Ontario Votes 2014·Analysis

Ontario Green Party says their ideas are what's worth your vote

Ontario's Green Party says a vote for them is a vote to show their ideas mean something to the province, even if they don't elect an MPP this campaign.

Party has never won a seat in Ontario, support dropped in 2011 vote

Mike Schreiner led the Green Party of Ontario to an increase in vote share of 1.8 percentage points compared to the 2011 election. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

Another provincial election campaign, another chance for Ontario's Green Party to rise or fall in prominence.

The party, which released its full platform yesterday, saw its support fall from record high levels in 2007 after the last vote in 2011.

As a party that's never elected an MPP, much of the media attention is going to the three parties who have a chance to lead whatever minority or majority government that emerges after June 12.

Kevin O'Donnell is the Ontario Green Party's deputy leader and candidate in Ottawa Centre. (Green Party of Ontario)

But the Greens are working to convince voters that supporting them at the ballot box isn't a waste of a vote, as they say it shows the politicians who are elected that the Green Party ideas have some support behind them.

"I do take victory whenever our ideas are taken by someone else and implemented," said Green Party deputy leader and Ottawa Centre candidate Kevin O'Donnell on Tuesday.

"The key is how do you get someone else to implement your ideas and the way to get them to do that is for people to vote for the Green Party.

"If we win, we'll implement them. If we do very well, someone else will implement them for us."

Challenge is building momentum

O'Donnell ran in that same riding in 2011, when Green Party popular support dropped to 2.93 per cent of the popular vote from eight per cent in 2007, a difference of more than 218,000 votes overall.

Ontario Green Party support in the last five elections

  • 1995, fielded candidates in 36 of 130 ridings: 0.4 per cent of popular vote, 14,108 total.
  • 1999, fielded candidates in 59 of 103 ridings: 0.7 per cent of popular vote, 30,749 total.
  • 2003, fielded candidates in 102 of 103 ridings: 2.8 per cent of popular vote, 126,651 total.
  • 2007, fielded candidates in all 107 ridings: 8 per cent of popular vote, 354,897 overall.
  • 2011, fielded candidates in all 107 ridings: 2.9 per cent of popular vote, 126,021 overall.

(Elections Ontario)

Despite the fall, he said he rejects the idea a vote for the Green Party is a waste because they're unlikely to win a seat in most ridings.

"After running the first time, I'm still active. I'm a person who knew I was going to run again… I attend planning committee meetings and speak my mind," he said.

"Whenever I send messages to my elected MPP, if they know this Green Party person who's talking to them commands six, seven, ten, maybe 13 per cent of the vote, that opinion about what they should be doing to make our city safer, healthier and more sustainable carries a lot of weight."

However, the ability to keep building the vote count from one campaign to the next would do a lot to instill more confidence in the Greens, according to University of Ottawa professor Luc Turgeon.

  "In Ontario at least, there's no evidence there's constantly an increasing number of Ontarians supporting them," he said.

"This is the challenge for them, to build a certain momentum over time. Then they'll be able to influence other parties."

School policy helped in 2007

Turgeon did say the Green Party plays a valuable role in the political system in the way they don't have to tailor their policies to try and get a majority.

Luc Turgeon is a professor who teaches Canadian politics at the University of Ottawa. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

"Because they know they won't be elected, they put on the table some proposals that are important to discuss for many Ontarians but other parties won't discuss because it's potentially too controversial," he said, specifically mentioning their platform's proposal to merge Ontario's public and Catholic school boards.

O'Donnell said that idea helped bring in those record high support levels in 2007.

"The Greens in that election were the only other party (along with the Progressive Conservatives) to stand up and say we're going to end Catholic school board funding because we need to end discrimination," he said.

"John Tory proposed stepping into the whole mess, we proposed stepping out entirely… it was a ballot question and the Green Party did well on that question."

Learn from federal NDP, Greens

In terms of a historical model, Turgeon said the Green Party has some similarities to how the federal New Democratic Party rose to prominence when they were known as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, or CCF. 

"Before the CCF became very influential, they did influence the Liberal Party, (William Lyon) Mackenzie King in the 1940s was seeing the CCF becoming more popular so he took some ideas from them," he said.

"I think this is what the Green Party is looking for, that they're going to see an increase in their support and mainstream parties will borrow some of their ideas over time."

However, he said the CCF had the advantage of starting as a regional movement in western Canada, then spreading to the rest of the country.

Another strategy for the Green Party to gain prominence is to follow the path of the federal Greens under Elizabeth May, according to Turgeon.

"By electing one member of the Greens in the federal Parliament, I think it's been fairly successful for the Green Party in terms of promoting their ideas," he said.

"Their main strategy in the short term, if I were advising them, would be to find a candidate that's very well known in their area and has a very good chance of winning a seat, that's their challenge.

"I think Elizabeth May got lucky because she fought against (Peter) MacKay in Atlantic Canada, got known and wasn't elected on her first try but eventually got elected in a region of Canada (British Columbia) that is more open to the environmental discourse."

Poll question

Twitter responds

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Andrew Foote

Digital reporter

Andrew Foote has been covering Ottawa-area news for the CBC since February 2013 after graduating from Carleton University. He can be reached at andrew.foote@cbc.ca.