VICTORIA — It was supposed to be the election that changed everything.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called it “the campaign of our lives” and a referendum on climate change.
“We are going to win a lot of seats,” she said in one interview.
In the end, they won just three. May kept her stronghold in Saanich—Gulf Islands, which she’s held since 2011. New MP Paul Manly, who came to power in a May byelection, feigned off Conservative and NDP challengers to keep his seat in Nanaimo—Ladysmith. And Jenica Atwin made history by grabbing a third seat for the Greens in Fredericton.
“The good news is Andrew Scheer owes me 50 bucks,” May said to open her election-night speech at a conference centre in downtown Victoria, after the Liberal party won the most seats, but not a majority. She had bet the Conservative leader he wouldn’t become prime minister.
“We doubled our popular vote and we tripled our seat count. We’ve never had as many finishes and close seconds and ten per cents,” May said. “We can make a really significant contribution in a minority Parliament and we will.”
On stage with May were a handful of weeping teenage volunteers. May said they had put their hearts into Vancouver Island races that were ultimately lost.
“This was a children’s crusade. And I vow not to let them down,” she told a crowd of supporters. “Because what they said to me was they feel as though, ‘What happened? Canada doesn’t care about our future?’”
Polls had projected that the Greens could’ve won as many as six seats. May told reporters after her speech that the party’s internal polling had given them strong leads in island ridings Victoria and Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke.
Surrounded by green signs carrying her name, first-time Victoria candidate Racelle Kooy took the stage with May after it was announced that she’d lost to NDP candidate Laurel Collins.
“We started a relationship, Victoria. I remain committed to this riding,” Kooy said.
Earlier: Inside the battleground to win votes in Victoria. Story continues after the video.
David Merner also lost to the NDP in Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke.
“Among Greens, it’s hard to lose because you do feel you’re campaigning on a higher cause,” he told the crowd. “But, we have really built a base for next time.”
‘It was the attacks’
May placed the blame for these losses squarely at the feet of Jagmeet Singh’s NDP.
“It was the attacks. The NDP flooded our mailboxes and our airwaves with untruths about the Green party,” she told journalists. “It was shameless. But it seems to have worked.”
The NDP distributed leaflets that said the Green Party “shares” many values with Conservatives, like cutting services and wavering on abortion rights. They also printed fliers that said the Greens’ platform had failed a fiscal analysis by former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page.
Throughout the campaign, Singh went after May, saying she doesn’t have a clear stance on abortion because she lets her MPs vote however they want. The Green party later said that all candidates are required to support abortion rights. The NDP leader also took digs at the Green party’s admission it Photoshopped a picture of May because she was holding a disposable cup.
“I know the Green party likes to Photoshop things, but they can’t change what they said and the reality is, the fact is, there are candidates running for the Greens that do not have a clear position on a woman’s right to choose,” he said on Oct. 4.
May did end up dropping a candidate over her social media posts about abortion.
WATCH: May says NDP attacks hurt Green chances in the election
The Green losses do not mean that Canadians don’t want bold action on climate change, May said Monday night.
“It’s not easy to dissect this evening,” she said. “I don’t think it means that in a referendum on climate, Canadians don’t care about climate action. I think it means in this election campaign that the Liberals were able to use the scare tactic that a vote for the Conservatives was actually a vote against climate action.”
May had tried to position her party as the only one that could be trusted to take meaningful action. Her platform said that climate change should be dealt with as if it were the Second World War.
“This is a pivotal point in history,” May wrote in the platform’s preamble. “When confronted with an overwhelming challenge, it is human nature to want to avoid thinking about it … The problem is that we cannot pretend the climate threat away.”
Canadians do say they want action. One poll found that almost 30 per cent considered it the single most important issue during this election. Hundreds of thousands skipped school and work to flood the streets for global climate “strikes” this summer.
But that didn’t translate into many concrete gains for May’s party in Monday night’s results.
Instead, the Greens got one thing they were hoping for: a minority government. With only 157 seats, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will need support from other parties to hold the confidence of the House and to pass any legislation.
May had said pointedly during the English-language debate that that was something she wanted.
“Please God, you don’t get a majority,” she said to Trudeau.
WATCH: ‘Please God, You Don’t Get A Majority’: May To Trudeau
Minority governments are better for citizens, according to Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green party. He was handed the balance of power in B.C.’s legislature in 2017 when neither the Liberals nor the NDP won enough seats for a majority.
“I think the B.C. NDP would agree governance has been better because we’ve been forced to work together,” he told HuffPost Canada in an interview last week.
May said her new caucus of three will hold the other parties accountable for their climate change promises. She said she hopes that the Liberals, now “in a more vulnerable position,” might consider changes to their emissions reduction targets and to how Parliament functions.
“I guess the phrase really is, ‘holding the feet to the fire,’” she said. “There will be crispy toes.”