Greens face uphill battle, even in B.C., say experts
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, September 14, 2008 12:59PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 9:01PM EDT
VICTORIA - A dethroned B.C. Green Party leader once called the party's powerful B.C. environment wing the "tie-dyed Mafia."
Party delegates debated banning cell phones from their convention to limit their exposure to harmful waves and another party member illegally sold a frozen organic chicken at the B.C. legislature to protest a new meat law regulating back-country butchers.
But ask members why their candidates can't get elected, even in the granola belt of British Columbia, and they'll launch into a political science lecture about the unfairness of the electoral system that only rewards candidates with the most votes.
The recent inclusion of federal Green Leader Elizabeth May in the televised leaders' debate as part of the Oct. 14 federal election campaign has the party seeing future gains despite the workings of the current electoral system.
The debate has the potential to show Canadians the Greens are more than a one-issue party, say party officials. At least they hope so.
But winning seats beyond the one tenuously held by West Vancouver MP Blair Wilson, who recently joined the party to become Canada's first Green MP, remains a difficult quest.
"I think having Elizabeth in the debates will be tremendous for the Green Party," said Jane Sterk, leader of the B.C. Green Party and an elected member of a Victoria-area municipal council.
"She will fundamentally change the quality of debate," she said. "Certainly with her there, we'll be talking about Green policies and people will be able to hear about those."
Sterk said she senses a breakthrough for the federal Green Party, but when it comes to actually winning seats she only mentioned Wilson and Mike Nagy, the Green Candidate in Guelph, as potentials.
"There are some ridings in British Columbia we feel we have some possibilities in," she said. "Whether or not we get enough of the popular vote in order to win those ridings, we'll know on the 14th of October. Across Canada, there are a few pockets where people are more inclined to say, `yes, we're going to go with the Green Party."'
Yet the Victoria-area riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands is considered fertile Green ground but the riding has been held by Conservative Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn since 1997.
The Gulf Islands, home to thousands of stereotypical herbal-tea swilling ex-hippies and their free-spirited flower children, are viewed as a Green homeland of sorts. Yet the riding also includes the suburban Victoria communities of Saanich and Sidney and makes up the third-oldest community in Canada.
Sterk said Green candidate Andrew Lewis, who has run federally and provincially for the Greens, should be spending most of the campaign visiting the suburban Victoria senior centres as opposed to the friendly Gulf Island coffee bars.
Lunn is also facing three Green-tinged candidates this election, making him the only choice on the political right.
The Liberal candidate is Briony Penn, a former member of the B.C. Greens who at one point staging a topless Lady Godiva ride in downtown Vancouver to protest logging on Saltspring Island, and the New Democrat candidate is Julian West, who quit the B.C. Greens in 2000 and left the federal party in 2003, citing differences with former leader Jim Harris.
A proposed "Shun Lunn" movement last year to unite the environment-friendly candidates in the riding under one political banner was discussed, but didn't materialize.
At one point the Greens proposed a table tennis match to decide the winner to take on Lunn.
Sterk said the Greens have suffered growing pains over the years, but have grown up.
"Our policies are very much more mature," she said. "I think the (provincial) Green Book 2005 was a strong platform to go from."
University of Victoria political scientist Dennis Pilon said the Green Party has a tough road ahead because the current electoral system does not reward political movements whose vote may be consistent, but not enough to win seats.
"It's not an absolute barrier," he said.
Some supporters decide they "don't want to waste their vote."
"There may be many more Green supporters out there than the votes suggest, but a lot of people will say, `it's a nice idea, but they're not going to win."'