The United States isn’t the only North American country with a winner-take-all voting system that makes it particularly difficult for Greens to win elections. Canadians face a similar system, and have also been barred from televised debates. (Sound familiar?)
Despite these hurdles, on January 23 the Green Party of Canada (GPC) had its best election result ever at the federal level, receiving 665,940 votes (4.5%). Up from 4.3% and 582,247 votes in 2004, they finished fifth nationally, behind the Conservatives (36.3%), Liberals (30.1%), New Democratic Party (17.5%) and the Bloc QuÈbÈcois (10.5%).
For the second national election in a row, the GPC also ran candidates in all 308 electoral districts (ìridingsî) in the country. This built credibility for the Greens as a national political presence and compares to previous totals of 111 (2000), 79 (1997), 79 (1993), 68 (1988) and 60 (1984). Seventy-two of the 308 in 2006 were women (23.4%).
Success also adds up to financial support. Anticipating it would cross the 2% threshold necessary to be reimbursed for half of the partyís costs, the GPC borrowed and spent approximately $C700,000 (Canadian dollars) during the campaign. Now they will receive $C350,000 back from the government in September.
National Green Party Leader Jim Harris said it wasnít the risk was low. ìWe were polling at 5% when we borrowed the money and in the last election, we received 4.3%. That was the interesting time, because we had only received 0.8% in the previous election, but also because we ran in only 111 ridings.
ìWe averaged 2.2% in the ridings [districts] in which we ran, so we believed if we ran in every riding in 2004, we would break 2%. In fact, we tripled our number of candidates, doubled our average vote and our overall number of votes went up sixfold.î
By receiving more than 2% again in 2006, the GPC qualified for annual public financing at $C1.79 per vote or approximately $C1.2 million a year until the next election. After they pay off their remaining loans, the rest is free for party expenses, including the 20 permanent staff. The party now has a national budget of $C2.1 million. ì[Itís] remarkable for a party that historically operated on $C25, 000 a year,î says Harris.
In Canada, candidates (as well as parties) are also reimbursed for campaign expenses. Candidates receive 60% of their campaign expenses if they receive 10% or more of the vote. In 2004, only three Greens reached this threshold. In 2006, this went up to eight, in spite of Greens often competing in four- or five-way races for a single seat.
One Green finished as high as second ó Sean Maw in Wild Rose, Alberta, with 10.8%, placing ahead of the Liberal and NDP candidates (although all three trailed the Conservative who received 72.2%). Led by Maw, Alberta Greens averaged 6.6% per candidate, highest for a province in the country, followed by British Columbia (5.3%).
ìPeople are disenchanted with the other parties,î said Maw. ìOur major challenge was getting our message out. Being kept out of the national [televised] debates didnít help. But local media gave us fair coverage. We tried to come across as professional, to show weíre not on the fringe, that people can be comfortable with us. People now take us seriously as a credible option for next time. Greens have every reason to be optimistic.î
In the Northern territory of Nunavut, Greens received 5.9%. With climate change affecting the Artic at twice the rate of any other region, the National Post published an article ìNunavutís Green Hopeî referring to Nunavut Green candidate Feliks Kappi. Long-time North American bioregional organizer David Orton, 71, ran in Nova Scotia. His campaign helped spur the founding of the Green Party of Nova Scotia, and the party ran in all 52 districts in Nova Scotiaís provincial election in June.
The GPC 2006 Federal Election Platform was titled ìWe Canî (ìNous Pouvonsî) and emphasized values such as: inclusive social responsibility, environmental sensitivity and innovation, democratic representation and sound fiscal management.
The Sierra Club of Canada gave the GPC platform its highest ranking (94%) in its analysis of the environment and sustainability commitments of the five major parties. The Conservatives (current government) were rated at 30%. Others were: NDP 88%, Liberal 51% and Bloc QuÈbÈcois 45% (www.sierraclub.ca/national/vote-canada/2006). ìThe Green Party really improved its platform since the 2004 election, with a greater sophistication in its policy recommendations,î said Elizabeth May, Executive Director of Sierra Club Canada. ìFor the first time, it has the strongest set of recommendations for environment and sustainability.î
ìAnother measure of success,î according to Harris, ìis inclusion in national opinion polls. In 2003 only one polling company included the Green Party. In 2006, the six most frequently cited polling companies all included the Greens. During the campaign the GPC polled as high as 7% ó and since the election one poll put the GPC at 9%.î
Still, not being included in the nationally televised leadersí debate was a big disappointment. ìHad we been included we would have we would have doubled our vote and elected Greens to the national parliament,î says Harris. After their first debates, Harris pointed out, both the Bloc Quebecois and Reform Party went from no seats to over 50. At the same time, the Green Party in British Columbiaís vote jumped from 2% in 1996 to 12.4% in 2001 ó 640% ó following the inclusion of Green Provincial Leader Adriane Carr in the leadersí debate. In 2006, more than 50,000 Canadians registered their protest at the Greensí exclusion in a petition on the GPC website ó 14 times the normal volume of what the Canadian Broadcast Company Ombudsmen receives annually, in less than 56 days. Yet the Canadian winner-take-all system itself remained a major obstacle. The 4.5% Canadian Greens received in 2006 is similar to the 4.6% Swedish Greens received in 2002 under that countyís proportional representation electoral system. That entitled them to 17 seats in the Swedish Riksdag (Parliament) and influence with the minority government of the Social Democrats. By contrast, the Canadian Greens received no seats. Had the same votes been cast under a proportional representation voting system, according to Fair Vote Canadaís President Wayne Smith, allocation would have been approximately as follows:
Conservatives ó 36.3% of the popular vote: 113 seats (not 124)
Liberals ó 30.1% of the popular vote: 93 seats (not 103)
NDP ó 17.5% of the popular vote: 59 seats (not 29)
Bloc ó 10.5% of the popular vote: 31 seats (not 51)
Greens ó 4.5% of the popular vote: 12 seats (not 0)
Not only would the Greens have won seats, said Smith, but instead of a center-right government, it may have been center-left, as the Liberals, NDP and Greens would have held a majority of 164 out of 307 seats. ìWith a different voting system, people would have also voted differently,î Smith added. ìThere would have been no need for strategic voting. We would likely have seen higher voter turnout. We would have had different candidates ó more women,and more diversity of all kinds. We would have had more real choices.î
The GPC will hold its national convention August 24-27 in Ottawa. The choice of a new party leader, which is held every two years, will be high on the agenda, along with electing party Federal Council members and voting on party policy resolutions. Harris announced he would not seek another term as leader in April, but was ìproud of what the party had accomplished in the last three years.î So far three candidates have emerged to take his place: David Chernushenko, May (of the Sierra Club, who resigned in May as its executive director) and Jim Fannon, a former Green candidate St. Catharines/ Merritton riding in Ontario. Candidates must pay a $2,000 registration fee and are allowed to spend up to $50,000 on their campaign. The election of a new leader is a one member-one-vote process, using Single Transferable Vote (STV). Members have the option to mail in their votes if they are unable to attend the convention.
For more information: Green Party of Canada www.greenparty.ca