Elizabeth May has rightly earned kudos for her performance in the recent federal legislative session against the “Trojan Horse” budget bill.
But, in addition to Parliamentary smarts, in an electoral context she has the power to change the game entirely. As the leader of Canada’s fourth party – or fifth if you count the Bloc – her power lies not in her ability to run candidates, but rather in her ability not to.
Canada’s progressive vote remains fatally divided. Anyone thinking the federal NDP will simply eclipse the Liberals hasn’t spent enough time in Ontario’s suburbs – the linchpin of Harper’s majority and a place where the NDP brand does badly. This is why Harper cares less for national polls, but also why he goes ballistic whenever there’s a whiff of a “coalition” – the true threat to his power.
While NDP and Liberal party officials wrap their heads around the math, Elizabeth could decide to emerge as chief broker. She could not only voluntarily decide to split the progressive vote in fewer ways in ridings that will be close races by not running candidates there, but could even go one step further and send voters who want to defeat Harper a strong signal by endorsing candidates from other progressive parties, particularly individuals that hold values similar to those of the Green Party.
This might be heresy to party purists, but hold the outrage for a minute and consider other factors.
First, the Green Party’s breakthrough in winning a seat last year came when it decided to concentrate resources on a winnable riding. The lessons of this strategy still hold true, meaning that the Greens could mount meaningful efforts with a view to winning in only a handful more ridings in 2015. This leaves open other strategies in other ridings.
Second, when Harper did away with the per vote subsidy, he took away the financial incentive to run a Green candidate in every riding in order to maximize the financial payoff. For a small party like the Greens, it is very challenging to field 308, and soon to be 338, quality candidates in an election. Now that the financial incentive is gone, it’s better to focus both good candidates and scarce bandwidth on fewer races.
Third, in every election there are various efforts by third parties to endorse and support the strongest progressive challenger to beat the Conservative candidate in various ridings, so why shouldn’t the Green Party harness this energy and become the main go-to place where it takes place? It could even become the fiscal agent for those willing to donate to that strategy, and organize volunteers who want to do that. This would be tapping directly into the same enthusiasm that Nathan Cullen did.
If Elizabeth announced tomorrow that the Green Party will only run in x number of ridings in 2015 and is willing to talk to other parties about where those candidates run, it wouldn’t take long for the other parties to come to her to begin to talk, even if it was quietly. She could also make known that endorsements could be in the works if other parties identify and run candidates who have similar values to the Green Party.
Would this result in reciprocity from the other parties, like she achieved in one riding with Stephan Dion? Perhaps. But, even if not, it would still be more than worth it. For the reasons laid out above, this could be the Green Party’s strongest play regardless, and would position Elizabeth as the de facto broker of progressive forces in Canada, cementing her role as a pivotal leader.
Meanwhile, it would also help push along the math vs. tribalism debate that is hobbling a progressive alternative in Canada, one that is desperately needed as our country and our planet are increasingly eroded, against the will of the majority of Canadians.