Green Party Election Strategy: Rising Tide, or Beachhead Ridings?

Lifts All Boats

Lifts All Boats

I recently read an article by an articulate, and thoughtful Green Party activist, Kevin Colton. There has long been debate in the Green Party of Canada choosing between two strategic and organizing imperatives. Because Kevin put the argument so very well for the so-called rising tide strategy, I thought I should refer to it when arguing the contrary.

The first of two schools of thought is that the Green Party should build infrastructure on the regional and national level. Any success in an individual riding is short lived, and illusory because these beachhead efforts always fall short of actually winning the seat. Kevin argues, very well, that a little effort goes a long way in an area that has no infrastructure, and no organizational depth. By nurturing humble beginnings, it is possible to achieve critical mass, and move on to bigger and better things.


Establishing the Beachhead

The counter arguments are that the Green Party would enjoy an enormous boost as soon as the first candidates are elected. Once the GPC takes it’s place in Parliament, the added visibility will make it much more credible, and therefore more attractive to quality candidates, and the electorate.

I would argue that this is a false choice. There is a certain minimal level of support that will help inexperienced Riding executives to nurture their volunteer base, fundraising skills, and basic campaigning know-how. All EDA’s should get a basic helping hand. Throwing additional monetary resources at a basic EDA that has a minimal volunteer base, a mediocre candidate, little campaign experience, and no reasonable prospect of ever electing a Candidate is not a wise use of scarce resources though.

Since the GPC is constituted as a Political Party, with the stated objective of electing candidates to Parliament, GPC strategy should be focused on achieving this objective as quickly as possible. There are a number of ridings across the country which are likely to become a GPC beachhead riding. Those ridings where the electorate is fairly evenly split between 3 or more party’s have demonstrable potential to be swayed by alternate messages, or Party loyalties. Ultimate electoral success in any riding will depend upon the quality of candidates above all, followed by the numbers of volunteers, and an identified base of historical GPC voters. In these split ridings in particular, the GPC should be pouring the maximum resources available in every subsequent election. I only need point to Bruce Grey Owen Sound, or Guelph, or Saanich, etc. to bring forth examples of ridings that have grown in organizational depth, and all the skills and resources required to ‘put the puck in the net’. The fact that Bruce Grey Owen Sound is not readily winnable because of the pre-eminence of the Conservatives is beside the point. (No 3 way split present). If you were to graft their organization, and super candidate onto any of the 20 I have identified elsewhere, we would have elected our first sitting member in 2008.

Bruce Grey Owen Sound is a great case study for the beachhead strategy. In the 2003 – 2004 Provincial, and Federal elections, the riding was fairly typical, with a share of the vote of 1.7% provincially, and just over 4% Federally.

shane-jolleyIn the 2006 Federal Election, a strong local candidate, Shane Jolley stepped forward, and after significant organizational improvements Shane brought the results up by 8.74% Federally, to a total of 12.91%. (copy edit thanks to correction by Shane Jolley).In the 2007 Provincial Election, the riding was identified as a beachhead riding, and significant resources were put into the race. Shane finished with a strong second place with 33% of the popular vote. Despite a local mini-scandal whereby Shane was replaced as candidate by the dick-hibmapopular Dick Hibma, in the 2008 Federal election the Greens retained the lions share of their voters, while scoring 27.2% of the popular vote. I think this establishes pretty clearly that strong candidates, plus adequate resources can bring a low popular standing a very long way over a few short years. If this type of success can be transplanted to the 20 beachhead ridings I have identified elsewhere, then it is probable that several ridings will return an elected MP anytime from 2010 on.

In conclusion I will opine that the GPC should give basic assistance plus a little to every riding that proves capable of helping itself. For those where the future electoral prospects look solid, no effort should be spared in recruiting star candidates, focused membership drives, and providing logistical support.

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Green Party 2008 Election Results. Win or Loss?

Green Party win or loss?

Green Party win or loss?

I just picked up the validated results from the Elections Canada Website. I didn’t bother sorting out the judicial recounts etc. but the total Green Party vote was 937,643 ballots from a total of 13,719,113 ballots cast. That adds up to 6.83% of the vote.

I guess that looks like a win compared to the 2006 election, because the vote count went up from 664,068, and 4.5%. The GPC funding moves from about $1.3 million to around $1.8 million per annum, plus when the next election hits the GPC will get the same amount to fund the next election, as soon as the writ is dropped. Given the past financial straits of the party, (they were essentially broke when Elizabeth May took over), this shot in the arm, when married to the newfound fundraising prowess means they should be solvent. Solvency will depend on retiring their debts, and prudent budgetting, but lets just assume they’ll manage that OK?

The loss part is based upon the hard and pointy fact that expectations were raised to an unreasonable level. The public was repeatedly informed that the GPC would win seats. There was a whack of media attention, the debate participation, public statements by the leader, and spokespersons. There was no obvious plan to actually make seat wins happen though.

It was more than conceivable that seats could be won. Recruiting a few excellent candidates for potentially winnable ridings would have been a starting point. Follow that by pre-election organising in said potentially winnable ridings. Hire some real campaign managers, and communications people, lend staffers to the breakthrough targets, and ensure full funding and it might have come true. At least may have come close.

It was not to be. Now the political credibility of Elizabeth has been largely spent. The sense of fair play in the country will be inclined to say, ‘we gave them their chance, they got the debate spot they have been demanding, and they couldn’t even get their leader elected’.

On balance, the bad news outweighs the good. If the GPC cannot score a by-election win soon, then they will suffer big time in the 2009 – 2010 election. It pains me to say it, but the failure was in managing expectations. Promise seats + don’t deliver = you are a failure.

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