The Greens: A party that plays politics just like the others

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After a visit by the Green Party’s Elizabeth May to Powell River on July 31, she was quoted in the local newspaper: “There is no chance of a Conservative winning in this riding. It’s either going to be a Green or an NDP member of Parliament in this riding.”

It was a clever pitch aimed at easing potential Green voters’ fears that they might elect a Harperite by voting with their hearts instead of their heads. Which is all very well, except that the Greens have absolutely no chance of winning in Powell River or in any but two of the Island ridings in B.C. – May’s Saanich-Gulf Island riding and, in a stretch, in Victoria, where they trail the NDP by 12 points. The party is eagerly passing out pamphlets on the island touting a single Insights West poll which shows them at 30 per cent “on the island” – nine points behind the NDP. But those results are seriously skewed by May’s 60 per cent in her own riding and the polling in Victoria and Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke. According to threehundredeight.com, the site which amalgamates the results of all the polls, the Greens are averaging 20.5 in the seven island ridings but hovering around 10 per cent in four of them.

In North Island-Powell River, they are at 8.3 per cent, placing them fourth behind the Liberals – and a few points up from their 2011 showing. If the new riding boundaries had been in place in the 2011 election, the Conservatives would have received 46 per cent of the vote and the NDP 42 per cent. The Greens and the Liberals would each have received 5 - 6 per cent. In that election the Conservatives won 21 seats in B.C., the NDP 12, the Liberals two and the Green Party one – May’s seat. But what is just as revealing is who came in second in the Conservative ridings. The NDP placed second in 18 of the 21 Conservative ridings; the Liberals came second in three. The Green Party didn’t manage a single second-place finish.

As for the current Green polling numbers – they are unlikely to stand up on election day. The Insights West poll explains why: “The Conservatives (71%) and the NDP (63%) hold the highest proportion of fully committed voters, while the numbers are lower for the Liberals (49%) and the Greens (33%).”

The Green Party of the 1980s and ’90s featured continuous discussions around the question of: “Is the priority to redefine politics from the ground up, or to play the electoral game according to the present rules? Or both?” Given the resources available to the Greens in those days it wasn’t a real choice – the party was unable to garner many votes or have any major influence on voters’ choices.

All that changed when the Chretien government banned corporate and union funding of political parties and implemented a government program that gave each party upwards of $2 for every vote they received. It was a change that brought the Green Party out of the wilderness.

The party in recent elections took full advantage of anger at Stephen Harper, claiming the political and moral high ground by defining the difference between the Green Party and other parties with its offer to co-operate with those parties – standing down in some ridings in exchange for them doing the same in others.

The co-operation offer has until now been Elizabeth May’s response to the charge that the Greens split the vote and allow Conservatives to win in close races with the Liberals or the NDP. But the Green’s slogan in this election – “We are not splitting the vote, we are growing the vote” – reflects the fact that the co-operation offer is well and truly dead.

There is no evidence of the “growing the vote” claim; nevertheless, that is the flavour of the Kool-Aid the Green Party is serving up to its candidates and to the public. They have nominated the strongest candidates they can find, even in B.C. ridings where Conservatives are in close races with the NDP or Liberals.

One example is North Vancouver, where the Liberals have a good chance of beating the incumbent Conservative – except that the Greens have nominated Claire Martin, a popular former CBC TV personality. The Greens got 5 per cent there in 2011. In West Vancouver – Sunshine Coast – Sea to Sky Country, the Greens are running a progressive former mayor of Whistler, Ken Melamed, in a riding where the Liberals have a good shot at replacing a Conservative.

In North-Island-Powell River, they have chosen Brenda Sayers, a popular, articulate First Nations woman in a riding where the NDP and Conservatives are the only two contenders. In Nanaimo-Ladysmith, another NDP-Conservative battleground, they nominated Paul Manly, a popular social movement activist (unfairly denied an NDP nomination). There are other examples where the Green objective of beating Conservatives seems to have been forgotten.

It seems from the evidence that Ms. May has decided to play the game just like the big boys: putting the interests of the Green Party ahead of the interests of the country. Yet now more than in any other election, the Green Party should be backing off in ridings where the Conservatives could come up the middle. The Greens could have continued to claim the moral high ground even in the face of other parties’ refusal to co-operate. It could have chosen placeholder candidates in ridings where the Conservatives won by small margins. Even now, they could pull back. After all, isn’t that what the moral high ground means? You stake it out regardless of the behaviour of others. Otherwise it just looks like political opportunism.

Instead of sticking to the Green Party’s principled goal of ridding the country of the Harper Conservatives, Elizabeth May risks electing Conservatives in B.C. Unpublished results (because of the small sample size) of a recent Ipsos poll looked at Green voters’ second choices. According to Ipsos: “The NDP (43%) has a significant advantage over the Liberals (29%), and Cons (5%) as their preferred second choice.” In tight races, strong Green showings could easily elect enough B.C. Conservatives to alter the outcome of a close election.

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble’s State of the Nation column, which is also found at The Tyee.

This article originally appeared on rabble.ca.

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