Murray Dobbin
Come clean, Ms. May: Green strategy risks electing Conservatives

| September 24, 2015
Credit: Project Democracy

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The Green Party and its leader Elizabeth May continue to promote the fantasy that the political "contest" on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast is a fight between the NDP and Green Party. A recent "householder" (a political mass mailing) featured this claim: "The Conservatives will not form the government after this election, and on Vancouver Island, we are in a position to elect six more Green Party MPs..." That would mean electing Green candidates in virtually every Island riding. There is no truth to either of these claims.

To back this startling declaration, the party quotes the results of a single island-wide (and North Island-Powell River) Insights West poll. The poll found that 39 per cent of voters would choose the NDP, 32 per cent the Green Party while the Conservatives and Liberals would be tied at 15 per cent each.

But no one except May -- including pollsters -- is categorically claiming the Conservatives "will not" form government given that all polls suggest a dead heat -- and with the more "efficient" Conservative vote they would get the most seats.

National and even province-wide polls are notoriously unreliable when you try to apply them to individual ridings. But the Green Party has been able to rely on this kind of ambiguous polling because there have been no surveys done in individual ridings.

That is, until now.

Both the Dogwood Initiative and LeadNow organizations have now done these individual riding polls in support of their strategic voting programs. Strategic voting asks voters to vote for whichever party's candidate has the best chance of defeating the Conservatives.

The polls show the Green Party is running fourth in several of the ridings that it is still claiming it will win. LeadNow has published an Environics poll for North Island-Powell River -- interviewing 556 people, resulting in a poll that has a margin of error of 4.2 per cent. The poll shows the NDP at 41 per cent, the Conservatives at 27 per cent, the Liberals at 18 per cent and the Greens at 14 per cent. The poll was conducted on September 18 and 19.

One July 31 Elizabeth May told the Powell River Peak 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." May did not cite any evidence for her claim and it is now clear that there was no such evidence. The Greens are running fourth.

Paving the way for Conservatives

The Green candidate has clearly improved the party's showing over 2011 when it would have received about 5 per cent of the vote using the current riding boundary. But the improved showing effectively supports what those supporting strategic voting claim: that running strong candidates in unwinnable ridings, the Green Party risks electing the Conservatives.

Two recent polls reveal the second choices of Green Party voters. A Nanos poll showed that 48 per cent of Green voters' second choice would be the NDP and 32 per cent would vote for the Liberals. Just 10 per cent of Greens had the Conservatives as their second choice. An unpublished Ipsos poll showed almost identical second-choice results: the NDP, 43 per cent, Liberals, 32 per cent and Conservatives 10 per cent. Both polls contradict May's repeated assertion that disaffected Conservatives are flocking to her party.

By doing a mass mailing suggesting there is no danger of electing Conservatives, the Green Party can obviously increase its vote count -- but to what end? Despite running an expensive campaign in North Island- Powell River, the Greens are still in fourth place, actually worse than they would have done in 2011 with the current boundary -- when they would have tied with the Liberals for third place. (The Liberals have tripled their vote this time around.)

But let's assume the Greens do even better on election day. Half the additional votes they get will come from former NDP supporters -- lowering the NDP's lead over the Conservatives whose numbers will likely rise given their deep pockets and strong get-out-the-vote plan.

What about the other island ridings Ms. May says the Greens can win? A Dogwood-sponsored poll in Courtenay-Alberni shows very similar results: the NDP at 39 per cent, the Conservatives at 33 per cent, the Liberals at 13 per cent and the Greens running fourth at 12 per cent. Given the recent rise in Conservative support, this is a dangerously close race. Half the Green votes would otherwise go to the NDP -- increasing their lead from six percentage points to 12.

In Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, which the Greens claim is theirs for the taking, Dogwood's Insights West poll reveals they are in a three-way tie for second -- with 19 per cent of decided voters compared to the NDP's 39 per cent. And in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, another alleged sure win for the Greens, the Environics poll done for LeadNow shows the NDP with 34 per cent, and the Conservatives and Greens tied for second with 24 per cent. Again, if the Greens' goal was really to defeat Conservatives they could be running a modest campaign, providing the NDP with another seven to eight percentage point spread over the Conservatives. Or they would just withdraw.

Defending a grand deception

It was inevitable that the mainstream media would finally catch up with the Green Party's deliberate deception. On the CBC morning show out of Victoria, host Gregor Craigie challenged May on her assertion that the Conservatives "will not" form the government. I have never heard Ms. May sound so uncomfortable or unconvincing as when she responded to Craigie's persistent probing.

After trying to justify the declaration with reference to a host of national polls, May finally gave in:

"If that one sentence had not been on a flier and was more nuanced and had a much more detailed analysis as to why that's true, condensing it to one line is probably something I wouldn't have said myself but it's absolutely defensible and explainable."

As any party leader knows, it doesn't wash to blame an underling for a major piece of election literature. Would she use the same argument if she were prime minister? But then having said the statement was "absolutely defensible and explainable" she failed completely to defend or explain it.

It just got worse for the usually calm and commanding Green leader. Trying to build a case for using a year's worth of polling to justify the claim, May stated: "I would never believe in one isolated poll that was an outlier." But that is precisely what the poll that accompanied the statement was: an isolated, "outlier" poll that, given the Environics and Insights West riding polls. And May knows this -- or should know -- because she told Craigie that the party has been doing "a lot of its own polling."

Yet even the face of the individual riding polls May is sticking to her grand deception, saying to Craigie: "Right now there isn't a riding on Vancouver Island where the Conservatives are in a position to win a seat" and "...when they're mired at 12 to 15 per cent they aren't coming up anyone's middle."

In a last desperate effort to justify the misleading flier, she offered this rationale: "What we're saying is what we believe..." But that's not politics, that's religion. May then tried to distinguish her flier with a comparison to a nasty Conservative flier in her own riding: "It's definitely in the category of dirty tricks when you send out a mailing that says your opponent stands for something that's not the case at all..."

Well, yes, we can all agree with that. But how is it fundamentally different from telling people voting strategically that they don't have to worry their pretty little heads -- just vote Green.

It doesn't wash, Elizabeth. Fess up. Take former Tyee editor David Beers' advice: withdraw "no-chance" candidates in ridings where they might help elect a Harper Conservative. The Green Party is supposed to be the party responding genuinely to the enthusiasm of young people, the party of principle. In this election, it is dishing up cynicism and dirty tricks.

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble's State of the Nation column

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