British Columbia

Can the Green Party swing NDP voters on Vancouver Island in October?

The party is looking to build momentum after a surprise win in the Nanaimo byelection six months ago.

The party is looking to build momentum after a surprise win in Nanaimo byelection 6 months ago

Green party candidate Paul Manly is pictured campaigning in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection in Nanaimo, B.C., on May 6, 2019. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

The Greens are eyeing a big enough gain in the fall election to earn them official party status. One of their best bets? Vancouver Island.

It's where you'll find the Green Party's only two federal seats. Long-time leader Elizabeth May has been the Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands since 2011. And Paul Manly, a documentary filmmaker, clinched the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection in May in a surprising victory, knocking out a former NDP seat.

Now the Greens are hoping to keep that momentum and sway voters in the island's five other electoral districts, which are currently NDP strongholds.

"B.C. is the most fertile ground for the Greens," said Gerald Baier, an associate professor in political science at the University of British Columbia.

"If there are to be gains, it seems likely they might come from British Columbia — although it's hard to know how much of an increase they need to be able to translate that into more seats."

The New Democrats held the role of Official Opposition going into the 2015 election, but are now battling for third place with the Greens.

The Greens currently have 10.8 per cent support, just behind the New Democrats' 12.6 per cent, according to CBC's Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data.

CBC's Poll Tracker estimates the Greens will win four seats federally — well below the 12 needed for official party status (the NDP, meanwhile, is poised to take about 14 seats).

Focus on climate issues

Manly, who was born and raised in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding he now represents, says climate-focused voters have seen NDP governments switch course on environmental issues after being elected.

In Alberta, former NDP premier Rachel Notley pushed to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline. And in B.C., Premier John Horgan has championed the $40-billion LNG Canada natural gas project in northern B.C.

"I think that the byelection showed people that they can vote Green and get what they want," Manly said.

"People in Vancouver Island are very environmentally conscious," he said.

"Now climate change is very real here — you can see it in our forests with the cedars and fir trees dying, and you can see the droughts and the changes in the weather pattern. I think that's really struck people in a way that they understand."

Bob Chamberlin, who's running against Manly in the Nanaimo riding, admits he's heard from voters dissatisfied about provincial NDP policies.

He said voters in the May byelection wanted to send a strong message to Ottawa for more action on climate issues, but believes the Green's six-month run will be short-lived.

"I've been knocking a doors quite a bit and guess what? People are telling me, 'I voted Green, but I'm coming back to the NDP.'"

Chief Bob Chamberlin and his partner, Melissa Louie, after winning the NDP nomination in Nanaimo-Ladysmith. (NDP)

Strategic voting

For some voters, the NDP offers the best chance at toppling the Conservatives.

"Around here, it's anybody but the Conservatives," said Victoria resident Craig Shaw. 

Shaw said the area is ripe for change, and that if voters sense the Greens gaining momentum, they could opt for that party instead. But strategic voting takes precedence.

"People have to be cagey about how they vote," he said. "If it was proportional representation, I think a lot of more people would vote Green."

Leslie Waters, who has lived in the Victoria area for 16 years, said she isn't sure the Greens will sweep Vancouver Island. But she's hoping more electoral districts vote for the party, that way the island's issues are better heard in Ottawa. 

"I think people are looking more at the overall picture," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Migdal

Journalist

Alex Migdal is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. He's previously reported for The Globe and Mail, Guelph Mercury and Edmonton Journal. You can reach him at alex.migdal@cbc.ca.

With files from Tanya Fletcher and Peter Zimonjic

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