The relentless collapse of the Green Party of Canada’s grassroots.

Back in May I laid out the evidence to support my contention that the Green Party of Canada is suffering a sustained collapse at the grass-roots level. To summarise my arguments, the local Electoral District associations were largely formed to capitalise on the Revenue Sharing agreements between the Green Party`s head office, and the local electoral units. Any local riding that met the basic criteria of maintaining a local organisation would receive a significant share of the per vote subsidy then on offer under the elections finance act. The central party had a perverse incentive inasmuch as their own revenues would decline every time a new local organisation was formed to take advantage of this revenue sharing deal, so perhaps it ought not surprise us that zero resources were allocated to local organising of grass-roots Green Party riding associations. On the part of the Electoral District Associations, virtually all local ridings that had more than 3 or 4 active members had already formed their EDA before Elizabeth May was elected leader of the GPC. Most of them coasted along under the Revenue sharing agreement, accumulating a small stream of cash for the next general election.

Now that the per vote subsidy is being phased out, the logic that drove the process of EDA formation has disappeared. There will no longer be any free lunches in terms of a guaranteed revenue stream, so the rewards for putting in the minimal effort to maintain an existing association in good standing are non-existent. As a consequence, my expectation that the majority of the Electoral District Associations would collapse is being borne out by the fact that an even 100 Electoral District associations have been de-registered by Elections Canada since 2010. This was not an inevitable outcome. While the EDA`s no longer have an overwhelming incentive to organise locally, the central party will no longer be losing revenues to local organisations horning in on the subsidy cash after the next election. It is very much in Elizabeth May`s interest to start organising locally, and re-building the electoral capacity of the GPC. I will go out on a (short) limb here and guess that the current leadership does not know how to organise nationally, and will not re-evaluate their resource allocation at this late date.

Here is a wee table charting the decline of the GPC grassroots:

GPC EDA formation
Year Registrations Deregistrations
2004 96 1
2005 35 5
2006 24 13
2007 56 3
2008 16 5
2009 48 9
2010 4 44
2011 2 19
2012 4 18
2013 2 19
Total: 287 136

I am not writing these posts documenting the decline and fall of the Green Party out of malice, or partisan glee. My intent is to demonstrate an electoral opportunity to the Liberal Party, and anticipate the strategy and tactics that the Liberal Party ought to adopt to capitalise on what is happening across Canada. In past elections, the Green Party sought to maximise revenues by ensuring a candidate was registered in all 308 ridings in Canada. With the loss of so many local EDA`s, and with the loss of the per vote subsidy, that will never happen again. In past elections, approximately 10% of the electorate were prepared to pledge their vote to the GPC. The GPC did not do any meaningful getting out the vote activities, so unsurprisingly, only about 60% of their voters actually showed up at the polls, and the GPC garnered about 6% of the national vote. In the 2015 general election, there will be a lot of ridings across Canada where the Green Party will either have no candidate, or will have zero resources to campaign. Provided the Liberal Party is prepared with a few well conceived policy prescriptions to appeal to Green Party supporters, then they could easily garner half or more of the Green Party vote in most of the ridings across Canada. Since that will represent the margin of victory in many local contests, it should be one of the keys to a majority Liberal government in 2015.

I do not get into policy questions very often, or very deeply. However, it may be useful to suggest a couple of areas in which the Green Party could be vulnerable. The most significant policy area for many GPC supporters is in the area of democratic reform. I think that most Liberals would recognise that Joyce Murray illustrated the potential of voting reform during the Liberal Leadership contest. A credible policy to introduce PR, or Preferential ballots will definitely set the stage to win the votes of a large proportion of Green Party voters. A second policy area that is less significant, but still meaningful is the legalisation (or decriminalization) of Marijuana. A policy offering covering both these bases will make a dramatic difference to Liberal fortunes in British Columbia, and will have a significant effect across the country. These are by no means the only issues which can turn Greens towards the Liberals, but combining both areas, and working them hard will go a long way towards replacing the GPC as the Party of choice for GPC voters left without a candidate in their riding.

Anyway, for reasons outlined above, the ongoing collapse of the GPC grassroots is probably going to accelerate dramatically next year, and 2015 will be the Götterdämmerung, with the residual organisations slipping away. I expect that there will be about 50 EDA`s that survive on the strength of local organising efforts, and the GPC will remain a national party in name only. The ways and means of capturing their electorate will undoubtedly need more refining, but I hope that the Liberal Party, and the Liberal EDA`s are not asleep at the switch, and will be giving due consideration to this one piece of the majority winning electoral puzzle.

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10 Responses

  1. That’s an interesting perspective, Matthew. There’s no question that we’ve had too many EDA’s deregistered over the past several years, and that the Party has long neglected local organizing. That being said, however, the Party has shown that it can mount strong campaigns in certain ridings, as recently borne out in Victoria and (of all places) Calgary Centre. Certainly, in a general election, limited resources will be stretched more significantly, but with a sharp focus on “winnable” ridings (if we could figure out what that is), the Party still might bear fruit by electing a true caucus of Greens.

    If this means that Greens in the rest of Canada are left to fend for themselves and mount paper campaigns (or unfunded campaigns), the pay-off could still be found at the polls IF Greens actually get elected in a few ridings. What would be hoped for as a follow-up, however, would be for the Central Party to then begin investing in regional organizing – but if we don’t experience success at the polls and actually elect a few Green MP’s, well, I’m not sure that local organizing is going to do a lot of good.

    Does this leave Green voters vulnerable throughout most of Canada, to be picked up by the Liberals? I think the answer is a clear “Yes” on the vulnerability part – but I’d disagree that the Liberals are going to be the prime beneficiaries. Yes, you’ve highlighted two areas where Greens might find the Liberals appealing (democratic reform and pot law reform), but let’s not kid ourselves: the Liberals remain in favour of many policy positions which are almost completely against the Green Party’s – and here I’m speaking about climate change, ruanway tarsands development, pipelines, China, Free Trade, embracing corporate capitalism, etc.

    So, I don’t necessarily see that Greens will end up in the Liberal camp, especially if the NDP mounts a strong national campaign – and the NDP will do just that.

    So, it may be difficult times are ahead for the Green Party (although I’m not so sure of that), but it may not be to the Liberals benefit. Look to Tom Mulcair to continue to make a strong play to Green voters.

    I just don’t see 2015 as being the Gotterdamerung of the Party – especially if we can elect a few more MP’s. With recent provincial success in B.C., and the potential for future success in Bourassa and perhaps provincially in Guelph, I think it’s far too early to write the Party off yet. In fact, I think that Canada is going to see a lot more of the Green Party over the next several decades – and it may very well be at the expense of the Liberals. Sure, Trudeau is popular today – but will he be able to carry the electorate in 2015? I just don’t think so. Look for his own baggage to sink him before then.

  2. Hi Steve, anything is possible I guess, but the GPC will not win votes without candidates. Where there are candidates, they will not win many votes without resources. That is clearly demonstrable from past elections. Look through the archives on this site and you will find plenty of hard evidence relating votes to resources spent, and strength of the local EDA. The GPC might be getting a little better at raising money, but not to the extent of replacing the per vote subsidy. Don`t expect any local organising in the national budget.
    And of course, without revenue sharing, there will be no money for most of the local campaigns. You should check out the electoral finance database at elections canada. All the Electoral Districts put together only raised a few tens of thousands of dollars per year. By any objective measure, the GPC is moribund at the local level.
    As far as yor expectation that green voters are not going to vote Liberal, I suspect that you are projecting your own objections onto your electorate. Many of them are going to vote for someone, and that someone is up in the air.

  3. I still say that Trudeau the Younger will dangle Environment and Lizzie May will cross the floor in time for 2015. She may be a pain, but she’s not stupid. She knows that the writing is on the wall. The RPN (now incorporated and working towards registration) is pleased. Btw, at yesterday’s meeting of our Executive, we approved a new slogan: “Green and White Unite.” Sorta catchy, ain’t it?

  4. Hi Guys

    Long time no chat
    I have a few points to consider

    # !) Justin Trudeau wins leadership

    # 2) Justin Trudeau says he will legalize cannabis

    # 3) Justin Trudeau admits to pot use as an MP

    # 4) john shavluk runs in saanich gulf islands the long time home of his parents and an occasional one for him armed with his court transcript assorted videos and his person convictions never mind his drive

    The first three said long ago the green party is dead and gone and so over your discussion is actually funny…like two betamax tape guys unaware the herd is far down the road

    The 4th point will in a way win lose or draw mark the terminal end of any reference to a green party of canada

    My 2 cents great chatting

    ps looking forward to our crushing over whelming decimating surprise we provide to all of them never mind just the may party loyalists when Justin wins Matthew

    if steve still doesnt get it after this he sure will soon

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