Um, no, there won't be a Green wave rolling through Canada in October

The recent breakthrough victory by the federal Green Party in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection was certainly impressive, but it is by no means indicative of some kind of Green wave just waiting to roll across the country.

To hear Green leaders such as Elizabeth May and Andrew Weaver tell it, the win by new MP Paul Manly will be the first of many in the October election.

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While there is certainly a good chance the Greens will add numbers to their two-person caucus, some reality has to be injected into the conversation.

First, this was a byelection - the kind of vote where the outcome is essentially meaningless since it would have no impact in determining which party is in government. It has also been called the “mulligan” byelection since voters there will be given another chance to elect their MP in just a few months.

Byelections usually have low voter turnouts and for this one just 40 per cent showed up - meaning about 35,000 people who voted in 2015 opted to stay home.

It’s safe to presume most, if not all, of those non-participants will show up at the ballot box in October, which means trying to read too much into this result is fraught with peril.

May has used her party’s victory as proof that fighting climate change is the top political issue for voters. I want this to be true, but the result actually shows the opposite.

If that issue were indeed so important to people in the riding, surely the Green vote would have ballooned from 2015 levels. Instead, it only went up by a fraction – about 1,200 votes.

In other words, the biggest issue in that riding by far was apathy, not fighting climate change.

Still, there is no question the victory has given the Green brand a big boost and enlarged the party’s profile beyond Vancouver Island.

In addition, if May can persuade ex-Liberal attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to run under the Green banner in the fall (and maybe convince fellow disaffected Liberal Jane Philpott to do the same) her party stands to pick up a few more seats in the next election.

There is also the possibility the party morphs into a protest party of sorts, where those dissatisfied with the established parties go to register their scorn with the status quo. However, that is unlikely to happen as long as the Greens keep essentially “green” issues their top priorities.

The last Angus Reid poll pegged Green support at just 11 per cent nationally. It will undoubtedly be greater in parts of B.C., Ontario and the Maritimes in the fall.

But it’s still not a Green wave. At least not yet.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC



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