The Green Party of Canada insists that it is committed to postpartisan politics; it seeks to renew our commitment to democracy; and on principle it refuses to whip its elected officials. It claims their elected officials get a free vote on everything, as true democracy demands. (Of course the Greens don’t have any form of internal party democracy. Their nominations are closed appointments. But never mind that for now.)
This year, the Greens are going into the federal election with their most members of Parliament in history: two. Former NDP MP Bruce Hyer joined the party after he was tossed from the NDP caucus in 2012. Green party activists are openly talking about the possibility of electing up to a dozen Green MPs. Setting aside whether this is realistic, let’s examine how the Greens are approaching this goal.
Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green party and the only Green MP to ever be elected under this banner, is seeking reelection in the riding of Saanich–Gulf Islands. Prior to her 2011 election, she formed a cooperation pact with the Liberal Party of Canada in 2008, and ran unopposed by them in her bid to defeat Conservative incumbent Peter Mackay. At the time, both the Conservatives and the NDP harshly criticized this deal.
In 2006, shortly after she was elected Green leader, she declared her intention to run in Cape Breton-Canso in the next federal election. At the time, the riding was held by Liberal Rodger Cuzner.
She never did contest this riding. Instead, she ran in a by-election in London North Centre, when Liberal MP Joe Fontana had resigned to run for mayor in the London, Ontario municipal elections. Fontana lost the mayoral bid. May came in second, to the great surprise of analysts. The Greens spent the most of any party. The Liberals held onto the seat until 2011.
In 2011, the Greens did not seek a formal alliance with the Liberal party again. But in that election, the Liberal vote nevertheless collapsed in Saanich–Gulf Islands when May ran, challenging long-time Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn. The Liberals, who had obtained over 25,000 votes and almost beat Lunn in 2008, obtained fewer than 5,000 votes in 2011—a decline of over 80 percent.
This result was a major anomaly, and a large divergence from regional voting trends. The only time the Liberals had ever earned fewer than 15,000 votes here before was when the riding it was first contested in 1988. It was their worst performance ever, by far.
And that brings us to now. Since her election as the first Green MP in 2011, May’s party has doggedly pursued her neighbouring riding of Victoria. This riding has been held by the NDP since 2006. In a 2012 by-election, the Greens' Donald Galloway nearly beat the NDP’s Murray Rankin. Rankin won by less than three percent of the vote. The Greens spent more than any other party.
This week, May opened a new Green party office in Rankin’s riding of Victoria. She launched the campaign of Green candidate Lynn Quarmby in the NDP stronghold of Burnaby North–Seymour. [Full disclosure: my mother, Carol Baird Ellan, is seeking the NDP nomination in that riding.] The Greens are dedicating their resources to challenging not Conservative strongholds, but ridings where NDP are likely to win. As they have done in the past.
Despite their stated goal of contesting many new ridings, the Greens have nominated candidates in only 28 of 338 federal ridings so far. Of those, only three are held by Liberal incumbents: Halifax West, Charlottetown, and Malpeque. Not a single Liberal riding west of the Maritimes is being contested by a Green candidate as of today.
It is not unreasonable to conclude, and I do conclude, that May’s 2008 deal with the Liberal Party of Canada was not an anomaly. She has relentlessly pursued backroom deals with the Liberals for the last decade. She is dependent on the Liberal party’s cooperation for her re-election. She cannot challenge the Liberals if she wants to retain her seat. So she isn’t challenging them at all. She is supporting them.
I do not believe the Greens are a postpartisan party. They are highly partisan: in favour of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. NDP-Green cooperation is unfortunately impossible, because the Greens are already cooperating with the Liberal Party of Canada.