As expected, Green Party leader Annamie Paul stepped down on Monday, September 27 — a week after suffering a bruising personal defeat and seeing her party drop two thirds of its popular vote share.
The Green Party went from 6.5 per cent of the national vote in 2019, to 2.3 per cent this year.
At first blush, it would be hard to argue that things are not looking bleak for the Greens. But there is, believe it or not, a bright side to this story.
Despite garnering a paltry and humiliating portion of the popular vote, the Greens did manage to win two seats. That’s no mean feat given the built-in biases of our first-past-the-post electoral system against smaller parties. Nobody I know is weeping for them, but, with many more votes, Maxime Bernier’s Peoples’ Party did not elect a single MP.
The Green vote was, in fact, even more efficient than that of the New Democrats.
For instance, the NDP won more than a fifth, 20 per cent, of the votes in both Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia but did not win a single seat in either province. Those results speak to the degree to which this election was an exercise in heartbreak and frustration for Canada’s third party (by vote percentage).
The Greens can take heart from the fact that despite their internal party squabbling and embarrassingly low vote count they’ve got themselves two strong members in the current House of Commons.
That two-person team can play a useful, constructive and — most important — prominent role on the national scene over the next few years.
In the end that’s what really counts.
Green MPs as experts, not partisans
Come the next election, few will remember how many — or more to the point, how few — votes the Greens got in 2021. If Elizabeth May, the now-veteran MP for Saanich — Gulf Islands, and Mike Morrice, the new MP for Kitchener Centre, acquit themselves with honour over the term of this Parliament, that’s all most voters will remember.
May long ago established herself as one of the main go-to people on everything environmental in this country.
Even when she constituted a caucus of one, journalists and broadcasters would routinely seek May out when anything to do with the environment cropped up in the national conversation.
The media sought May’s views on climate change policy, of course, but also on such matters as the environmental impact of legislative changes the Harper government brought to the venerable Navigable Waters Act.
May called that Act “Canada’s oldest piece of environmental legislation.” Harper virtually scrapped it in the fine print of one his massive, omnibus budget implementation bills.
Journalists have tended to regard May more as a knowledgeable and almost non-partisan expert on environmental policy than as a politician. They quote her with the deference and respect they might show scientific experts, not the skepticism they reserve for partisan political actors.
After all, May had a widely respected career as an environmental expert and activist, culminating in the presidency of the Canadian branch of the Sierra Club, years before she entered politics.
Notwithstanding the turmoil in her party and the discouraging election result, May is still the same person. Her insights and views should still carry the same weight.
The Greens’ new MP, Mike Morrice, could easily grow into a role similar to that of May. He also has an environmental activist and advocate background. Among Morrice’s achievements is the organization Green Economy Canada, which he founded.
In its mission statement, Green Economy Canada yokes together human well-being, environmental sustainability and, most important, business success. The organization works with local communities to set up what it calls “Green Economy Hubs.” Those hubs, in turn, work with businesses to achieve “sustainability targets.”
Morrice is used to talking about co-operation among government, environmental activists and the private sector. It is the sort of talk — let’s be candid here — the mainstream media, and mainstream political parties (especially the Liberals), tend to lap up enthusiastically.
Given his experience and career so far, there is a good chance Morrice, like May, could establish himself as a person who knows what he’s talking about, in a credible and non-rhetorical way, on the policy challenges that are, after all, the defining issues of our time.
May and Morrice are well-positioned to punch above their weight in the coming Parliament. Unlike virtually every other MP, they will not be burdened by the need to hew to any party line or to spout rehearsed partisan rhetoric.
That situation could serve them and their party well.
In any case, the two MPs are just about the only assets the badly wounded Green Party now has.
Let’s hope May and Morrice also become assets for all Canadians who worry about climate change and other matters environmental.
Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble’s politics reporter.