OTTAWA - Three federal byelections Monday night failed to alter the party standings in the House of Commons — returning two Conservatives and a New Democrat — but the results gave a clear boost to Green party fortunes.

Despite the low voter turnout that is typical of byelections, three Green candidates actually managed to increase their cumulative vote count in the byelections from the 2011 general election — the only party to do so Monday — while playing an influential role in both the Victoria and Calgary Centre outcomes.

The Conservatives lost vote share in all three ridings they contested and, despite their success, their vote totals were down dramatically.

Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt hung on to Calgary Centre but her share of the popular vote dropped 21 percentage points in the face of a surprise surge by the Liberals and the Greens. A Conservative handily won the central Ontario riding of Durham, but came a distant third in Victoria, where the NDP eked out a slim victory over the Greens.

While byelection results are notoriously fickle, the Green surge is enough to raise some interesting questions about vote splitting and inter-party co-operation as Canadians look ahead to the real contest in the general election of October 2015.

Just ask Green party Leader Elizabeth May.

"I hopes it says, look, the Greens have arrived," a jet-lagged May said Tuesday after returning from Victoria.

If so, it also says that new and interesting vote splits are on the horizon that could benefit the ruling Conservatives immensely. That's a point May is eager to make.

"I don't worry about how the byelections went, but I think it should be an object lesson to the Liberals and the New Democrats that it's time to start talking to each other," she said, after noting her party's official policy position is one of co-operation.

Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray also said the Calgary Centre outcome demonstrates the need for co-operation among Liberals, New Democrats and Greens.

"This was, I think, a good illustration of what happens when we split the progressive vote, election after election," said Murray, a Vancouver MP.

"Over 60 per cent of the votes were cast for progressive candidates who probably agree on more than half of the issues."

Murray is the only Liberal leadership contender so far to broach the idea of co-operation among so-called progressive parties. For the next election only, she is proposing run-off nominations to choose a single progressive candidate in ridings where a united opposition front could defeat the Conservatives.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has adamantly ruled out any co-operation with the Liberals.

A source involved in last night's campaigns who requested anonymity said the Greens reached out to the NDP in an effort to make a deal for two of the three byelection ridings: the Greens would ease up in Victoria if New Democrats backed off in Calgary Centre.

They were rebuffed, said the source, causing the Green party to redouble its efforts in Victoria.

However, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said there's no guarantee Green voters wouldn't have migrated to the Tories or NDP or just stayed home had they been given no Green option in the byelections.

"I have no doubt that there's an element of a protest vote that went to the Green party in Calgary and in Victoria," he said.

Donn Lovett, Liberal campaign manager in Calgary Centre, said Harvey Locke's near-win was primarily the result of appealing to disaffected red Tories. Hence, Lovett said, any alliance with left-wing parties aimed at ganging up on the Conservatives would likely have done more harm than good.

Keith Beardsley, a former senior Harper adviser who now pens a closely watched politics blog, wrote Tuesday there were warning signals for the Conservatives in the byelection results.

"It would also be interesting to know where the moderate Conservative or Red Tory vote went," wrote Beardsley.

"Did they stick with Crockatt who is seen as hard right, or did they move to the Liberals? That is a key question for the Conservatives."

May herself suggested some of those moderate conservatives are going Green, at least in Victoria.

"I think a lot of people who would have described themselves as Red Tories really feel homeless."

New Democrat insiders believe their party's collapse in Calgary Centre — where they won just 3.8 per cent of the vote — went to the Greens, while the riding's traditional Red Tories voted Liberal.

Despite winning Victoria, the byelections were not great news for the NDP, which saw its vote share plummet 13 points in Victoria and 11 points in Calgary in the face of a Green surge. Only in Durham did the NDP vote share go up, by a modest five points.

New Democrat MP Peter Julian dismissed suggestions the Green party is threatening NDP hopes of winning government in 2015. He argued that local issues influenced the outcome in the byelections, which won't be factors in the next general election.

Julian also rejected the idea that opposition parties may need to co-operate to defeat the Tories.

"Parties have different approaches. I think you need to have full democracy, candidates and parties, you put them out and then Canadians living in that riding make the best decision."

That may be music to Conservative ears.

"A surging Green Party, a resurgent Liberal Party and a scrappy NDP mean plenty of vote splitting in the days ahead," wrote Beardsley.

"Unless there is a dramatic change, this should give the Tories one more win."

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • I was raised by parents who believed that each citizen had a duty to speak up for justice and a better world. My grandmother had a saying ‘Thought without constructive action is demoralizing.’ And my mother raised us on the same principle. This slide shows two eras of protest. The first is the British Aldermaston march in 1960 opposing nuclear weaponry in the Cold War era. People came from over one hundred nations. My mother walked the whole six days from Aldermaston, UK (where the nuclear weapons research took place), to Trafalgar Square. The rest of us, my dad, my younger brother and I, stayed with my paternal grandparents in my father’s hometown of Barnet. On the last day I was allowed to walk with my mother to Trafalgar Square, where she – representing the North American movement – spoke to a crowd of 100,000. The tradition of family involvement continues as this photo of Thanksgiving weekend in 2010 shows. We held a 10-10-10 event (see 350.org for details) to take climate action by planting trees on my step-daughter Jo’s front lawn in Haliburton, Ontario, where my extended family had gathered for Thanksgiving. Pictured with me and local Green candidate Susanne Lauten are my daughter, Victoria Cate and her two older sisters, Nadya and Jo, plus several grandchildren and local supporters.”

  • My mother was a co-plaintiff with 17 Nobel Prize winners in a law suit against the governments of the UK, the US and the USSR for carrying out nuclear weapons testing, distributing cancer-causing radionuclides (Strontium 90) globally in the atmosphere. The press conference was in Washington, DC. I am seated next to my mom, far left. In the centre of the table, speaking, is Dr. Linus Pauling. Chatting with my mother, another co-plaintiff, Bertrand Russell (photo taken at his home in Wales). Atmospheric nuclear weapons testing ended with the signing of the Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

  • We moved into this house in Bloomfield, Connecticut when I was one year old. My father had started work with Aetna Life and Casualty in Hartford. We had seven acres and, as I got older, had an increasingly large menagerie.

  • Menagerie!

  • Menagerie!

  • My god-father is actor Cliff Robertson, here pictured with his former wife, Dina Merrill, and my younger brother Geoff. The other picture is of my mum and Paul Newman at a fundraising event for Eugene McCarthy in 1968. Paul Newman was enormously generous with his time and my mum worked closely with him. They were both delegates for McCarthy to the 1968 Democratic convention, which I attended with her at age 14.

  • A trip around the Cabot Trail in 1972 changed our lives and by 1973 we had moved, lock stock and barrel (with two ponies, an elderly wether, three dogs and two cats) to Cape Breton Island. My parents sunk their life savings (and then some) into a derelict tourism business at Margaree Harbour. We put in a sewage treatment plant, re-furbished a restaurant on board an old Bluenose fishing schooner (build in 1918 by the same Lunenburg firm that built the Bluenose), and renovated a log cabin gift shop to look like Dickens London. We hired a staff of 50. As you can see, my dad and brother grew beards and wore kilts, as well as learning Gaelic. We were a hit with customers, but lost our shirts — and our socks. I could not afford to go to university, so cooked and waitressed until 1982. The Schooner Village operated seasonally until 2002 when the NS government expropriated us to build a new bridge. The 1918 schooner, plus Farley Mowat’s “Boat who Wouldn’t Float” which he had given us to have on display, were demolished and hauled them to the dump. Heartbreaking.

  • In 1980 I discovered that Dalhousie Law School had a programme for mature students, opening the possibility to go to law school without an undergrad degree. From 1975-1979, I had been a key organizer with many others of a grassroots effort to prevent the aerial spraying of Cape Breton Island with toxic (now banned) chemical pesticides. The fight to stop spraying was seasonal, and fortunately was the opposite season from my work in the restaurant. In the fall of 1985, as soon as we closed for the winter, the pulp company demanded the government approve the spraying. The infestation of spruce budworm could only be sprayed in the early larval stages, so the government decision was demanded by spring. By spring 1986, the government agreed with the citizens and turned down the application. Every year, until the budworm epidemic collapsed of natural causes in 1979, the pattern was repeated. Every year, we succeeded in persuading the NS government not to spray. I worked in the background for the first few years, but by 1978 the media noticed I was running a major conference we organized in Halifax and from then on I was doing media interviews. Dalhousie took into account my volunteer environmental work and my desire to be an environmental lawyer. That, plus doing well in LSATs, got me back on track for what I had always wanted to do. In my second year at law school, my first book chronically our successful campaign to prevent spraying was published. (Budworm Battles, Four East books, 1982). While in law school, I still worked summers in the kitchen in the Schooner Restaurant. That made it difficult to stop an approved spray programme with Agent Orange in June 1982. Spraying was demanded not to kill insects, but for killing hardwood trees – “competing” with the coniferous trees favoured for pulp. Agent Orange was already banned in the US and in Sweden where the pulp company was based, but legal in Canada. At first, the NS government appeared to have yielded to the public outcry and cancelled the permits. It turned out to be trickery, as they silently re-approved spraying with Agent Orange from the ground. With less than ten days until the spraying was planned, we, local residents, myself included, raced to court for emergency help. Residents from areas near all the spray blocks in eastern NS and Cape Breton Island sought an interim injunction to stop the Agent Orange spray programme, with no concept that it would eat up two years of our lives, force us into brutal financial sacrifices, and pit us against forest industry giants and the pesticide industry. I worked as volunteer lawyer, hired the real lawyers, raised the money to pay them, and was a co-plaintiff. In the course of the court case, my family lost 80-acres of land overlooking the Bras d’Or Lakes. We managed to gain an interim injunction, preventing spraying for the 1982 and 1983 seasons. Once the NS court ruled Agent Orange and dioxin were “safe,” it turned out that it was no longer possible to spray it. The US government had reached a “voluntary” agreement with the manufacturer Dow Chemical, preventing Dow from selling any of its old stock to places where it was still allowed — like Canada. So, even though we lost the court case, they never did spray eastern Nova Scotia with Agent Orange. I missed my graduation from law school because I was cross-examining an expert witness.” I practiced law in Halifax with the firm of Kitz, Matheson, Green and MacIsaac, first articling and then as an associate from 1983-1985. An offer to serve as Associate General Counsel to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, moved me to Ottawa.

  • In June 1986, as the World Commission on Environment and Development (The Brundtland Commission) held hearings around the world, Canadian NGOS from environment, development and peace orientations held a major conference in Ottawa — The Fate of the Earth. Over one thousand people participated, including Guujaw, Nobel Laureate George Wald, poet Dorothy Livesay, Margot Kidder, and singer Pete Seeger. I was co-chair of the FOTE conference. These photos were taken by noted photographer, Robert del Tredici.

  • By summer of 1986, the federal Minister of Environment, Tom McMillan had persuaded me to join his staff as Senior Policy Advisor. Photo of the Hon Tom McMillan, Dr. Gro Harlem Bruntdland, Prime Minister of Norway, and me, taken at the landmark June, 1988 climate change conference in Toronto, “Our Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security”. Second photo of South Moresby Signing Ceremony in Victoria, July 12, 1987.

  • Photo of celebrations of the negotiation of the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer in September 1987.

  • Celebration after saving South Moresby. That same week as the 1988 climate change conference in Toronto, I resigned with great sadness from the Minister’s staff, due to the approval of two dams in Saskatchewan without environmental assessment. Once I was suddenly out of work (resignation on principle is like that), I was offered contract work with Canada’s leading academic honorific academy, the Royal Society of Canada. In that period Tara Cullis phoned to say her husband David Suzuki had just phoned her in tears from the Amazon. She said we needed to raise money for a brave indigenous leader, Paiakan of the Kyapo people, who was attempting to stop a major dam on the Xingu River. He would be making a tour of Canada in October 1988 and we needed to drop everything to organize a fundraising tour. I threw myself into it, as did many others. We raised $80,000 with concerts in Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto. We raised the money without any organizational structure, although many groups (like WWF and Nature Canada) helped. The primary reason for our success was that the concerts featured Gordon Lightfoot. These photos were taken in February 1989 with Gordon Lightfoot in the indigenous village. We met Sting in that village, although the photo with Sting was taken later in Toronto. With Sting is my friend Peter Dalglish, founder of Street Kids International, currently working for the UN in Afghanistan.

  • Pictured, my step-step daughter, Clare (now Executive Director of Women In Need Community Outreach, Victoria), my mother and father, brother his wife Rebecca Lynn, their son Andrew, and Victoria Cate’s dad, Ian. August, 1991.

  • I was on the board of Friends of the Earth Canada and Paul McCartney was promoting FOE in his world tour. As delightful as I could have imagined, he was very taken with Victoria Cate, then three months old. The next day, strangely enough, Victoria Cate and I spent with a business leaders forum on sustainability, hosted by HRH Prince Charles, at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club with a reception after on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

  • December, 1991 in Miami. The event was a strong precursor to the June, 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, which I also attended. Pictured here, the driving force of the event, former Congresswoman Bella Abzug and Vandana Shiva. We were all on the organizing committee along with, German Green Party founder Petra Kelly, Kenyan Green (later named Nobel Peace Prize Winner) Wangari Matthai, and other leading women activists.

  • My mother and my daughter on board our schooner restaurant, the Marion Elizabeth.

  • May, 1993. I first met former President William Jefferson Clinton in July, 1971. I was in high school, and he was a student at Yale Law School assisting the development of the campaign to nominate George McGovern as the Democratic nominee. We have remained friends.


Loading Slideshow...
  • Liberal Leadership Race 2013

    Here are the remaining candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

  • Justin Trudeau

    Age: 40 Occupation: MP for Montreal-area riding of Papineau <a href="http://justin.ca/en/">Website</a>

  • Joyce Murray

    Age: 58 Occupation: Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra, former B.C. Liberal environment minister <a href="http://joycemurray.liberal.ca/">Website</a>

  • Martha Hall Findlay

    Age: 53 Occupation: Former Liberal MP for Willowdale and 2006 leadership candidate <a href="http://www.marthahallfindlay.ca/">Website</a>

  • Martin Cauchon

    Age: 50 Occupation: Lawyer, former Montreal Liberal MP <a href="http://martincauchon.ca/">Website</a>

  • Deborah Coyne

    Age: 57 Occupation: Lawyer, professor <a href="http://www.deborahcoyne.ca/">Website</a>

  • Karen McCrimmon

    Occupation: A retired Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian forces and mediator. <a href="http://karenforcanada.ca/" target="_hplink">Website</a>