Sunday, August 27, 2006

Is Elizabeth May in it for the green?

Elizabeth May has been elected leader of the Green Party. She is a most impressive person and should do just fine as leader of the party.

Her election probably marks an ideological break from the party under Jim Harris. More interesting to me is whether it marks a real strategic break. Specifically, is the party going to focus on actually winning a seat, or just on cashing in after each election?

When Bill C-24 (Chretien's campaign finance legislation) was introduced it provided a per vote subsidy to parties, rather than refunding them on money spent. Andre Blais and I have spent a little bit of time figuring out the effects of this on party mobilization strategies and voter turnout. In a paper coming out in the CJPS we find that it likely had no effect by way of the major parties (you can read a draft of the paper here). However, it does appear that efforts of Green party candidates may have increased turnout marginally (Andre and I explore this in a forthcoming chapter in Lisa Young's volume on C-24. I have an addendum on this for anyone who is interested). This is because the party began running candidates in every riding in 2004, most of whom used the "Vote for us and we get $1.75" pitch at the door. To be clear, Jim Harris was not principally interested in winning seats, but in expanding the financial basis of the party. Based on the money they received last year - about a million and half dollars - he was successful.

Ultimately, the purpose of a party is to win seats and represent interests in Parliament. For the Greens, this probably requires focussing on a few ridings and gearing party efforts towards them. Whether Elizabeth May accomplishes this remains to be seen. But I suspect she is in it for the Green and not the green.


Shawn said...

Do you think they are better pushing for one seat, or continuing to expland their national popular vote with a goal towards public support for proportional representation of some kind?

Jason Hickman said...


I think an argument that could be made is that Jim Harris was, deliberately or otherwise, pursuing a 2-step strategy.

Step 1 was to take advantage of the new $1.75-per-vote regime by running candidates everywhere, thereby upping the odds that the GP would meet the threshold to get the money. Mission accomplished on that front, I think.

Step 2 is using the GP's much-more-solid finaces, as well as the (relative) clout gained by proving it can run candidates coast-to-coast, and putting them to work in getting an MP elected somewhere. It is, I suggest, easier for a smaller party to accomplish this step once it has a solid supply of ready cash in the bank.

I doubt very much that someone like Elizabeth May would have given up a relatively influential gig with the Sierra Club to take on the GP leadership if the Party was still in the financial doldrums, and was still only attracting 1% of the vote (or whatever it was before Harris took over and ensured that the Party ran candidates in every riding).

That's not to say that success in Step 1 will automatically result in success with Step 2, but it sure improves the odds.

Peter Loewen said...


I don't think the Greens are going to get much done if they wait for a more proportional system. That is likely going to happen in good time as it is already occurring in the provinces, but I doubt the Greens would be instrumental. They are better to continue to push for a seat or two.

Jason, your point is quite a good one. It makes sense to get some money in the bank and then pursue seats, rather than the other way around. I, for one, am just not sure that Harris was that serious about the second part of the job.

Thanks to both of you for stopping by.

Brian C said...

As a Green, it was very disappointing to see Elizabeth May win. The pros to Elizabeth May is that she has a HUGE environmental background and knows how to work the media. The cons to her are much bigger. She is very much an 'I am right, you are wrong' style of debator. Additionally, she will be running in the Maritimes where there is little support for the party. The strength of Green Party support is in Alberta, B.C, and Ontario.

That being said, she has the option of naming Chernushenko to be the deputy leader and that would satisfy 'both sides' of the party.

Personally I was appalled when, at the English debate, it was revealed that she phoned Jim Harris to discuss the possibly of having Green candidates step aside to help Liberal candidates win, possibly for 'future considerations' for the Green Party. She stated that she will not ask the same of Green candiates as leader...she will need to stick by her word on this.

I think a realistic Green objective is to choose 10-20 ridings that are possibly winnable and give some extra resources to those ridings. In any case, you're blogging about the Greens so maybe May will be somewhat positive.