Vancouver Island’s election petri dish -

Vancouver Island’s election petri dish

Evan Solomon on how B.C. Greens might hamper the NDP’s federal chances

(Darryl Dyck/CP)

(Darryl Dyck/CP)

To hear Elizabeth May describe it, you’d think the Green party was caught urinating in the NDP’s coffee mugs. That’s how nasty the battle between the Greens and the NDP is shaping up on Vancouver Island.

“Every Green volunteer knows that whenever another campaign is mean to you, it’s always the NDP,” the Green party leader told me recently, sounding vaguely as though we were having a recess conversation in junior high. Mean to you? She clarified. “They would like the Green party to disappear, because they believe we are stealing their votes. We aren’t. We win by increasing voter turnout. The focus of the Green party is to defeat Stephen Harper.”

I was talking to May because I’m interested in how vote splitting might affect the entire campaign and, while Vancouver Island is a small skirmish, it’s worth examining. In the long war that is a federal election campaign, often these side battles—where a few seats are up for grabs—reveal wider patterns. Usually the election result is called long before the good folks of B.C. have had their votes counted, but, as Éric Grenier from the political polling website has pointed out, for the first time in 36 years, B.C. could well decide the next government. So Green votes matter.

“I think the Greens could be a spoiler in a number of ridings, especially in B.C.,” says David Coletto, the CEO of the Abacus Data polling firm. “Among those who said they would vote Green, 52 per cent would consider voting NDP, 40 per cent would consider [the Liberal party], and only 15 per cent would consider voting Conservative.”

In other words, despite what May says, Greens do take away potential votes from the NDP. So, yeah, I’m sure there’s not a lot of Kumbaya on the campaign trail.

“Historically, the NDP thought they were the conscience of the nation,” May says, her analysis moving seamlessly from polls to policy to psychology. “The problem for them is [that] now the Greens are the conscience of the nation. We were first to oppose the Conservatives’ anti-terror bill, C-51. To try to achieve power, the NDP have had to compromise their principles, and that has led to a bitterness against us.”

Mention all this to the NDP and their eyes practically do backflips. They patiently point out that Leader Thomas Mulcair was the environment minister in Quebec (they redact the word “Liberal” from that title) and he lowered greenhouse gas emissions. And the NDP also opposed C-51. Oh—and if May is so concerned about taking Conservative seats, why, you might wonder, are the Greens running so hard in the riding of Victoria to unseat incumbent NDP Murray Rankin? “There is no evidence to suggest that there is on-the-ground competition between the NDP and the Greens,” says NDP strategist Brad Lavigne. “The focus for the NDP in B.C. is to defeat and replace Stephen Harper.” Right. Of course. Didn’t the Greens just say that?

The Green-NDP scrap in the petri dish of Vancouver Island just illustrates the wider issue of vote splitting. Every opposition party repeats the mantra that it’s all about defeating Harper, but they all know that most of their potential votes lie with each other.

Pollster Frank Graves from EKOS sent me a chart to illustrate. Thirty-eight per cent of NDP voters have Liberals as their second choice, while 49 per cent of Liberal voters have the NDP as their second choice. So the real game here is the potential vote switching between the NDP and the Liberals. Which explains why Trudeau and Mulcair are sniping at each other so readily. Gotta fish where the fishes are. (It’s worth remembering, however, that in the last election, it was red-blue switchers in Ontario that stopped the Orange Wave.)

No one is watching this more closely than Harper. His campaign so far has been a circus of stumbles, from dumping candidates (yes, “peegate” is now a word) to the political tattoo that is Mike Duffy. But now, the man obsessed with slaying deficits is facing one he appears ill-equipped to handle: a compassion deficit. The Syrian refugee crisis that snapped into focus with the horrific picture of three-year-old Alan Kurdi dead on a Turkish beach has pushed the Conservatives even further off his agenda. Harper’s technocratic iciness serves him well when talking about abstract concepts like deficits, but this flesh-and-blood crisis has left him looking like a robot waiting for a software upgrade: Human 2.0.

That’s why, for Harper, the vote split is the only real option. With almost 60 per cent of the country saying it’s time to change, he has to watch how the change vote breaks between the NDP and the Liberals. Watch for Conservative attack ads to switch more heavily over to Mulcair if the NDP keeps surging. Harper wants both opposition leaders just politically viable enough to lose.

“The reason why the Tories are still competitive is because of the split among these ‘change’ voters,” says David Coletto. “ If the NDP got 60 per cent of change voters to support it, its ballot number would go from 31 per cent nationally to 40 per cent nationally, putting it in majority territory.”

The same works for the Liberals. So far, the change vote has not consolidated around a single agent, and Harper hopes he trundles up the middle to win. He well knows how the split on the right served up majorities to Jean Chrétien. He cooks from the same book.

So every little split matters, particularly in Ontario and B.C. And Elizabeth May, like every other leader, is betting her future on it.


Vancouver Island’s election petri dish

  1. This article claims to be about Vancouver Island but apparently isn’t. The NDP quote about Victoria is pretty silly considering that it’s an ABC (Anybody But Conservative) riding that will never elect a Conservative. There is no gain to Harper from NDP-Green in-fights in such ridings, if there’s not a lot of imported volunteers, donors and vote swaps that could have affected say a Green versus Con riding. There ARE ridings in southern coastal BC where NDP-Green rivalry *could* elect a Conservative, but Victoria isn’t one of them. So why is it mentioned so often? Because the NDP considers Victoria their western capital, like Halifax on the other coast. They fear the Green leverage will push them out of long-held bases and even affect standing in provincial politics, since the NDP is the only unified membership federal plus provincial party. They can’t handle anyone to their left.

  2. It’s nice to hear BC and Vancouver Island in particular getting some long awaited national attention. The phrase “Greens do take away potential votes from the NDP” doesn’t sit well with me. The Green Party gives me something to vote for. The Green Party exemplifies policy leadership, sportsmanship in the campaign, dignity so much of which the other parties lack. Many of us feel that a vote for any one of the three “major parties” is a vote for the status quo. The fact that we look well able to elect more Greens on Vancouver Island gives us hope that we can bring about the change the whole country is yearning for. If we are talking about splitting the vote: Harper holds the extreme right. NDP and Liberal split the centre-left status quo and the Greens hold the high ground. Period.

  3. Want to know te real reason they want o keep may ouit of debates ..out of Public eye???? It starts with a T and ends in a P ….TPP…is the corporate coup of the history and disastrous for ALL Cabadians except corporations and their share holders….All 3 big parties support TPP and would sign in a heartbeat… Only the greens oppose TPP…TPP Should be the number one issue of these elections but so few even know about it …purposely done and with CBC complicit…they will never get a signature for support from me ever again….we need big time honest reporting for Canadians on the horrors of TPP ..all journalists should be SCREAMING and nobody is…this is what the future President of the USA has to say about TPP…and he runs around in a dodge colt..not a tpp 747…nice plane though Tom…we need Greens in parliament badddlllyyy..not to mention their awesome all canadians love fully costed no deficit platform…l.the Greens make the 3 others look like the corporate bozos they are…

  4. Perhaps some people switch from NDP to Green Party. Or vice versa. As the article points out, the NDP and Liberals have more to worry about from each other than the Green Party. So why do they both attack the legitimacy of the Green Party? Last I heard this was a democracy, and you could vote for the person or party you want to vote for.

    For many of us, there would be no candidate we would vote for without the Green Party. That’s why Greens are getting elected at the provincial and federal levels.

    What the writer (and many media authors) don’t seem to understand is that the Green Party is a future party. Not that it is dreamily idealistic, but that it is trying to bring about long term, desirable changes both to government policy and to the process of democracy in Canada. That’s why Elizabeth May sits down when childish heckling begins in parliament. That’s why Andrew Weaver is able to work with the elected Liberals in BC to effect change rather than treating them as the “enemy”. That’s why the Green Party does not allow whipped votes. In other words, the allure of the Green Party is substance. Check it out.