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Battleground BC

The Green Party in BC: Provincial Elections

Carr is making a spirited but likely doomed run for a first Green seat.

By Will McMartin, 6 May 2005, TheTyee.ca

Green candidates have contested last five provincial general elections in British Columbia. The party’s share of the popular vote in the first four contests was in the low single-digits, and in the fifth rose to the low ‘teens. The latter improvement was concomitant with a dramatic fall in voter support for the New Democratic Party.

The Greens first appeared in a B.C. general election in 1983, when four candidates garnered a total of 3,078 votes. By comparison, Social Credit had nearly 821,000 ballots, the New Democratic Party, 741,000, and even the moribund Liberals tallied more than 44,000.

One of the Green hopefuls, 30-year-old Adriane Carr, ran in Vancouver-Point Grey and snared 1,549 votes.

Nine Greens contested the 1986 general election, and then 42 offered themselves in 1991. The results were similar as the fledgling party on both occasions captured less than one percent of the province-wide vote.

The 1996 general election saw a small breakthrough of sorts, as 71 Green candidates obtained 2.0% of the popular vote. As in the previous contests, however, no Green representative came close to winning election. As for total votes, the Liberals had nearly 662,000; the New Democrats, 624,500; Reform BC, 147,000; and the Progressive Democratic Alliance, 91,000. The Greens were a well-beaten fifth at 31,500.

But fortune soon smiled on the Greens; and, specifically, Carr. The Liberal party swallowed Reform BC, enticing MLA Richard Neufeld and others into the fold, while the New Democratic Party absorbed the PDA by awarding leader Gordon Wilson with a cabinet post. A once-crowded field of five competitive parties began to shrink to three, although minor entities such as the Marijuana Party and Unity BC made ultimately unsuccessful bids for voter attention.

Meanwhile, the governing New Democratic Party was plummeting to new depths of unpopularity. Premier Glen Clark, who took office in 1996 after Mike Harcourt quit in the midst of a party scandal, himself was forced to step aside when it was learned that the RCMP had opened a criminal investigation into his personal activities. Interim premier Dan Miller oversaw operations in the west annex until Ujjal Dosanjh was elected NDP leader in February 2000, and the latter’s performance as premier may best be described as pitiable.

With the New Democrats headed for electoral disaster, Carr enlisted Green supporters to launch a coup against the leadership of the peripatetic and ineffectual Stuart Parker. They succeeded, and in 2000 Carr was elected leader of the provincial Green party.

The NDP’s five-year legislative mandate had almost ended when Dosanjh roused from his stupour long enough to call a general election for May 16, 2001. When the ballots were counted, the Liberals had taken 917,000 votes and won a massive legislative majority with 77 of 79 seats.

From 595,000 votes in 1991, and 624,000 five years later, the New Democratic Party fell to just 343,000 in 2001. (The NDP’s popular vote-share over the same period decreased from 40.7% to 39.5% to 21.6%.)

While it seems likely that at least a few disaffected NDP supporters cast a ballot for the Liberals in 2001, it is also probable that many opted for the ideologically-compatible Green party. As the New Democrats sunk to their historic nadir, the Greens soared to a record-high 197,000 votes.

Yet, despite recording their best-ever performance at 12.4% of the popular vote, the Carr-led Greens failed to win a single seat. They did manage to finish second in a dozen ridings, a considerable improvement over their traditional fourth-or-worse record, but 11 of those runner-up performances were in centre-right fortresses and as such do not portend future success.

Carr herself finished third in Powell River-Sunshine Coast with 27.0% of the vote, behind Liberal victor Harold Long, and NDP MLA Gordon Wilson.

Now, four years after the Greens’ electoral breakthrough, public opinion polls consistently show the party mired in the low ‘teens. The New Democrats, on the other hand, has nearly recovered from its 2001 debacle, with public opinion polls showing the NDP in the high-30s and low-40s.

Carr and the B.C. Greens seem to have made little headway in establishing themselves as major players in provincial politics. The likelihood of electing even a single MLA in 2005 appears remote, although the leader is certain to make a spirited run in her home riding of Powell River-Sunshine Coast .

Table — Green results in B.C. provincial general elections, 1983-2001

  • 1983 — 4 candidates — 3,078 votes (0.19%)
  • 1986 — 9 candidates — 4,440 votes (0.24%)
  • 1991 — 42 candidates — 12,650 votes (0.86%)
  • 1996 — 71 candidates — 31,511 votes (1.99%)
  • 2001 — 72 candidates — 197,231 votes (12.39%)

Table — Top 20 Green ridings in 2001 general election, by percentage of popular vote

  • Powell River-Sunshine Coast — 27.0%
  • Saanich North & the Islands — 25.4%
  • Victoria-Beacon Hill — 21.7%
  • Vancouver-Fairview — 21.6%
  • Nelson-Creston — 21.5%
  • Vancouver-Point Grey — 21.3%
  • North Vancouver-Lonsdale — 20.1%
  • Victoria-Hillside — 19.8%
  • Comox Valley — 18.7%
  • Oak Bay-Gordon Head — 18.3%
  • Esquimalt-Metchosin — 17.7%
  • Nanaimo — 17.5%
  • West Vancouver-Garibaldi — 17.3%
  • North Vancouver-Seymour — 17.3%
  • Delta South — 16.8%
  • Vancouver-Mount Pleasant — 16.2%
  • Vancouver-Burrard — 16.2%
  • Burnaby-Willingdon — 15.7%
  • Saanich South — 15.7%
  • Vancouver-Hastings — 14.9%

Check here daily for Battleground BC, Will McMartin’s voting predictions and analysis, exclusive to The Tyee. You can reach him with tips, insights and info at will@thetyee.ca  [Tyee]