Can federal Green Party stage a breakthrough in B.C.?

Some polls put the federal Green Party in a four-way race in B.C., but just how realistic are the party's hopes for a breakthrough? Polls analyst Eric Grenier takes a look at the Greens' chances.

Some polls put the Greens in a four-way race in the province

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (left) announced Thursday that former Liberal leadership candidate Deborah Coyne (right) will serve as her policy adviser. (Green Party handout)

Is the Green Party of Canada poised for a major breakthrough in British Columbia?

While a few polls have suggested the Greens could be on the verge of making significant inroads in the province, most suggest the party's prospects are more limited. Nevertheless, the Greens do have the potential to win a second seat in B.C., and potentially more.

The recent poll that has some Greens excited was conducted by EKOS Research for iPolitics between Feb. 25 and March 3. The survey gave the Greens 21 per cent support in B.C., placing them just a few points behind the other three parties in a four-way race. That is a startling increase over the 7.7 per cent of the vote the party captured in the province in 2011.

This is not the first time that EKOS has posted such high numbers for the Greens. A poll conducted by the firm in early November also put the party at the same level of support in B.C. However, there are good reasons for the Greens to hold the celebratory champagne, over and above the poll's smaller sample size in B.C.

While the Greens in B.C. have averaged 16 per cent support in polls conducted by EKOS over the last 12 months, the party has averaged just nine per cent in polls conducted by all other firms.

This does not necessarily mean that EKOS is off the mark — the other polling companies could potentially be underestimating Green support. But the preponderance of evidence suggests that a more modest tally is likely to be closer to the truth.

Indeed, the Greens have averaged between 10 and 11 per cent support in the polls in each of the last nine months.

Greens overestimated?

There is a general consensus in the polling world that the Green Party is chronically overestimated in polls and that turnout for the party can never quite live up to the expectations set by polls. There is some truth to that, but the significance of the effect has perhaps been overstated.

In polls that were completed within four days of the 2011 federal election, the Greens averaged five per cent support nationwide. The party actually captured 3.9 per cent.

This aggregate overestimation of Green support took place in every region of the country, but was nowhere greater than 2.5 points.

But in B.C., the polls were almost right on the money. They averaged 7.9 per cent, just 0.2 percentage points off the mark. That might bode well for the Greens in the province.

But the difference in pre-campaign polling and voting results may be more telling. With about the same amount of time to go before the 2011 election as there is before this year's fixed election date of Oct. 19, the Greens were polling around 14 to 15 per cent in B.C. This means that in the seven months before the 2011 election, the Greens shed roughly half their support. They will need to avoid a similar drop to win a second seat in the province in 2015.

Where the Greens are at play

The Greens' score in the recent EKOS poll would pay serious dividends for the party if it became a reality. With 21 per cent support, and the other parties all polling at 28 per cent or lower, the Greens could plausibly hope to win as many as five seats in B.C.

Winning in two of those seats (North Okanagan–Shuswap and South Okanagan–West Kootenay) depends on the Conservatives' vote slipping dramatically, to as low as 23 per cent in the province, as was recorded in the EKOS poll. That is perhaps not realistic.

But the other three seats the Greens could potentially win are far from being implausible, and all of them are located on Vancouver Island:

  • Elizabeth May's riding of Saanich–Gulf Islands, which the Green leader won with 46 per cent of the vote in 2011. It would be a big upset if she failed to secure re-election.
  • Victoria. Though the Greens took just 12 per cent of the vote there in 2011, they did much better in a 2012 by-election when they captured 34 per cent of the vote, putting them just three points shy of the winning New Democrats. The riding could be much more winnable now, as the NDP was polling at around 36 per cent in B.C. at the time. They have dropped 13 points in the polls since then.
  • Esquimalt–Saanich–Sooke. The Greens took 13 per cent of the vote in the riding in 2011, with the NDP winning 39 per cent. If the New Democrats fail to improve their standing in the province, and the Greens experience an uptick that is especially concentrated on Vancouver Island, this is a riding they could win.

Balance of power

In most circumstances, three seats would not be much to cheer about. But the country could very well be headed towards a close minority Parliament in which three seats could hold the balance of power.

And if the Greens can do even better than that – say, by holding floor-crosser Bruce Hyer's seat of Thunder Bay–Superior North in Ontario and perhaps taking Fredericton in New Brunswick, where the provincial Greens elected an MLA last year – their chances of holding a position of influence in the House of Commons increases.

Of course, the Greens are still some distance away from even these modest heights, and would be lucky enough to win a second seat this year. But hoping against long odds has already brought the party this far.

The poll by EKOS Research was conducted on behalf of iPolitics between Feb. 25 and March 3, interviewing 3,241 Canadians nationwide via interactive voice response, including 196 decided voters in British Columbia. The sample in B.C. carries a margin of error of +/- seven per cent, 19 times out of 20.

This article uses averages derived from a number of polls, which differ in terms of methodology, sample size and field dates. These surveys have not been individually verified by the CBC.


  • An earlier version of this story used an incorrect name for the riding of South Okanagan - West Kootenay.
    Mar 11, 2015 2:15 PM ET


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.