OTTAWA — Green Party leader Elizabeth May is feeling a bit blue.
The Greens launched their biennial national party convention in New Brunswick on Friday, and she said there has been scant media interest.
Last month, CBC Radio did a recap of the party leaders’ performance in the Commons and failed to include May. Journalists also ignored her party’s candidates in four byelections, she said, and the party’s electoral chances suffered because of it.
“We both get forgotten pretty much,” she told The Huffington Post Canada on the phone from Fredericton, where 200 Green delegates are gathered.
“We tied with the Conservatives in [the Toronto riding of] Trinity-Spadina. We certainly would have done much better than that, I think, had there been even something approximating proportionate leverage of coverage,” she said.
(The Green candidate received 5.4 per cent of support on June 30 while the Tories garnered 5.8 per cent, a 142-vote difference).
Looking back at historical coverage, May said the Reform party garnered much more media attention in its time, even with lone MP Deb Grey.
“Reform and Preston Manning got taken more seriously, and I don’t know what the reason is. … I’d hate to think it was sexism,” she said.
“I don’t know, but it’s more of a struggle than I thought it would be to even get mentioned.”
Striving to remain relevant will be a key concern for the Greens come the next federal election in the fall of 2015, said Memorial University political science professor Scott Matthews.
The Greens risk being marginalized by other political parties jockeying for power.
Worse, they may also split the progressive vote and help elect Conservative MPs.
“If either the Liberals or the NDP are successful at consolidating the anti-Conservative vote, they will necessarily have eliminated the Greens as part of that process,” Matthews said.
Consequently, if neither the Grits or the New Democrats emerge as the principal opponent to Stephen Harper, Matthews said, then the likely vote splits will be “wild and crazy” anyway and the Greens’ influence will remain minimal.
“Either way, the Greens aren’t poised to have that great an impact on the election,” Matthews said.
It is comments like those that have Green party delegates worried. Campaign co-chair for 2015 John Streicker knows the Greens risk being sidelined.
He fully expects the Green voters will be told by Liberal and NDP supporters that a Green vote is a wasted vote if the goal is Harper’s defeat.
“We anticipate that pressure and we plan for it,” he said. “This is a very recurring theme for us as a party. … I think that the other parties play on it in order to create that kind of condition.”
Streicker said the Greens will respond by reaching out to non-voters, elevating the tone of political discourse and showcasing what elected Greens have accomplished. May was selected by her peers as the hardest-working MP on the Hill, he noted.
What is particularly concerning for delegate Bob Mackie is the suggestion that the Greens split the progressive vote.
In the 2012 Calgary Centre byelection, for example, the Green party candidate received 25.7 per cent of support, while the Liberal candidate won 32.7 per cent. The result was that the Conservative candidate won with 36.9 per cent.
“We talk about it all the time. The point is, you’ve got to vote the way you really feel,” Mackie said.
“The Liberals and the New Democratic Party will both say, ‘Oh you rotten Greens, you are splitting the vote’ … [but] strategic voting is really not getting you anywhere. You might as well show in the polls that there is some Green support.”
In areas where the Greens are at three or five per cent, they won’t hold much influence, said University of Toronto political scientist Christopher Cochrane. But they can be influential when they draw more than 10 percent, he said.
The Greens’ real significance is that they push the environmental issue onto other parties’ platforms, Cochrane said.
“The fact that the Green party is a perennial threat especially to the Liberals and especially to the New Democrats means that these parties have to keep the environment as a central plank in their agenda,” he said.
“It doesn’t translate into seats, but it is still a contribution to the environmental cause.”
May has often said her goal is to influence the debate, but she has her sights set on a more lofty goal for the next election: she wants to hold the balance of power in Parliament.
She believes the 2015 election will result in a minority government. If it does, her two conditions for a partnership with either NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau or even possibly Stephen Harper are electoral reform and action on climate change.
“If you get a rid of first-past-the-post and if you put in place a meaningful climate plan, we’ll be there to make those things happen and to provide stability,” she said.
But first, the Greens need to win more than her own Saanich–Gulf Islands seat in B.C. Streicker will not say which ridings the Greens plan to target, but he said they will focus their energy and money on seats they have a chance of winning.
“Some strength will go right around Elizabeth May’s riding, that’s clear enough,” he said.
Despite the political scientists’ predictions, May is confident the Greens will make gains during the next federal election. With a seat in the House of Commons, she is guaranteed a spot in the televised leaders’ debate, and she thinks she can swing non-voters and other progressive voters to her side with a “very credible campaign and very credible candidates.”
“We have a unique voice, we do things differently, we speak out on different issues,” she said.
May notes that she and her seatmate, former NDP MP Bruce Hyer, who joined the Greens in December, have voted differently on numerous issues. She does not believe in whipping votes – even on party policy – and a motion at this weekend’s convention calling for all votes to be free is likely to pass.
Most of the motions that will be debated on the convention floor emerged from the party’s grassroots and have already been voted upon. Some of the more controversial resolutions such as physician-assisted suicide and the situation in Israel and Gaza may engender more debate, but the party’s leadership said they embrace the transparency.
“We are not spinning, and I think that will distinguish us enough that we will rise about the noise,” May said.
Her goal is to find willing partners. “We want to find places of commonality and shared interest with people on all sides of the political spectrum and then work to make those changes happen.”
“Mr. Mulcair’s policies are closer to ours, but, just in terms of personal relationships, I have an easier personal relationship with Justin Trudeau,” May told HuffPost. “I am enormously fond of him.”
Her relationship with Mulcair is definitely not as warm.
“I am trying to get to know Tom Mulcair better,” she said. “I try to engage with him in a positive way, but we just don’t have the longer relationship that I’ve had knowing Justin Trudeau even before he was elected.”
May said she does not understand why the NDP continues to perpetuate rumours that she and the Green party are somehow linked to the Grits.
“I did go on a hunger strike protesting against the Liberals over toxic waste sites. So I just can’t imagine why there is this nonsense,” May said. “I think the NDP rather torque it in order to hang on to NDP members so they don’t slide towards the Greens. I’m very co-operative and willing to co-operate with New Democrats. I’ve made a many number of offers.”
May said her goal is not personal power but effective healthy democracy in Canada. She is concerned Parliament has turned into an elected dictatorship where the House of Commons is no longer able to control the public purse. She also wants to see an aggressive and meaningful plan to transition Canadians off fossil fuels and avoid the worst aspects of a climate crisis.
She finds it intensely frustrating that in 2014 MPs cannot have an intelligent conversation in the House about climate change because the other parties are too concerned about losing votes over the issue.
Time is running out to take meaningful action on the climate crisis, she said.
“It is urgent. It’s a clear and present danger, and it never ceases to amaze me how other parties are willing to ignore it.”
What distinguishes the Greens from other parties, May said, is that they are not focused on “distressingly self-interested, juvenile, tiresome political games.”
“We don’t have time for them,” she said. She’s convinced Canadians feel the same way.
“If the boys could just put their toys back in the box and sit up at the grown-up table and think about how we protect our kids future, that would be really helpful.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that John Streicker is Green Party president. He is campaign co-chair for 2015.
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