British Columbia·Analysis

Greens take hard look in the mirror after popularity drops

Elizabeth May was re-elected in Saanich-Gulf Islands. But no other Green Party candidates came close to joining her.

Greens a party of one in Liberal majority

Elizabeth May and Victoria Green candidate Jo-Ann Roberts. It was a bittersweet night for May who was re-elected, but whose party failed to win a second seat. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

It will be a lonely flight back to Ottawa from Victoria for Elizabeth May. The Green Party leader was hopeful heading into election night that she would have a few more caucus mates when Parliament returned.

But although May was able to win her seat, no other Greens managed the same.

"I was hoping to have a few other Green MPs sitting beside me on the plane back to Ottawa," said May. "There will be a lot of regrets from voters when they wake up in the morning and they realize they didn't vote for Jo-Ann Roberts or Paul Manly."

So why didn't more people mark their ballots for the Greens?

The Green popular vote dropped in the country from 3.9 per cent last time, to 3.4 per cent this time. May claimed the first blow to the party was the fact that the English national television debate was cancelled, saying, "That was very damaging to growing our party."

But the main factor was likely the effort by various groups to encourage voters to stay away from the Greens because of potential vote splitting that would lead to Conservatives being elected.

"The difficulty in this election was the fear factor," said May. "The risk of having Stephen Harper re-elected caused a lot of people — especially with the orchestrated efforts of non-government organizations — not to vote Green when they normally would have."

Elizabeth May flashes her trademark smile. She says her party may have been done in by strategic voting and the cancellation of the English language national television debate. (CBC)

The challenge that now faces the Greens is distinguishing themselves from the Liberal Party. May has openly influenced Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's stance on climate change.

But with many members of the new Liberal caucus also expressing strong feelings on the issue, May's voice may be more difficult to hear.

"The Green Party's goals don't change because the government has changed. They become easier when we aren't facing an obstacle like Stephen Harper," said May. "But that doesn't mean the Liberal Party understands the urgency of the climate crisis."

Staying as leader

Even though she failed to gain any extra seats, she is staying on as the leader. She is also staying Green, rejecting the notion she would abandon the party she popularized to join the governing Liberals.

"There is not enough in common. My commitment is to do politics different," said May. "If I was to join the Liberal caucus, I would be working for the Liberal leader and that's not what voters of Saanich-Gulf Islands asked for."

May says she'll stay on as leader as long as she's wanted. (CBC)

The Green Party put a lot of effort into trying to win three or four seats on Vancouver Island. But instead it was the NDP which swept six out of the seven ridings up for grabs.

That NDP success seems to indicate the Greens' central campaign strategy backfired. May spent a majority of her time campaigning on Vancouver Island and the party dedicated most of its resources to pushing candidates there. Victoria candidate Jo-Ann Roberts got the closest, but still lost to NDP incumbent Murray Rankin.

"I hope people now will re-evaluate. There are still a lot of young people out there who want something to vote for. So we will stay at it," said Roberts. "I think it is a little too early to write us off."

For Green Party candidates east of the Rockies, the strategy was especially painful. Jose Nunez-Melo was elected four years ago as a member of the NDP. Now as a Green candidate in the riding of Vimy outside of Montreal, he finished fifth.

May's colleague and fellow Green MP Bruce Hyer fared only slightly better. He was elected four years ago as an NDP member, but crossed to the Greens.  This time around, running under the Green banner, he finished fourth in his riding.

"Whether I am leading the Greens into the next election or not, I am not very attached to that decision," said May. "If our members want me to stay on, I'll stay on. If they don't, I won't. I won't feel badly about it either. I am much more committed to the people of Saanich-Gulf Islands."


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