Coming of age in Canada – 2006 Convention bigger and better than ever

Coming of age in Canada – 2006 Convention bigger and better than ever

by Jim Harris, Former Leader (2002-2006), Green Party of Canada

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The Green Party of Canadaís (GPC) 2006 convention in Ottawa this August was a coming of age for the party. Members elected Elizabeth May as the partyís new Leader in a race that electrified the party. Party membership went from 5,300 members after the January 2006 election to 10,000 by August.

The convention was the largest in party history, with 400 party members and 50 volunteers, as well as, more than 50 journalists and observers from other Canadian political parties. Held in the heart of the nationís capital at the Ottawa Congress Centre, the convention gained substantial media attention over the week, with the equivalent of $750,000 worth of coverage. For the first time ever, the entire proceedings were also televised live on CPAC ó the Cable Public Affairs Channel (the Canadian version of C-SPAN in the U.S.). CPAC is delivered by cable to over 9.5 million homes in Canada, and has a weekly viewer ship of 1.4 million. The demand for the CPAC web cast was so heavy the website crashed. The major networks ó CBC, CTV, Global in English, and RDI in French also increased their coverage of the event. As educator Marshall McLuhan once said, ìthe medium is the message.î

By holding the convention at such a flagship location, the media could recognize the party had come of age. While there was internal criticism from some members about the high registration fee to help finance the convention, the event paid its costs while generating unprecedented media coverage. This arguably validated the investment and made it the most successful political event in the partyís history.

Speakers

Keynote speakers included Nik Nanos, the most accurate pollster in Canada; Joe Trippi, Howard Deanís campaign manager; Monica Frassoni, the co-president of the Greens in the European Parliament, Mike Feinstein, the former mayor of Santa Monica, California, representing the Global Greens; as well as speeches from the three candidates vying for the leadership of the party; and myself as the outgoing leader.

Nanos is the president of SES Research. He predicted the support of each of the five major parties within 0.1 percent of the actual outcome in Januaryís Canadian elections. He shared research he had conducted in the week prior to the convention ó showing that 30 percent of Canadian voters have decided to vote for the Green Party or are considering it. He pointed out the party could more than triple its vote to 13 percent ó some 1.9 million votes (from 665,940 votes in 2006) ó by increasing the organizational capacity on the ground. This is great news as the partyís membership has doubled in 2006 ó so hopefully the organizational capacity will be at least double in the next election.

When Trippi signed on to manage Howard Deanís 2004 U.S. presidential campaign, the long shot candidate had 432 known supporters and $100,000. Within a year, Trippi and his team had transformed Dean into the frontrunner, creating a groundswell of 640,000 people and raising more money than any Democrat in history ó $15.7 million in a quarter ó with average donations of $77. Trippi talked about using the Internet to empower and involve people in politics. He is a visionary and on a personal level has values very much in line with Greens. He gave a two-day, by-invitation-only seminar on the two days immediately preceding the convention. More than 100 key party members from all across Canada participated.

Stepping Back

In September 2005 I decided I no longer wanted to lead the party going forward, so I began to recruit quality individuals to run for the position behind the scenes. A race for leadership is something that generates excitement and builds the candidates and their teams recruit new party memberships to achieve victory. I decided to step back because I had campaigned in more than a dozen elections: two federal elections; two elections to serve as leader of the GPC, two provincial referendums on democratic reform óand I had campaigned with greens in most provincial elections over the last few years. After a while, the 120-hour weeks during a campaign and the 60+ hour weeks outside of elections begin to wear.

Rules for the Race In looking for new leadership there was Adriane Carr, the leader of the Green Party of British Columbia. She led GPBC to win almost 200,000 votes in 2001 ó some 12.4% of the vote ó and was included in the televised leaders debate. At the same time Carr began recruiting her good friend Elizabeth May. Another obvious candidate to lead the party was David Chernushenko, deputy leader of the GPC who in 2006 received the endorsement of the Ottawa Citizen for Canadian Parliament, and won more votes than any other candidate across Canada running in Ottawa Center. Chernushenko was also in the partyís Shadow Cabinet and responsible for the Climate Change portfolio. Once the race was announced a third candidate entered ó Jim Fannon, who is a radio talk show host and real estate agent in St Catherineís.

The federal council required each candidate running to post a $2,000 deposit, collect 100 signatures from the members, and could spend up to $50,000 seeking the leadership. This limit includes non-monetary donations. Both May and Chernushenko reached the spending limit in this campaign. During the campaign for leader, the party hosted two televised leaders debates, one in Montreal and one in Calgary. Both were televised live on CPAC and streamed from the web site for a couple of weeks following. This attracted a new level of media attention for the party.

Elizabeth May

May has been campaigning on environmental issues for 30 years. She has advised numerous Prime Ministers on environmental issues and served as the executive director of one of the most prominent environmental groups in Canada, the Sierra Club, for 17 years. May is an Order of Canada (the highest honor a Canadian can be awarded). She is well versed in how to work the halls of power on Parliament Hill and will be able to attract significant media attention.

May won the leadership with 65% of the vote while Chernushenko won 34% of the vote and Fannon won less than 1% of the vote. As May couldnít belong to a political party while director of an NGO, the race pitted a high profile environmentalist against a party insider.

The two-thirds of members chose May for her high profile status, believing ìstarî candidates to run for the party will bring it to the next level. As one of her first acts of leadership May appointed Chernushenko the senior deputy leader of the party ó ensuring that the party is unified going forward.

Lead up to the Announcement

Hundreds of supporters cheering and waving signs overcame the auditorium at the run up to the announcement of the leadership vote. Don Newmanís Inside Politics decided to broadcast live from the event to capture the emotion. Chanting continually interrupted my speech, and at the end of each phrase the convention roared. ìIn 2000 we had less than two percent of the Liberal Partyís vote (they had 5.2† million and we had 104,000). In 2004 we had 12 percent; in 2006 15 percent and last month a poll put us at a third of the support of the Liberals!!î ìThe Green Partyís rise in popularity is forcing the Liberals to adopt our policies. Just ten days ago (in August) Michael Ignatieff, the ìsupposedî leading contender to win the leadership of the Liberal Party announced his support for a carbon tax and a polluter pays principle ó directly taking planks out of the Green Partyís platform.î ìClimate change is the number one concern of Canadians. But climate change was not debated once ó NOT ONCE ó in the four televised leaders debates in the 2006 election. So the ONLY way Canadians are going to get the old-line parties to begin talking about climate change is by voting Green! And the only way Canadians are going to get the old-line parties to actually act is by electing Greens.î

background_gpc_financeGoing Forward

As party strategist now, I believe an election budget of $3.5 million is possible. Also May will likely be included in the next televised leaders debate for the following election. This coupled with a strategy of getting a piece of literature to every Canadian household will mean that Greens can double their vote.

For more information: Green Party of Canada www.greenparty.ca; Jim Harris can be contacted at jim@greenparty.ca

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