By Bruce Cameron, Black Press Media election analyst
As Kermit the Frog said, “it’s not easy being green”.
That can certainly be said for Green Party candidates across Canada. The latest composite of polling indicators compiled by CBC puts Green Party support at about four per cent nationally, the lowest level it has been in years.
Those Green ‘blues’ can be felt most acutely in B.C., where the party had built a solid political base of power over the past decade. British Columbia is the only province where the Green Party has elected multiple representatives at the provincial and federal levels.
Remember that brief moment the B.C. Greens held the balance of power in a Horgan minority government? B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver was as close to a cabinet minister as any Green politician may ever be.
At the federal level, the Green Party led by Elizabeth May held three of the 42 seats in B.C. not so long ago. Only one of those, Elizabeth May’s Saanich-Gulf Islands riding, could be classified as a “safe” seat in the 2021 election. Despite May’s personal popularity in her riding, her resignation as leader and the resulting leadership race revealed fractures in the party that may never heal.
Annamie Paul, the eventual winner in a lacklustre race, is running in a Toronto riding most analysts predict will vote Liberal. Paul’s tumultuous term as Green Party leader has only added to the growing sense of a missed opportunity.
After all, most Canadians put climate change at the top of their urgent concerns. Raging wildfires across western Canada this summer have only added to the growing sense of urgency that the world faces a looming threat from global warming. So why have the Greens lost ground rather than gained traction, and what are the implications for tight races in B.C.?
Other than Elizabeth May, Paul Manly has perhaps the best shot to win as a Green, in Nanaimo Ladysmith. Manly won the riding in a by-election by over 5,000 votes, extending his margin of victory over the Conservatives in the 2019 election.
But with Green support melting away nationally, and indications of momentum building for the NDP, especially in B.C., Nanaimo Ladysmith is anything but safe.
The fortunes of the Green Party will not just affect the results in one or two seats in the 2021 election. How the Greens fare will have a direct bearing on ridings like Kelowna Lake Country, where Liberal Stephen Fuhr posted a surprise victory over the Conservatives in 2019, when the Greens inexplicably decided to not field a candidate.
Other ridings where a depressed Green vote could decide the outcome include Central Okanagan Similkameen, which the Liberals came close to winning in 2015 (when the Green vote dropped below 5%), and South Okanagan West Kootenay, an NDP held riding that was won by 756 votes over the Conservatives in 2019 (when 8% voted Green).
Nanos polling in late August shows a sizeable drop in the Green Party “power index” in BC over the past month, confirming what many other pollsters are finding: much of the recent Green base is shifting away. But to which parties, and why?
I expect most disaffected Green voters will move toward the Liberals. While the Liberal track record of buying a pipeline may make Green voters cringe, the Liberals did bring Canada into the Paris Climate Accords and have invested billions of dollars into green infrastructure.
Meanwhile, although O’Toole has done a masterful job in the first part of the campaign subduing climate change skeptics within the CPC ranks, it is highly doubtful Green voters would switch to the CPC.
The NDP under Singh’s leadership may have a chance to capture some wavering Green voters, thrusting them into a spoiler role in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country. Provincially the Green candidate in that district was within 60 votes of winning and federally the Greens had 22 per cent of the 2019 votes.
Where that Green vote lands in 2021 will determine if Liberal Patrick Weiler retains the seat he won in 2019 or if former Conservative MP John Weston can recapture the seat he held from 2008-2015.
While it may not be easy being green, the first two weeks of the campaign have not been easy for the red team’s Justin Trudeau. Buried within the data from numerous polling firms, there are signs of a red tide slowly seeping back out to sea. But pundits who have concluded the CPC and O’Toole are on a path to victory should be wary. There’s a lot of campaigning left to do.
Black Press Media’s election analyst Bruce Cameron has been a pollster for over 35 years, working initially for Gallup Polls, Decima Research and the Angus Reid Group before founding his own company, Return On Insight. He is a frequent media commentator on CBC and CTV.
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