi Markus,
    as you should recall, Chretien’s electoral finance act was passed well before the 2004 election. The pre-vote subsidy was a done deal, simply waiting for the first election after it’s enactment to come into force. The 2004 vote count for the GPC grew tremendously because the 308 strategy implemented (successfully) by Jim Harris, and the GPC captured all available votes, and a sound communications strategy drew in a lot of new supporters and votes nationally.
    As far as the money for this 2011 election goes, the GPC borrowed a large sum in 2008, which they decided they would not pay back until `later` because they had all those hires, and wonderful things to spend the money on. Only when the loans came due did the GPC realise there was no hope of meeting the bill. Don`t you remember the big financial crisis where every organiser was let go, but not a single `manager`.
    Once the debt was retired, the Party decided on SGI, and spent every penny they could scrape up in pre-writ spending. The total, including salaries for people tasked to the SGI campaign, Elizabeth`s personal assistant(s), office space in SGI, and I really do not know what else was well over half a million bucks. The Party has focused all their resources for two years now on EMay`s SGI campaign. That is only one of the reasons why the GPC organisation has collapsed from coast to coast.
    Still, the GPC authorised borrowings of well over $1mm for this election, plus whatever monies they raised during the election, they pre-authorised borrowing against the 60% rebate on any additional spending they incurred. God knows what they frittered it away on. Probably wasted on vanity broadcast advertising, since they do not know how to deploy anything more sophisticated.

  12. The 3%, or roughly 1/2, drop in support is certainly something to be concerned about!

    However, if you look at the polling I think you can see that the NDP surge bled a lot of votes away from the Greens. Internal GPC polling has shown that for years we have been pulling votes away from the NDP at higher rates than we have been from other parties. It is therefore only natural to expect a bit of a see-saw back when the NDP was pushing up in the polls to a point where Jack Layton as PM was more than just orange spin.

    Combine this with the fact that: Elizabeth May decided to focus on SGI rather than a national campaign; Greens were excluded from the debates and the media discourse; and there was a particularly strong strategic voting sentiment to this election.

    All of this combined to lower the vote percentage. Overall however, I think it was the NDP surge which was the larger contributor to the GPC popular vote decline.

    The party chose a strategy, elect a single MP, and we executed this strategy. Of course the world is one of trade-offs, and surely there are costs to this strategy.
    But we now have our MP, and concomitantly increased political credibility. The GPC will now need to focus on building the organization across the country.

  13. I was praying for May to lose, so that the “all for the leader while the local associations are dying” strategy would be abandoned.

    I see no reason why the party would start doing the complete opposite of what it have done for the last years at suddenly care about the base.

    Now, like hundreds of thousands of voters, I gave up on the Greens and I am now behind the NDP.

  14. Bluegreeblogger: Yes, I remember well the discussions on this and on the Report on Greens blogs about the GPC spending binge and the resulting financial crisis during the 12 to 18 months following the 2008 election. I think that that’s mainly where the GPC blew it. That said, overall party resources and national media coverage in 2011 were probably still better than they were in the two Harris-era general elections and yet the unimpressive popular vote result this time. Something else was going on in the electorate’s collective mind. E. May may be the best thing since sliced bread to dyed-in-the-wool Green Party loyalists, but consider the possibility that she has turned off voters with increased media exposure.

    James Beddome: I don’t see strategic voting as having been any more pronounced in this than it was in the 2004, 2006, or 2008 general elections. I also don’t see that the NDP surge was all that strong outside of Quebec and that most of its newfound vote must have come from the collapsing Liberals and Bloc. I did not disagree in my post above that electing the leader to Parliament is not a good thing for your party. I just don’t see how that necessarily entailed a trade-off in the other 307 federal ridings. Had some of the measures recommended on this and the Report on Greens blogs been followed during 2008 to 2011, I don’t think that we’d be talking about any trade-offs now.

    All: So, when’s your leadership review? I have no doubt that May will be re-crowned but it would be interesting how she defends losing almost half of the electorate.

    Markus Buchart
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    (Not a Green Party member)

  15. Greens should NOT assume that they will be included in the next TV debates. If the consortium and the bigger parties can exclude them, they will. (Especially with the Bloc at 4 seats – a minimum of 5 will be suggested, i expect.) This has been the story of Green coverage since Day One: keep raising the bar. Greens should assume that a hard fight to be necessary and they should start working on it now.

    As for the results, the breakthrough of electing one Green MP could be inspirational for voters. (Consider Mulcair’s lone seat in Quebec for the NDP before the 2011 election.) The national campaign took a bad hit, but it will be worth it if May’s victory opens up a new chapter, with new possibilities.

  16. markus:
    Don`t count on any leadership races. No-one is left, and since the council bought into the idea that leadership races are expensive, they will undoubtedly scrap the constitution (again) and pass on any contests. Don`t forget, the money is about to evaporate, and there will be no staff left at head office, beyond totally basic compliance with legal requirements like filing returns and the like. So that means that there will not be anybody to organise a contest.
    Culbert:
    I do not believe all the nonesense about the consortium making a decision. IMHO CTV made the decision, then hid behind the consortium. That trick will not work again, because I doubt the other consortium members will play along now that the Greens have a sitting member.

    New chapters do not open themselves Jeff, and possibilities remain theoretical unless somebody capitalises on them. Politics is not some warm and fuzzy realm of possibilities. It is hard work, and I do not know anybody in the GPC right now who has the combination of experience, brains, and work ethic when it comes to the brass tacks of political organising. Maybe you could read through the past 100 or so posts here, and take home enough to be the one who does it. It will take a lot of work, and you will be roundly hated the second you demonstrate any success. If not you, who shall be the sacrificial lamb…..

  17. bluegreen:
    You doubt the TV debate trick will work again, but the Greens seemed surprised when it happened this time, and i don’t want them to be surprised again.

    So Green organization is bad, eh? I was involved with the Greens years ago, but I know nothing about the party’s internal workings these days.

    All I am saying is that a lot of people are excited about Elizabeth getting elected, and I don’t mean just Green Party people. For some, it puts the Greens in a new league and they’ll want to get involved. Some of them might even be good organizers. So I’m enjoying the warm and fuzzy possibilities and hoping that hard work will follow out of them.

  18. Bluegreenblogger: Regarding the possibility of there being no leadership review, at that point the Green Party will really have become the Elizabeth May™ Party. Contrast that with June 2004, when Jim Harris and the other leadership contestants had to campaign for the leadership during the federal general election campaign.

    Markus Buchart
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    (Not a Green Party member)

  19. @markus
    The point was crossed years ago. Fact is that Elizabeth May has managed to avoid the contests mandated for every 2 years indefinitely. There is no legal rationale, just the machinations of power politics. Oh well, c’est la vie.

  20. Bluegreenblogger: I remember now, the party crowned her de facto Leader for Life in August 2010. I read about the possibility here first:

    https://greencanada.wordpress.com/2010/07/31/the-question-for-the-green-party-is-simple-leadership-contests-or-leader-for-life/

  21. Looks like the press has also noticed the Green Party’s contraction:

    http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/05/09/kelly-mcparland-elizabeth-may-victory-masks-green-collapse/

  22. 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.

  23. Okay, here’s my prediction.

    The Mayites will start a campaign soon to defer the six-month post-general election leadership review until the party’s 2012 general meeting.

    Remember, you read it here first.

    Markus Buchart
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    (Not a Green Party member)

  24. In his July 31/10 post, bluegreenblogger asked: “The Question for the Green Party is simple. Leadership contests, or Leader for Life?”

    I just noticed today (July 8/11) that the GPC has posted an internal election nomination notice:
    http://greenparty.ca/council/election-2011

    The notice doesn’t mention any leadership review. I’m not sure what date it was posted.

    The GPC constitution page has not been updated to reflect the changes to the leadership election process made at the August 2010 members’ general meeting. I think that the change was that there has to be a mandatory leadership review within six months of a federal general election.

    So, is there a leadership review concurrent with the present council elections?

    Markus Buchart
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    (Not a Green Party member)

  25. Apparently there will be a leadership review:
    http://greenparty.ca/blogs/7/2011-07-25/message-our-members

    See the fifth paragraph.

    Markus Buchart
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    (Not a Green Party member)

  26. So, Elizabeth May’s support has increased from 85% at the August 2010 GPC convention to 94.5% in the 2011 leadership review:

    http://greenparty.ca/media-release/2011-09-08/may-receives-ringing-endorsement-greens

    Apparently the 85% support in 2010 was only 12% of the total party membership. How low was the voter turnout in the 2011 leadership review?

    Markus Buchart
    Winnipeg, Manitoba
    (Not a Green Party member)

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