What happened to the Green Party?

With the Liberal party imploding, and a general disdain for the incumbents in the House of Commons, one would think that the Greens would have a shot at finally making some headway this election.  But the opposite actually seems to be true: the Green party is polling worse than it did during the last campaign.

For the most part, the Green have been invisible this campaign.  There was that brief blip right before the debate where everyone was discussing whether or not Elizabeth May should be a participant.  She complained that is was unfair and undemocratic to not include the leader of a national party which received almost 7% of the popular vote last election.  But once it was declared final that she would not be in the debate, she seemed to disappear off the face of the Earth.

Well, maybe not completely off the face of the Earth.  According to some internal polling, she might just win her riding out in Saanich-Gulf Islands.  But does that really mean much overall for the Green Party?  Or is it just an indication that a party that in nominally running a national campaign can focus all of their efforts into one riding?  Any of the major parties could win just about any individual riding if they concentrate all of their efforts on that riding.  But the other parties all care about increasing support overall, not just winning one riding.

Since the debate, Elizabeth May has almost never been mentioned in the newspapers.  She gets no TV time.  All of their ‘ads’ are on the internet.  In short, May has done nothing to engage the electorate across the country.  The Greens are polling consistently in the mid-single digits, and that hasn’t changed since the beginning of the campaign.  Maybe I am missing out on a really good ground game in a number of targeted riding across the country, but I sincerely doubt it.  To me, it looks like the Greens have gone from a one-issue party to a one-candidate party.

If ever there was an election for the Greens to make a major breakthrough, this was it.  There was serious criticisms of the Conservatives, and the Liberals had a very weak leader.  Instead of the Greens using their (sort-of) centre platform to peel off voters from both the Liberals and the Conservatives, they let the NDP take control of the narrative and take all of the support from the disenfranchised.  They missed a golden opportunity to make a major breakthrough, and the will probably pay for it for years to come.  Even at the beginning of this election, there was some indication that any of the incumbents could be vulnerable, and after the final ballots are counted, I suspect the electorate will realize that if the Greens couldn’t gain more support in this election, there is probably no point in voting for them in the future, since they will probably never be relevant.

And I think that sentiment will be there even if Elizabeth May wins her seat.  It might even make it worse if she doesn’t do much once she gets there, and how much of the Green Party platform can she really promote as a single MP?  My guess, not much.

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Update on the Local Campaign

Tonight was the local candidates’ debate for Whitby-Oshawa, so I went in hopes of helping me decide who to vote for.  In general, it was almost as big of a waste of time as the leaders debate.  I say almost because I now have a slightly better idea of what the individual candidates stand for in the riding.

The debate was hosted by the Whitby Chamber of Commerce, and the questions asked were a mixture of questions placed by the Chamber, and those asked by the audience.  It was pretty obvious which questions from the Chamber, since they were invariably long-winded, and related to business and corporate policies.  It was also pretty clear as to the answer the Chamber was looking for when they asked the questions.  The candidates weren’t generally swayed by the leading questions and stuck to their talking points.  The questions from the audience were varied between clear partisan shots to actual requests for policy information, but there wasn’t really anything too shocking said by any of the candidates.

Unfortunately for everyone, there seemed to be too many partisan supporters in the audience, to the point where we had to wait between every question for the applause to die down.  I think it would have been much better if the same rules were applied to the leaders debate, where the audience was asked not to shout anything, or clap between responses in order to better get through the questions.  There was even one particularly obnoxious (I’m assuming) Liberal supporter that would shout out approval to Liberal and NDP catch-phrases, and heckled Jim Flaherty at a few points.  Thankfully, someone eventually quieted him down a bit and we didn’t hear from him after the first couple questions.

On the plus side, the moderator were very good at keeping the candidates to their time, although that was probably helped by the fact that candidates were threatened with a muted microphone if they ran over their alloted time.

Overall, Jim Flaherty (Conservative) knew his stuff.  He has been in government for a very long time, so it’s not at all surprising how well he understands any topic that they threw at him.  There wasn’t much back-and-forth between the candidates, but he made sure he had a rebuttal for pretty much any time another candidate made an accusation against Flaherty or Conservative policy.  He also made sure that any time one of the other candidates made a promise that had actual barriers to implementation (such as not being able to expand the CPP without approval of the provinces), he made sure that those barriers were addressed, and not glossed over.  He made a point to address all of the good things that he has done for Durham Region and for Canada, including the controversial decision for bail out General Motors, which is a major employer in the region.  While he was the most well-spoken candidate, he should be, since he has been a politician for so long.  But he still suffers from all of the same criticisms of the Conservative Party, and he does receive a large share of the blame for its actions (or credit, if you are a supporter)

Trevor Bardens (Liberal) can be summed up with one phrase: Liberal Candidate – there’s an app for that.  The whole debate, it sounded like he was reading straight from the Liberal campaign website.  His answers often were only tangentially related to the questions asked, and it only took about 20 seconds into the first question before he mentioned “jets, jails, and corporate tax cuts.”  If the question asked wasn’t part of the Liberal platform (for example, there was a question on reducing the gas tax to lower gas prices) he just muddled through a non-response without being committed to any position whatsoever.  He was also the only candidate that did not have a table set up outside of the debate with campaign literature for anyone to take.  This just cements my earlier opinion that he is running a very weak campaign.  It seems like the Liberals just needed someone to run, and Trevor Bardens was the only person there.  On the plus side, he did do well on the question on border congestion, which he is familiar with due to his time on the Oshawa Harbour Commission.  Unfortunately, he lost the advantage there, when Flaherty mentioned that the Harbour Commission was a mess of infighting until the Federal government stepped in, and Bardens didn’t even take the time to disagree when given the option.

Trish McAuliffe (NDP) did reasonably well.  She knew the most of the NDP talking points well, even though she didn’t seem to be the most confident public speaker of the bunch.  The unfortunate thing is that she didn’t really differentiate herself from the NDP mold.  If you agree with NDP policies, then she will be right there to implement them if you elect her.  She seemed to have a bit of extra knowledge on anything to do with the manufacturing sector, due to her past experiences at GM and the CAW.  However, none of that really made her stand out, since all that helped her with was to give a slightly personal touch to the regular NDP platform.

Rebecca Harrison (Green) was probably the one that I was most disappointed with, but for different reasons than the other candidates.  I had hoped that since she was young, and running for a party trying to make inroads into Parliament, then she would try to cast herself as a different sort of politician: one that moves away from attacking other parties to one that is willing to work with others to accomplish her goals.  I did not receive that impression from her during the debate.  She attacked Conservative policy just as much as any other candidate, and proved that when it comes to partisanship, the Greens can play ball with the rest of them.  She was very familiar with all of the Green Party talking points, as well as her own pet issues of poverty elimination and women’s issues.  I was just hoping that the Green Party candidate would act a little less partisan, and a little more compromising.  I might have been able to look past some of the ideological differences between myself and the Greens if their candidate seemed willing to rise above the partisan bickering of the other parties, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  It may seem weird that I am holding one party to a higher standard than the others, but if the Greens want me to vote for them, they need to show me that they are better than the others, not just equal to them.

So despite having seen the local candidates in action, I am not really much closer to deciding who to vote for.  It would probably be an easier decision if I had been moderating the debate, because then I could ask follow-up questions.  There was a number of times where I wanted to call BS on what the candidates were saying, or at the very least, get them to answer the question that was asked instead of rambling on about something else entirely.  The most memorable occasion of this to me was when a question was asked on free trade, and the summary of answers would be Flaherty likes it, McAuliffe dislikes it, and we have no idea what Bardens or Harrison feel because they didn’t even mention free trade in their responses.  No candidate was completely guilt-free in this, and it would have been helpful if the moderators actively encouraged them to answer the question as asked.

Not included in the debate was a fifth candidate running for the Libertarian Party – Josh Insang.  There is no information specific to that candidate anywhere that I can see, nor have I seen a single lawn sign for him.  I am not even sure why the Libertarian Party is running a candidate if they aren’t even attempting to campaign.  Since he seems to only be on the ballot as a slot for a protest vote, I can see why he wasn’t invited to the debate.  I would put his chances of winning at exactly 0%, since in 2008 the Libertarian Party received 7,300 voted country-wide, while Jim Flaherty received 30,704 in Whitby-Oshawa.

So now the question becomes, how does one vote if none of the candidates are appealing?  I am open to suggestions.

Let’s Look Local

Since in our Parliamentary Democracy we vote for candidates at the local level instead of voting for the party at large, I figured it would be a good idea to take a look at the candidates in my local riding of Whitby-Oshawa.  This is only based on publicly available information through party and candidate web sites.  I may update this after the local candidates debate if one of them seems to stand out ahead of the others.

Jim FlahertyConservative Party: Jim Flaherty is the current MP for Whitby-Oshawa, as well as the Minister of Finance.  He is also the only candidate for any party that is the same since the last election.  His web site lists quite a bit of funding for the riding during both his tenure as MPP in Queen’s Park, where he served from 1995 to 2005, and as MP form 2006 onwards.  As the Finance Minister, he is one of the main faces of the Conservative Party.  If you like the record of the Conservative Party from the last 4 years in government, Jim is your guy.  He tends not to rock the boat on Parliament Hill, and I am unaware of any times where he has spoken against his party.  However, if you dislike the Conservative policies, there is little there to make you want to vote for him.  Defining himself as a fiscal conservative, he promised to never run a deficit in the previous two campaigns.  Now he seems to have warmed to the idea of stimulus spending, and running deficits no longer bothers him.

Love him or hate him, I project that he wins his seat this election.  In 2008, he won with 50.99% of the popular vote.  That’s still a very large hill to climb for any candidate looking to unseat him.

Trevor BardensLiberal Party: Trevor Bardens seems to have been very involved in the community for a very long time, as referenced by the long list of committees that he has participated in and the volunteer awards that he has received.  Just the resume listed on the Liberal web page shows that he is passionate about serving the public, especially at the local level.  Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much other information about him.  He is currently the only candidate without his own web site.  He has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, but neither give much insight into who he is, or why he is running for the Liberal Party.  People have been posting on his Facebook page asking how to get a lawn sign, and he direct them to call his campaign office.  Every other candidate page that I have seen has a gigantic link for ordering signs that can be  seen from just about anywhere on that candidate’s web page.

To me, this speaks of a very weak campaign.  Trevor Bardens may make a good MP, and he clearly cares quite a bit about local matters, but if he doesn’t take the time to get information out there for people to get to know him, why should voters take the time to vote for him?

Trish McAuliffeNDP: Trish McAuliffe is an obvious choice as an NDP candidate due to her prior experience as an executive board member for the CAW during her tenure at General Motors.  She has volunteered for the NDP in nearly every past election, both provincial and federal, for the last 25 years.  On her web site, she mentions that she participates “at Whitby Municipal Town Hall meetings, community events, educational programs and various sporting activities,” but unfortunately she does not give any specifics.  She suffers from the same problems as Trevor Bardens in that there really isn’t enough there to get to know her.  All of the posts on her personal campaign web site are just campaign press releases outlining promises from Jack Layton.  There isn’t a personal post at all, besides the one with a brief biography.

Overall, she seems like plain vanilla NDP candidate with heavy ties to organized labour, with nothing mentioned on her web page to make her stand out from the pack.

Rebecca HarrisonGreen Party: Rebecca Harrison is the Poverty Elimination Critic and the Status of Women Critic for the Greens.  She also has far more personal information on her web site than any other candidate.  Her focus is definitely on her two portfolios, so much that she has very lengthy pages describing plans for those issues, yet she doesn’t mention environmentalism on her web page at all.  She seems to be the candidate in this riding that most differentiates herself from the party mold.  I think that could be an asset for her since the Green Party mold doesn’t seem to be that appealing to the vast majority of Canadians, as evidenced by their very low poll numbers, and their lack of seats in Parliament.

While I doubt she has much of a chance of actually winning the seat, I think she may be able to do better than the Green candidate in the previous election.  Being the youngest candidate at 27 may be able to help her get the coveted ‘youth’ vote.  She seems to be the one to connect best with people on her Facebook page, rather than just using it to link to the leader’s campaign announcements.  I think if the Green Party is going to make any headway at all, it’s going to be through people such as Ms. Harrison.  I just don’t think Whitby-Oshawa is going to be the place for that first breakthrough.

So that’s my first look at the candidates running in Whitby-Oshawa.  The deadline for nominations is tomorrow (April 11) so it is still theoretically possible for an independent or fringe party candidate to join the race.  If there is a surprise new nomination, it will be listed at elections.ca by Wednesday April 13, and I’ll update this accordingly.