Would a Quebec leader help the Greens gain a foothold in the province?

The Greens won three seats elsewhere in Canada in October's federal election, but not a single riding in Quebec. Could having a Quebecer at the helm change that?

Two politicians from Quebec are considering a bid for the federal leadership

Pierre Nantel, left, who campaigned in his riding of Longueuil–Saint-Hubert with Elizabeth May during the 2019 federal election campaign, is now considering whether to run to replace the retiring Green leader. (Ivanoh Demers/CBC)

Following Elizabeth May's resignation, at least two Quebec politicians are mulling over a bid for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada.

Alex Tyrrell, the leader of Quebec's provincial Green Party, said he plans to run for the job and is expected to officially throw his hat in the ring in the coming days.

Pierre Nantel also said he's considering the leadership, but he stopped short of confirming his candidacy. Nantel ran for the Green Party in the riding of Longueuil–Saint-Hubert, the seat he'd previously held for the New Democrats before defecting to the Green Party. He did not win his seat.

The Greens won three seats in the federal election — a record for the party — but they did not manage to win a single riding in Quebec, a province that likes to boast of its climate-conscious initiatives and environmental awareness.

Neither of the two elected Green MPs, Jenica Atwin and Paul Manly, have expressed interest in the job.

Having a leader from Quebec might help, said Jean-François Daoust, a post-doctoral fellow at McGill's Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship who studies voting behaviour.

"Based on the recent literature on other parties, yes, having a leader from Quebec was an advantage, especially for the Liberal Party," Daoust said.

"They systematically fare better when they have a leader from Quebec."

Keeping Quebec's interests

While having a Quebec-based leader might give the Greens a bump, it might not be enough to pull voters away from the Bloc Québécois, which played up its own environmental commitments during the campaign, Daoust said.

"The Greens can only say, 'Well, we don't want that energy corridor; we don't want that pipeline because we're green,'" Daoust explained.

"While the Bloc Québécois can say, 'We don't want the pipeline because we are green, and we don't want that pipeline because it's not good for Quebec interests, and we are the party defending Quebec's interests.'"

"It's naturally easier for [the Bloc], and it's tougher for the Green Party to be distinct and appealing."

Speaking on Radio-Canada's Tout un matin, Nantel said he is still "reflecting" on whether he'll put his name forward, but he believes that he can "bring together many people who share my opinion in Quebec."

Nantel said several Quebecers reached out to ask if he would run, but he conceded being a self-proclaimed sovereignist might present a challenge for him in the rest of Canada.

He also suggested that all federal parties should consider having a Quebec co-leader who would be free to express opinions independent of the other party leader.

Young blood needed

The Green Party's deputy leader, Daniel Green, who was recently a candidate in the Quebec riding of Outremont, is on the committee that will oversee the leadership selection.

On CBC's Quebec AM, Green said he wouldn't throw his support behind any particular candidate, but he expounded on what he would like to see in the next leader.

Green Party of Quebec Leader Alex Tyrrell said he plans to run for the leadership of the federal Green Party. (CBC)

"To be a leader in this country, you need to be perfectly bilingual," Green said, adding that Quebecers usually make a "judgment call" on a leader's grasp of the language. "It's always better to speak French if you want to run as prime minister in this country."

Green also said that Canada "is not represented by old white men."

"I am myself an old white male, and I look around, and I'm not exactly very representative of the makeup of this country," he said.

Tyrrell became the provincial party leader in 2013 at the age of 25. He is now 31 — nine years younger than both Conservative Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. He is also bilingual.

"We're faced with a rising youth-led climate movement. People are asking for somewhat more radical solutions to the climate crisis," Tyrrell told CBC recently.

Tyrrell and May have previously been at odds on certain issues, such as using Canadian oil.

A 'volatile' voting block

Would a Quebec leader help the Greens take a seat in Quebec?

Daoust pointed to the fact that in 2008, the Bloc took the majority of the seats in the province, followed by the NDP in 2011 and then the Liberals in 2015.

"Three different majority of seats in three different elections," he said. "I don't think that any party can think that its vote is locked down."

But he notes that if voters do move en masse, they're more likely to shift from one established party to another, as opposed to thronging to a smaller party like the Greens.

"A few percentage points of that gain might go to the Greens," he said, "whether there is a leader from Quebec or not."

About the Author

Laura Marchand is a web and radio journalist with CBC Montreal. Follow her on Twitter at @Marchand_L.


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