The Green 'surge' on Vancouver Island: a progressive alternative, or centrist flop?

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Image: Green Party of Canada/Twitter

The Green Party is making electoral advances across Canada, but one electoral region stands out as a place where Elizabeth May's party has a particularly good chance of winning some seats: Vancouver Island.

Nationally, average polling indicates the Greens are at 10.6 per cent and competing for third place with the NDP, who are slightly ahead at 12.5 per cent. On Vancouver Island, however, which has 7 federal ridings up for grabs, 338Canada puts the Greens in first place with 30.6 per cent of the popular vote, meaning the party has a reasonable shot of picking up at least two new seats (on top of the seat held by May since 2011, and the seat picked up by Paul Manly in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection earlier this year.) 

Despite the various issues with polling data, the numbers do indicate a broad trend that favours the Greens. However, with increased popularity also comes increased scrutiny, and in recent weeks, the Greens have managed to get themselves into trouble more typically associated with the reactionary right.

In this election cycle, the Green Party have so far: booted a candidate in Ontario over an anti-Muslim social media post; faced questions over candidates re-opening debates on abortion; ran a candidate who thinks racism is a distraction from real problems; inaccurately claimed 14 NDP candidates defected to the party in New Brunswick, and accepted ex-NDP executives who claimed voters in that province wouldn't vote for Jagmeet Singh's party because the leader wears a turban.

May also initially refused to rule out supporting a Conservative minority government (although she has since said her party won't support any minority government, based on the other parties' inadequate climate change policies). The party's election slogan, "Not Left. Not Right. Forward," meanwhile, has done little to alleviate concerns that the Green Party are simply, as the saying goes, "Liberals with recycling bins."

Furthermore, the federal party's centrist rhetoric has already translated into regressive actions at the provincial level, particularly in B.C., where the party has three MLAs (all on Vancouver Island) holding the balance of power in the legislature.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, and MLAs Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen, teamed up with the right-wing BC Liberal Party, this year, to block the return of card-check union certification and more frequent raiding periods for unions in the construction industry (which would have made it easier for legitimate unions to poach members from scab unions like CLAC). Those actions earned the B.C. Greens praise from the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association and the Fraser Institute -- hardly constituencies for those seeking to unite the struggles for economic justice with the fight against global warming.

Although the federal and provincial parties are technically independent entities with separate memberships, the significant overlaps across their organizational structures show that the actions of one are a probable indication of what voters might expect from the other.

Still, with the B.C. NDP government's approval of environmentally disastrous projects like the $40 billion LNG facility in Kitimat and the Site C dam near Fort St John -- in addition to what some see as Premier John Horgan's lacklustre opposition to the Trans Mountain expansion -- there is room for a robustly eco-socialist program that no party has yet fully adopted.

Although there is no single reason as to why the Greens are making advances on Vancouver Island specifically, some have suggested that most of the party's support is coming from former NDP voters fed up with what some view as Singh's party's equivocation on climate issues. That's partly borne out by polling from Abacus Data, which found that among those who voted NDP in 2015, 49 per cent now say they are open to voting Green.

Also, another Abacus poll found 81 per cent of Canadians agree or strongly agree that anthropogenic climate change is an issue requiring serious attention, while 58 per cent agree or strongly agree the climate emergency requires a "war-time scale" response. The Green Party wants to reduce Canada's carbon emissions by 60 per cent below 2005 levels, the most ambitious target of all the major parties.

Here's a quick rundown of the party's chances in each of Vancouver Island's seven federal ridings (based on national trends), and what the candidates have to say about the prospect of a possible Green surge.

Victoria

Incumbent NDP MP Murray Rankin isn't running again here, and the Green Party's candidate, Racelle Kooy, seems to have a good chance of beating the NDP's Laurel Collins, a first-term city councillor. The Greens finished second here in 2015, and, based on national polling at the time of writing, are at 32.2 per cent, while the NDP have fallen to 24.3 per cent.

According to the Green website, Kooy is a member of Samahquam First Nation with "strong family ties to Stswecem'c Xgat'tem."

Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke

This is another riding where the Greens have a real chance of picking up an extra seat. National polls at the time of writing would suggest they're tied with the Liberals here at around 27 per cent, while NDP MP Randall Garrison trails at 22.8 per cent.

David Merner, the local Green Party candidate, unsuccessfully ran for the Liberals in 2015, but defected over Justin Trudeau's broken promises on electoral reform and the Kinder Morgan pipeline. 

"I've always been one of the Liberals who said progressives need to be progressive," he told rabble.ca. "I would argue that our 2019 platform is more progressive than the NDP platform."

"There's so much that unites us," he added, "but the rules of first past the post make it very hard to collaborate."

Saanich-Gulf Islands

This is the Green Party's one safe seat, which May has held since 2011. She is currently cruising at around 55 per cent in this riding, and will likely spend most of the election campaigning for other Green candidates.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith 

Manly is also likely to hold onto his seat, which he won from the NDP earlier this year. The Green Party's second MP is topping the local poll at 32.8 per cent, based on national projections at the time of writing.

"There's a real strong sense here on the West Coast and on Vancouver Island that the three old-line parties are just slow on the uptake on actually committing to real action," he told CBC back in May.

Courtney-Alberni

The Greens are likely to have a more difficult time here than in other ridings on the island. National polls at the time of writing would put them in third place here with 20.7 per cent, behind the NDP's 25.2 per cent and the Conservatives' 30.3 per cent.

Local Green Party candidate Sean Wood, a small businessman, said he thinks that terminating federal fossil fuel subsidies will encourage more private investment in green technology.

"If we can steer it away from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable, less boom-and-bust economy, then that's going to be our future for our kids and grandkids," he told rabble. "The government should be driving more sustainable technology and a more sustainable economy."

Although he said he wants government to close tax loopholes, Wood was hesitant to explicitly endorse the introduction of a wealth tax, as proposed by the NDP.

"There's loopholes that we need to close, and keep the money that should already be going into our tax revenue," he said.

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford

National trends indicate this will be another tough but competitive riding. Although the Greens are in fourth place here at 22.9 per cent, the Conservatives lead with only 26.8 per cent at the time of writing.

The local Green Party candidate, Lydia Hwitsum, served as elected chief of Cowichan Tribes for eight years and as an elected member of the B.C. First Nations Summit political executive between 2002 and 2004, according to the party website.

North Island-Powell River.

This riding appears to be a competition between NDP incumbent Rachel Blaney and the Conservative Party's Shelley Downey. As a resident of this riding myself, I have interviewed the local Green Party candidate Mark de Bruijn for the Powell River Peak several times. He made this comment, this month, regarding the possibility of the Green Party propping up a Conservative minority government:

"Conservatives have some very good ideas. They are fiscally conservative, as are Greens. We have a lot in common with conservatives at their ideological core."

That statement raised eyebrows on social media.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgress, Left Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Image: Green Party of Canada/Twitter​

 

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