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Battleground BC

The Green Party in BC: Reading the Federal Elections

Scant evidence to expect a breakthrough on May 17.

By Will McMartin, 5 May 2005,

Does the Green party have any hope of winning seats - or even a single seat - in British Columbia's 2005 general election? Battleground BC offers a two-part analysis of the Greens' electoral history in B.C.: today, the party's performance in federal contests; tomorrow, the provincial record.

The Greens have fielded B.C. candidates in federal general elections since 1984. No Green - ever - has finished better than fourth, and many have done worse. Consider the last three federal general elections, in 1997, 2000 and 2004, and the Green party's results in B.C.

In 1997 the best performance by a Green candidate was in West Kootenay-Okanagan, where Andy Shadrack collected 2,455 votes. But the victor, Reform's Jim Gouk, was miles ahead with almost 19,000. Stuart Parker in Vancouver East also turned in a respectable performance, taking 1,221 ballots. Yet that was infinitesimal compared to the 15,000 won by NDP winner, Libby Davies.

Province-wide, the Greens managed to attract a miniscule 2.0% of the vote - just one of every 50 voters.

In 2000 Shadrack again faced Gouk (then with the Canadian Alliance) and got 2,689 votes, well behind the incumbent's 19,000. Running in Victoria, Green national leader Jean Russow captured 3,264 ballots, but sufficient only for fifth spot, and light-years behind the 24,000 votes taken by Liberal incumbent David Anderson.

The Greens' province-wide performance in 2000 was nearly identical to that in 1997: a puny 2.1%.

Much improvement was expected in 2004. After all, three years earlier the B.C. Greens had soared to over 12% in the provincial general election, and several public opinion surveys placed the federal wing in the low 'teens in British Columbia as the federal campaign got underway.

The Ipsos-Reid polling firm, in a report it now surely wishes never had been published, went so far as to predict that the Greens could win two federal seats in British Columbia. Armed with that dubious analysis, several eastern political reporters foolishly touted a non-existent Green juggernaut in distant B.C.

Hugh Winsor of the Globe and Mail, who criticized the television networks for not allowing national Green leader Jim Harris to participate in the leaders' debate, wrote that Green candidates "may well make the difference in several close ridings - especially in British Columbia...." Days later, the Toronto Star's Caroline Mallan noted that polls were "showing some B.C. [Green] candidates have a fighting chance at becoming MPs...."

Yet when the ballots were counted, the Greens not only failed to elect a single Member of Parliament in B.C., it was not at all apparent that they 'made the difference in several close ridings.' Once again, no Green finished better than fourth, not even leader Harris, who took just 16.7% of the vote in Saanich-Gulf Islands.

Province-wide, the Greens captured 6.3% of the popular vote. It was their best performance in two decades, but well short of the Conservatives at 36.3%, the Liberals at 28.6%, and the NDP at 26.6?%.

There is scant evidence from recent federal general elections to suggest that the Greens are on the verge of a break-through in B.C.

Table - Top 10 Green party results in B.C. in 2004 federal general election

  • Saanich-Gulf Islands - 16.7%
  • Victoria - 11.7%
  • West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast - 9.7%
  • Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca - 9.2%
  • Vancouver Island North - 8.4%
  • Southern Interior - 7.9%
  • Nanaimo-Alberni - 7.4%
  • North Vancouver - 7.3%
  • Kelowna - 7.3%
  • Vancouver Centre - 6.8%