Greens across Vancouver Island are feeling buoyant after Paul Manly’s federal byelection victory in Nanaimo-Ladysmith.
Manly won 37.3 per cent of the vote Monday, a result which many observers have called historic, and not just because he became only the second Green ever elected to the House of Commons.
Not surprisingly, observers have interpreted the result as a potential preview of bigger political developments that could conclude with Vancouver Island determining the national balance of power. For a party that isn’t used to winning at the federal level, the victory is a huge “morale boost,” according to a university professor.
Michael Prince, professor of social policy at the University of Victoria, said while Manly’s win likely isn’t the start of a Green wave, it is still a significant victory.
“You cannot underestimate the morale boost for the Green Party,” he said. “This is a party that is used to finishing third or fourth.”
Manly beat second-place candidate John Hirst of the Conservatives by more than 5,000 votes. Bob Chamberlin of the NDP came in third place, finishing with just over 9,000 votes while Liberal candidate Michelle Corfield came fourth, receiving fewer than 4,500 votes. Jennifer Clarke of the People’s Party of Canada, Brian Marlatt of the Progressive Canadian Party and Jakob Letkemann, formerly of the National Citizens Alliance, combined for fewer than 1,600 votes.
Voter turnout was approximately 41 per cent, according to Elections Canada preliminary results, which show that 40,700 out of 99,413 registered voters went to the polls. More than 71,000 people in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding voted in the 2015 general election.
Prince said their historic win in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding adds momentum to a party that was already feeling good from a strong provincial showing in Prince Edward Island earlier this year.
— Nanaimo Bulletin (@NanaimoBulletin) May 8, 2019
The incumbent NDP lost to the Greens by more than 5,700 votes. The New Democrats captured around 23 per cent of the vote last night, a 10-per cent drop from the 2015 general election when they took 33 per cent.
Prince said the party is likely doing some “soul searching” after last night’s results which he described as a “very disappointing setback” for the NDP.
“This [riding] was on their books to win and to lose it is disappointing and to lose it so strongly is going to raise some concerns here, certainly on the Island,” Prince said, adding that Chamberlin was a “very credible” candidate.
“Parties look for glimmers of hope and there is very little here for Singh and the NDP – that is the message here,” he said. “That’s the sobering message for him and the NDP to really think hard about.”
The Liberals saw their vote count drop dramatically from 14,000 in 2015. Prince said the Liberal vote simply “melted” away, but that it shouldn’t surprise anyone. He said even though Corfield was a solid candidate, there isn’t a lot of support for the party in Nanaimo-Ladysmith.
Meanwhile, Prince said the Conservatives should be pleased with how they did.
“The Conservatives have got to like their chances heading into the fall,” he said.
Prior to last night’s vote, Nanaimo residents have endured four elections on all different levels since May 2017 as well two major referendums. Prince said Nanaimo is a politically engaged community and while there may have been some voter fatigue, it wasn’t really a factor in last night’s election.
“That is pretty respectable turnout – 41 per cent for a byelection that really wasn’t going to determine the fate of the government and was near the end of a government term is pretty good,” he said. “There were all sorts of reasons for people to pass on this election and some did, but for a byelection, this shows the active spirit and political engagement in the community.”
He cautioned people from comparing the results from the recent provincial byelection, which saw the NDP win, with yesterday’s results, citing a difference in riding boundaries and what was on the line.
“The stakes were different,” Prince said about the provincial byelection. “You had the future of the government hanging in the balance in terms of the Horgan government.”
Manly ran unsuccessfully in the 2015 federal election, receiving roughly 14,000 votes or 20 per cent of the vote. Although that marked significant improvement from previous years for the Green Party, it wasn’t the result they had expected.
Prince noted the Greens gained about 1,400 additional votes compared to 2015 when they received just over 14,000 votes.
“I think the Greens can be a little more confident that this wasn’t just necessarily an aberration of a low turnout in a byelection,” Prince said.
Meanwhile, Manly’s peers are excited about their chances this fall.
“This [victory] is going to resonate and continues to resonate,” said David Merner, federal Green party candidate for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke.
Merner pointed to the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal swirling around the federal Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the New Democrats’ half-hearted embrace of environmentalism under their new leader Jagmeet Singh.
“Green [New Democrats] are coming over in droves,” said Merner, who is also reaching to disgruntled Liberals.
Manley won a riding previously held by federal New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson, whose departure for provincial politics triggered the byelection.
A similar situation has emerged in the riding of Victoria, where current New Democratic MP Murray Rankin won’t run again after winning 42 per cent of the vote. Victoria city councillor Laurel Collins elected to her current office less than a year ago will now try to hold that seat against Green Racelle Kooy, who looks to build on the 33 per cent that former radio personality Jo-Ann Roberts won in 2015 in finishing second.
Merner’s race against Garrison will be a rematch of 2015, which he finished in second place with 27.3 per cent of vote to Garrison’s 35 per cent. Only this time, Merner is running as a Green rather a Liberal, and the party has identified both ridings as target-to-win ridings.
“These are…priority ridings for the Green Party,” he said. “We know that we can win here. We are going to pour resources into them. And actually, it is not just these two ridings.”
Merner said Greens will continue to work hard across Vancouver Island with an eye on the larger picture. “The big question is will this Vancouver Island wave carry across the country?” he asked.
A lot of time remains between now and voting day, he said. “But if we get five or six seats on [Vancouver Island], if we get two or three seats in Quebec, which is the next most likely, if we get one or two in Ontario, and may be Halifax, where [Roberts] is running, now we are talking about the same scenario as in British Columbia, where you hold the balance of power.”
The Greens are already a prominent presence on Vancouver Island. Manly’s victory not only gives the federal Greens their second elected seat in the House of Commons; it also solidifies the party’s growing political control of Vancouver Island. Seen on a map, the federal Greens are starting to paint the south-eastern coast of Vancouver Island, well, green.
Federal Green party leader and local MP Elizabeth May established the first beachhead, when she won Saanich Gulf Islands (2016 pop: 107, 339) in 2011.
Manly’s victory in Nanaimo-Ladysmith (2016 pop: 122,710) now means that the Greens control two out of seven federal ridings on Vancouver Island, representing almost 29 per cent of the population in those ridings with the proviso that the riding North Island-Powell River also includes part of the Mainland.
This picture deepens once observers include provincial seats. All three seats held by the BC Greens are Vancouver Island seats, with two of those seats in the Greater Victoria area.
Oak Bay MLA and BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said in a press release that Manley’s victory signalled a change in public perceptions about Greens.
“Whether it is the changing economy, widening income income inequality, the housing crisis, or the climate disaster, Greens across the country have important contributors in the political landscape,” he said. “Canadians are increasingly aware that the approach of the old parties is no longer sufficient to meet the problems of the 21st century.”
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