In an election campaign where the threat of climate change loomed large, Canada’s Green Party had its best result to date but failed to make a major breakthrough.
The party regained both of its seats in B.C. — one held by Leader Elizabeth May, the other by Paul Manly.
In Fredericton, N.B., Jenica Atwin defeated a Liberal incumbent to give the Green Party its third victory.
With Ottawa poised for a Liberal minority government, May was optimistic following the result and vowed to hold feet to the fire on the issues that matter to her party.
“There will be crispy toes,” she quipped in her election night speech.
The Greens seemed to have momentum behind them leading up to the federal campaign, prompting speculation they could outperform previous general elections.
The federal party fundraised just over 80 per cent as much as the NDP in the first half of the year. Elections Canada filings show that as of June, the party had raised about $2,221,000 from roughly 24,400 individual contributors in 2019.
Earlier this year, the caucus gained its second member after Manly won the byelection in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, B.C.
Greens have also made gains at the provincial level in recent years, including in B.C. and the Maritimes, where the P.E.I. Greens became the official opposition this year.
The party’s cornerstone issue, climate change, occupied a more prominent space in the election discourse than any previous campaign in Canadian history.
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Nearly 30 per cent of Canadians said the climate is among their top three issues as they consider who to vote for, polling from Ipsos earlier this month found. The issue was second only to health care, at 35 per cent.
And the parties responded to those concerns. Kathryn Harrison, a political science professor at UBC, said in this election it wasn’t just May “making a plea in the dark for action on climate.“
For the Liberals and NDP, plans to tackle climate change were key elements of their pitch to voters. (The Conservatives chose to speak to their base, and while they had a plan on climate, it was “discredited,” Harrison said.)
But the Greens were unable to convert voters’ concerns about the climate emergency into enough support to best the two other two options on the left of the spectrum, the NDP and the Liberals.
“I think in part they stole the Greens’ thunder,” Harrison said.
Harrison pointed out that the first-past-the-post electoral system also worked to the Greens’ disadvantage.
In the 2019 election, the Greens had a significantly stronger performance in the popular vote, taking about 6.4 per cent of support as of 1:30 a.m. ET.
In 2015, the party received about 3.4 per cent of the popular vote, down slightly from 3.9 per cent in 2011.
Sean Simpson, vice president of Ipsos, said the Green Party’s overall support was tracking higher prior to the official start of the campaign. In June, he said, the Greens were at 6 per cent of popular support, then in mid to late September, it nearly doubled to 11 per cent.
But then it dropped off, remaining at around seven to eight per cent in October.
“I think they would be upset with that,” Simpson said in an interview ahead of Monday’s vote. “I think they were looking at double-digit popular vote at the start of the campaign, but with a two-horse race, I think a lot of people, their priority is to make sure their vote counts and in all but about half a dozen ridings in Canada, a vote for the Green Party isn’t very effective.”
Polling showed Green support was strongest in Atlantic Canada and on Vancouver Island, where Simpson had expected the party to pick up some seats.
But not a “green surge” by any means.
That’s partly to do with the “soft” nature of the party’s support, Simpson said. Green supporters are less likely to say they’ll definitely vote, and less likely to say that at the end of the day, they’ll choose May’s party.
The Greens also had their share of hiccups on the campaign trail.
Early in the campaign, what was billed as a mass exodus of New Brunswick NDPers to the Green Party proved a bit more complicated than that, with some candidates denying that they actually agreed to join the Greens.
The party also attracted some criticism for working with former Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella, who is nicknamed the Prince of Darkness.
And, in a move that seemingly played right into narratives about strategic voting, Edmonton-Strathcona Green candidate Michael Kalmanovitch halted his campaigning in its final week and suggested his supporters vote for his NDP competitor.
There was also controversy over the party’s stance on anti-abortion candidates, which became fodder for the NDP.
In September, May told CBC she wouldn’t block Green MPs from supporting anti-abortion measures in the House of Commons.
May later clarified that while she wouldn’t whip votes, each of her candidates support the Green party policy “that we will never retreat one inch from a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion.”
The party later dropped an eastern Ontario candidate over anti-abortion social media posts.
But ultimately, such missteps may not have been the deciding factor in the Greens’ overall result, Harrison said.
“At the end of the day, I think that the other parties’ climate platforms have probably been sufficiently reassuring for a lot of voters,” she said.
In fact, she said Canada may not be ready for a stronger message on climate change.
“Canadian voters have been told the environment and the economy go hand in hand for three decades now,” she said. “And I think are not even aware of the scale of change that’s needed, let alone ready to support the kinds of reductions that are needed to get us to net zero by 2050.”