We’re very early in the run up to the 43rd general election, and the start of July kind of unofficially marks the end of the 42nd Parliament. Everything that is going on right now in Canadian politics is being looked at through the lens of the vote in the Fall, as it should at this point. Going into this campaign, we are in a different political landscape than we’ve ever seen and that is raising some new questions about certain assumptions we’ve normally had. Global News’ David Akin, a well respected Hill observer, raised one such question this weekend, one that I felt needed some deeper discussion and a bit of a retort:
Yes folks, wither the Greens and the New Democrats. This is a big part of the narrative as we head into this campaign, one that is very new. The Greens have been on the rise for months now, winning their second ever seat in a Vancouver Island by-election and getting record results on Prince Edward Island. This rise has made some wonder how the normal tectonics of the Canadian political scene may be shifting, or if they are for that matter. Mr. Akin’s piece concludes that we have seen a shift, and the Greens are a greater risk than the New Democrats.
After reading his piece, there are a few things that I felt should be raised, as I don’t agree that we are at this point yet. For starters, we can’t ignore the polling and the trend; yes, in most polls from different polling firms the Greens have been doing better. That is not universal across the board those that they are eclipsing the New Democrats, as firms such as Nanos still show the Green pretty firmly in 4th in the national horse race numbers. So while there is positive movement for the Greens, it’s has not reached a point yet where the New Democrats have been put in their rear-view mirrors.
Secondly, the Global piece points to the difference between the Greens polling and their actual electoral results. The recent PEI example is a good one of that, but we’ve seen this play out for the Greens over and over again for well over a decade. The Greens have traditionally out-polled their actual results, and this hasn’t changed yet. There could very well be many reasons for that, but I would argue the biggest reason would be the lack of organization and ground game that the Greens have. The lack of resources and volunteers, compared to the other parties, also puts a cap on their potential. I would point out that while winning a by-election in Nanaimo-Ladysmith was an accomplishment, by-elections are a chance to focus lots of resources and volunteers from all over to win. Actually winning that same seat again when all those resources go away is a harder task. So that will be another test here for the Greens to overcome. Despite the fact that the New Democrats are far from being in an ideal state at this point when it comes to fundraising and momentum, the Orange Team still has a very big organizational advantage over the Greens, something that can help them win and hold seats they have in a rough circumstance like this.
Another problem the Greens are going to inevitably run into in this campaign is the increased scrutiny that comes with a rise in the polls. Remember the story about the new Green MP and his alleged history with 9/11 Trutherism? Guaranteed that once journalists and the other parties start doing their homework on the Green candidates that are getting nominated, there will be more and more stories just like that, stories that will tarnish the reputation that the Greens have at the moment and will take some of the shine off of their halo. That scrutiny will also come to their platform and policies, something else that many having paid attention to. To be polite about it, you can say that their platform hasn’t been “ready for primetime” for a while, and that happens when you don’t have the organization and resources to make it happen. So once people start learning more about their policies, how will that affect their view of the Greens?
Thirdly I believe that we need to look at the regions where the Greens have shown strength to see just how much of an impact the Greens will have on the Liberals prospects. On Vancouver Island, does the Greens taking seats from the NDP put a Liberal re-election in peril? I don’t think so. But when you look on PEI or in New Brunswick, that could be a very different story, where the New Democrats have traditionally not been a presence at all. Given that it feels safe to say that the Greens will draw more of a vote in those places than the NDP normally has, and most of that vote coming from the Liberals, you could argue they could have an effect on their results. But to be fair, in those same places you should look at the right side of the leger too, as the Atlantic provinces is one of the parts of the country where Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party is the strongest. So will the Greens drawing Liberal votes be washed out by the PPC drawing Conservative votes? We’ll see in the fall, but at the very least things on the East Coast will be more competitive than usual, which will make things a bit more unpredictable.
Outside of those regions (and Guelph in Ontario), where else will the Greens actually have a sizeable effect on the Liberals? If you look at the current electoral map, it’s hard to picture where the Greens rising above the New Democrats would actually put Liberal seats at risk, or at least seats that wouldn’t already be at risk, like seats they currently hold in rural Eastern Ontario. The Greens have to rise a long way in the polls before they actually start costing the Liberals seats, and this is doubly true when you have the PPC starting to slowly rise and maybe eating into the Conservative vote on the other side.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, this election is currently lining up to be maybe the worst “strategic voting” election that we’ve seen to date. With a tight race and many progressives wanting to keep the Scheer Conservatives out of office, how many of those voters parking themselves with the Greens are actually going to cast that vote for them, if it means potentially electing a Conservative government? It’s easy to picture many of those Green voters turning Red in the polling station, voting Liberal out of necessity rather than desire. The Greens are already very clear that they won’t be forming government, so that messaging will make it that much easier for those voters to go right back to voting Liberals when the time comes to actually cast a vote. In that sense, this is the same vice that New Democrats have lived through for decades, and one so with much more resources and volunteers. How do the Greens fight that off without having what even the NDP has on that score? I don’t see that happening.
I know that many point to the NDP in 2011 as an example of the unexpected and what can happen in a campaign, but I would point out that the NDP had money, resources and volunteers in that campaign. Yes a lot of that wasn’t in Quebec, but they had much more to work with than the Greens do today. Furthermore, in 2011 the NDP didn’t reach it’s tipping point, where seats started to fall to them, until after they surpassed the Liberals and were in second place. Potentially by-passing the NDP and getting into third place nationally won’t do the same thing for the Greens.
While I won’t deny that the Greens are improving and are having a moment for sure, they haven’t reached that tipping point yet, not even close. That doesn’t mean that it can’t happen or that we shouldn’t pay attention, it just means that we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. It’s still the first week of July and a lot will happen before the October vote. So stay tuned and enjoy the summer weather.