For several years there has been a scattered sense amongst some so-called `progressives` that the progressive left should merge, or co-operate electorally to keep the Conservative Party out of power. No less a Liberal luminary than Jean Chretien has called for a formal merger between the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens. During the current Liberal leadership contest, Joyce Murray is arguing strongly that a pact with the Green Party would be the bees knees.
On the NDP side, the idea was championed by Nathan Cullen in the recent leadership contest.
Elizabeth May has sounded of on this theme again in the aftermath of the recent by-elections where the GPC had a pretty good showing in two of the three ridings contested. She said that; `The tight races also reinforce the need for the NDP, Liberals and Greens to “start talking to each other” to avoid vote splitting in future elections…` I laughed when I read that. Of course she did! The Green Party is tottering, and this is about the only way she is going to retain any electoral significance beyond the next General election. Now some people will want to attribute this statement to malice on my part. After all, did the GPC not just exceed all expectations in both Calgary Centre, and Victoria by-elections? Sure they did. They did it by pulling out all the stops. They have gotten better at coordinating a national virtual phone bank, and they recruited canvassers from coast to coast to coast to support a couple of strong local candidates. There is a real difference between concentrating your resources on a couple of by-elections, and running a National General election campaign.
They spent real money and resources on those by-elections. In fact, I suspect that when the by-election financial returns are made public, we shall find that they spent as much on these two by-election contests as the Central Party spent on the whole of Canada outside the four target ridings in the last general election. And I would posit that this big effort was symptomatic of their very weak position moving forward. Reason number one is that the per vote subsidy for political party’s is being phased out. The GPC shares the funding from this source between the National Party, and the local EDA`s. This fund sharing formula was in existence before Elizabeth May was elected leader, and it has had a perverse impact on the development of the local units of the party, the Electoral District Associations. Under Jim Harris, there was a strong emphasis on building the local electoral capacity of the EDA`s. There were full-time organisers on staff, whose job was to assist local Greens in forming EDA`s. Their job was to help out with training, and electoral readiness. There was help in recruiting candidates, there were election training tools, seminars, and manuals being produced. There was a strong incentive for the central Party to support the EDA`s, because the per vote subsidy was shared between the local EDA and the Party itself. The central Party was not very good at fundraising, so they were dependant upon good election results to pay the organisers salaries. Winning votes at the local level was important to the EDA also, because their share of the subsidy represented the lions share of the money available to them to contest the next election.
Elizabeth May brought a very different focus to the Green Party. For whatever reason, the Party lost interest in supporting and developing any strength in the local organisations. There was a Salary for the Leader, and Deputy Leader to be paid. There was the leaders aide to pay, and the basic legal compliance functions to fund, like financial reporting, meeting the expenses of the Federal governing council, etc. It seemed there was little interest, or resources left over for spending money on training, organising, forming or supporting EDA`s. In fact, from what I could observe, there seemed to be a perverse incentive at work. Every EDA that folded up it`s tent and was collapsed, meant that the per vote subsidy previously `diverted`to the local organisation reverted back to the central party, and helped to keep the top-heavy organisation afloat. During the various budgetary crises that the GPC faced, a series of moves were made to secure an increasing share of the subsidy cheque for the central party. For example, at one point the central Party sent out communications telling the EDA`s that they would be `opted out`of the revenue sharing agreement, unless they responded on short notice that they still wanted to receive their share. Then there was the whole Quebec organising fiasco. The central party was pressured by the Quebec EDA`s to hire a very talented young lady as Quebec organiser for the GPC. She was very succesful, as she set up regional meetings, membership started climbing dramatically, and they registered a whole whack of EDA`s in Quebec over the course of a couple of months. The reaction of the Central Party was to sack the organiser, in order to preserve their revenue stream from the per vote subsidy from Quebec voters! You see, the GPC council had decided that the entirety of the Party`s resources had to be dedicated to winning the leaders seat in SGI in the next election. The upshot was the voluntary dissolution of the Quebec EDA`s. The activists and EDA executives all left the Party, and the Quebec wing completely collapsed. As far as I can tell, that is pretty well where things stand in Quebec today.
The picture is a little more complicated across the rest of the country. The same basic fact holds true, that there is no organising support for the EDA`s, but there is still some residual strength left in some of the EDA`s. The majority of the EDA`s still in existence are held together by the ongoing revenue sharing cheques they receive from the central Party. There are still a few local organisations who go beyond filing their annual returns and cashing the revenue sharing cheques, but the bulk of the EDA`s are collapsing one by one, even though they have guaranteed sources of funds if they meet some minimal filing requirements.
Here is a quick table I whipped up based on Elections Canada records:
|GPC EDA formation|
As you can see from the table, the Revenue sharing agreement, in conjunction with the central party supporting and assisting in EDA formation succeeded in putting at a minimum a rudimentary local organisation across the country between 2004-2007. There was an upwards blip in 2009 when a whole lot of Quebec EDAs were registered. The recurring financial crisis within the GPC head office contributed to, (or in the case of Quebec was the proximate cause of), the collapse of the EDA`s in 2008-2009, which resulted in the de-registration of all those EDA`s without an executive from that time on. There has been little or no effort to revive the Party organisation at the local level since the momentous decision of the federal Council to concentrate 100% of the GPCs resources on supporting Elizabeth May since 2008-9.
So given these facts, and the history of the GPC, what is going to happen now that the per vote subsidy is being phased out, and there are no easy sources of funds for local EDAs? Well it is clear that the GPC has never shown an interest in organising at a local level. The local membership is losing the biggest incentive they have to retain the vestiges of an organisation. Even with the ongoing flow of funds from the vote subsidy, about 40% of the EDAs have folded. If the current trend continues, then at BEST there will be about 110-120 EDAs left preserving some resources for the candidates in the 2015 general election. So just how relevant will the GPC actually be in the 2015 general election?
Well the lifeblood of the GPC, the per vote subsidy, will have ceased to exist by 2015. The central party had what should have been a strong incentive to win as many votes as possible across the country in 2010, but they chose to focus all their resources on an effort to secure a seat for Elizabeth May. The impact of failing to run a national Campaign was predictably followed by a substantial decline in their vote share. How much effort will they expend on recruiting and supporting candidates for the next election? It is safe to assume that those EDAs that still exist will manage to find a candidate for themselves. It is clearly not safe to assume that the party will spend a nickel to recruit candidates where there is no local organisation though. Even if they do field a decent number of candidates, there will be no local organisation to support the candidates. there will be no money in the bank, there will be no candidate training, there will be no resources backing them up, because there is no reason for the national Party to do so. Therefore, it is my contention that the GPC will have lost the capability to influence the course of the general election. Based on past electoral results, a GPC candidate without an EDA, and a minimum of $5,000 behind their campaign will not win more than 2-4% of the vote. The implication is that the GPC will halve their vote share on Eday, if they are lucky.
So having provided some background information, why is it that I would laugh aloud at Elizabeth Mays noble gesture of calling for electoral co-operation before we get to the next election? That is simple. the GPC does not have the resources, the motive, and I suspect the intention to field candidates across the country. When faced with the choice of fading into irrelevance, or cloaking their impotence in an electoral pact, Elizabeth has opted to squeeze the last drop of influence from a Party with some regional strength, but at the end of its rope in most of Canada. If they can run candidates un-opposed in a handful of ridings, they can marshal sufficient resources to pick up a few more seats, but that can only happen if they are gifted that option by both the Liberals and the NDP. They have tried to bolster their bargaining position with an all out effort in the recent by-elections, but they will never have the resources to duplicate this beyond a handful of ridings at a time. My advice to the Liberal Party, and to the NDP, is to smile politely, agree she is a wonderful MP, and ignore her overtures. She has nothing of substance to offer, beyond her own not insignificant abilities as an MP, and policy guru.