Votes in B.C. and P.E.I. give the Greens two shots at making history

A federal byelection may offer the Green Party a chance to elect a second MP for the first time — just days after a P.E.I. provincial election that could create some momentum with a first-ever Green government.

Nanaimo–Ladysmith federal byelection coming not long after provincial election in Canada's smallest province

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has been her party's sole MP elected as a Green since 2011. That could change with the Nanaimo–Ladysmith byelection on May 6. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The stars could be aligning for the Green Party of Canada to catch a lucky break — and just in time for October's federal election.

A federal byelection in the B.C. riding of Nanaimo–Ladysmith gives the Greens a chance to make a pre-election breakthrough. Nanaimo–Ladysmith is one of the party's target ridings and the byelection there could take place just days after a provincial Green Party makes history in the smallest province.

Voters in Nanaimo–Ladysmith will be heading to the polls on May 6 for a byelection — the last opportunity Canadians anywhere will have to cast a federal ballot before the scheduled general election on Oct. 21. It follows the resignation of former NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson, who quit her seat to mount a successful bid for provincial office.

The timing couldn't be better for the Greens. Last night, the P.E.I. government announced the next provincial election will be held April 23.

Normally, a provincial election in P.E.I. wouldn't have any implications for a federal contest at the other end of the country. But the Greens are leading in the polls in P.E.I. If that lead holds, the Greens could form their first government anywhere in Canada.

That's the kind of news that can have a galvanizing effect on supporters elsewhere.

British Columbia remains the province where Elizabeth May's federal Green Party is strongest. The CBC's Canada Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polls, gives the federal Greens 12.9 per cent support in B.C. — nearly five percentage points higher than where the party stood in the province on election night in 2015.

That puts the Greens in a good position in a riding like Nanaimo–Ladysmith. The party finished fourth there in 2015 with 19.8 per cent support in a four-way race. Malcolmson won it with 33.2 per cent of the vote, followed by the Liberal candidate at 23.5 per cent and the Conservative at 23.4 per cent. Paul Manly, who put up the good numbers for the Greens in 2015, is running again for the party.

With the shift in support in B.C. since the last election, the Canada Poll Tracker sees Nanaimo–Ladysmith as one of five seats on Vancouver Island where the Greens are in contention.

Greens targeted Nanaimo-Ladysmith in 2015

It was certainly high on the party's list of targets in 2015. The Greens spent $154,000 in the riding in that election, more than any of its opponents. That ranks it fifth on the list of ridings where the Greens spent the most money.

The four ahead of it were obvious Green target seats: Guelph (represented now at the provincial level by Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner), Saanich–Gulf Islands (May's seat), Fredericton (where New Brunswick Green Leader David Coon has his provincial seat) and Victoria, where the federal Greens finished a close second to the NDP in a 2012 byelection.

The party still faces some challenges in the riding. The B.C. Greens managed just 7.3 per cent of the vote in the Nanaimo provincial byelection that Malcolmson won, down from 19.9 per cent in the 2017 provincial election.

While that might suggest voters aren't deeply tied to the Green Party in the area, the specific circumstances of the contest — which theoretically could have led to the defeat of John Horgan's minority NDP B.C. government — might have played a predominant role. Polling by Justason Market Intelligence found that 30 per cent of 2017 Green voters cast their ballots in the byelection to keep the minority NDP government afloat.

There won't be any such considerations in the federal byelection. But if the Greens are in need of a boost to give them the win, Prince Edward Island could deliver it.

From one island to another

The most recent poll by Corporate Research Associates shows Peter Bevan-Baker's Greens with 38 per cent support among decided voters in P.E.I., followed at a distance by the Progressive Conservatives at 29 per cent and the governing Liberals at 27 per cent.

The P.E.I. Greens have led in five of the last seven polls, and Bevan-Baker has averaged 38 per cent support in polls over the last year on the question of which party leader Islanders think would make the best premier. Wade MacLauchlan, the Liberal incumbent, trails with an average of just 23 per cent.

P.E.I. Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker has bested Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan in the polls on the question of which party leader Islanders would like to see as premier. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Forming a government still looks like a heavy lift for Bevan-Baker. Only the Liberals and the PCs have ever governed the province; no other party has ever won more than a single seat in any general election. The Greens can't compete with the Liberals when it comes to resources and organization.

But if Bevan-Baker does make history next month, the federal Greens could benefit from the afterglow. After Rachel Notley's Alberta NDP won its upset victory in the May 2015 provincial election, Tom Mulcair's federal NDP surged to the top of the polls. It held on to that lead until halfway through the federal election campaign later that year.

So the Greens now find themselves in a promising position, with an upcoming byelection in a winnable riding that could happen days after the party grabs headlines with a historic provincial breakthrough. That would give the Greens something they've never before had heading into a federal election: momentum.

About the Author

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.


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