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Last Chance for Adriane Carr?

After five years she's still a long shot with a sheaf of 'paper candidates.' If Carr loses, will the Greens dump her?

By Richard Warnica 13 May 2005 | TheTyee.ca

Richard Warnica is a free-lance journalist and former senior editor at The Tyee.

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Leadership on the line?

Flash back, five years, to Squamish. Adriane Carr, then the executive director of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee spearheads a coup in the BC Green Party. Gone is Stuart Parker, the leader who nurtured the party from the brink of oblivion, gone are 11 of 12 members of the party executive who supported the deposed Parker.

Five months later the party crowns Carr their new leader. The long time activist vows to make the Greens a viable force on the provincial scene. "Watch out NDP, watch out Gordon [Campbell], we are at 8 percent in the polls now, but just wait."

Five years later and Carr's Greens are still waiting for a major breakthrough. An established player in provincial politics, Carr remains the underdog in her own riding and the party will struggle to retain the popular vote they took in 2001. Next Tuesday Carr leads a thrown-together mishmash of candidates into what could be her final election as Green Party leader.

If Carr can't capture her seat, and the party drops in the polls, this could be the end of her reign, according to University of Victoria political scientist Norman Ruff.

Mixed record

Carr herself calls the suggestion absurd. "In a fair system I would be representing and leading my party in the Legislature," she said. "Look at the success I've had at moving the debate and addressing the issues that matter."

Carr has had success. The major media now treat the Greens as the province's third party. The Vancouver Sun covers the party's campaign as a full player in the election and Carr earned a spot in the leadership debates.

But it hasn't been all victories. Against a crippled NDP in 2001 the Greens took 12 percent of the vote but failed to win a seat in the Legislature.

Carr's record on electoral reform is also mixed. After failing to spark a referendum on proportional representation (PR), Carr championed the Citizen's Assembly on Electoral Reform. But after the body rejected PR, Carr turned on it, something that Ruff says may have hurt her in the party. "She was caught out. She committed so much to mixed member PR, that when she lost she was pissed off and let it show." Carr also got hammered in a by-election in Surrey-Panorama Ridge in November. After calling out NDP leader Carole James for not taking the first chance to earn a seat in the Legislature, Carr lost big to the NDP's Jagrub Brar. Her share of the popular vote, 8.3 percent, was actually lower than the Green total in the riding in 2001.

But Carr remains unrepentant. "People are very grateful that I had the guts to do that," she said. "I think leaders have to do tough things and risk in order to achieve good things."

Residual bitterness

No one could accuse Carr of being anything but tough. In fact, residual bitterness about the toughness she used to wrench the party from Parker's hands five years ago lingers among small "g" greens according to Julian West, one of the old guard swept out in 2000.

West, who now supports the NDP, told The Tyee that most of those still upset with the way Carr became leader were driven out or left. But there are still plenty of those in the party uncomfortable with Carr's leadership style.

"There is a cult-like belief that the Green Party is Adriane Carr and Adriane Carr is the Green Party," West said. "It's an ongoing facet of her personality and leadership."

West agrees with Ruff. If Carr can produce on May 17, she'll likely stay, if not, she's in trouble.

"This is definitely her last chance. People are going to say 'she's had two shots and she hasn't produced what she said she was going to produce.'"

Tough battle in her riding

Carr faces an uphill battle in Powell-River-Sunshine Coast. Polling has been done in the riding, but the parties aren't sharing. Regional polling done by the Mustel Group doesn't bode well for Carr though, according to owner Evi Mustel.

Though steady at around 12 percent, Green support is spread out across the province. If the party were going to win Carr's riding, Mustel said you'd likely see a bump on Vancouver Island and the South Coast. But Green support wasn't any more concentrated in that region than in anywhere else in the province in the poll released on May 10.

A hodge-podge of logging towns, fishing communities and niche hippy escapes, the Sunshine Coast is home to Roberts Creek, where Carr proudly told reporters at an Earth Day fair last month voters voted overwhelmingly Green in the last provincial election, but also Gibsons, where the Liberals dominated in 2001 and the Conservatives swept federally last June.

The core Green message of environmental stewardship probably doesn't resonate as loudly in every part of the riding. Much of the area is only accessible by boat or plane, and ferries come second only to health care as an issue according to Stuart Alsgard, the mayor of Powell River.

The NDP played into that when Carole James came through the riding at the end of April. James whipped up fears about ferry privatization, announcing that her party would restore BC Ferries to Crown corporation status.

As the James bus snaked through the streets of Powell-River en route to the announcement, they drove past sign after sign touting the NDP candidate Nicholas Simons. "We're dominating the sign war," one NDP strategist exclaimed.

Simmons, a social worker by trade, ran for the NDP in the last federal election. He won every polling station except for one in PW, but lost the seat after being swept in West Vancouver. Provincially though, West Van is split off into its own riding. Carr will be hard pressed to out-poll Simons, according to The Tyee's election prognosticator Will McMartin.

Strategic voting

For Carr to break through provincially she has to hope her supporters don't defect to the NDP. If Green voters, afraid of another Liberal majority, split away in the last week, Carr could see her overall support take a big dip.

Only 30 percent of voters who responded to the most recent Mustel poll were firmly committed to their chosen party, according to Evi Mustel, and that includes Green supporters.

Green voters across Canada also tend to be over-counted in polls, according to pollster Angus McAllister of McAllister research. "The Green support tends to be a protest vote," McAllister said, "most of them don't actually vote."

In last June's federal election, the Green party was at six percent in the final poll released by Ipsos-Reid, but fell to just over four percent in the final vote.

Before the televised debate, Norm Ruff also thought Green support was a little soft. But Carr's performance may have hardened it. "I assumed that it was going to implode," he said.

In the last provincial election the Greens held their support from the polls into election day. The last Ipsos-Reid poll done before the 2001 election had the party at 13 percent support; the party went on to pick up 12.39 percent of the vote.

Luckily for Carr, strategic voting is relatively rare. Only five to six percent of voters vote for a second choice to avoid electing a last choice party, according to Richard Johnston a professor of political science from the University of British Columbia.

Strategic voting also only makes sense in some ridings. In Vancouver-Quilchena, where finance minister Colin Hansen is expected to romp to victory, a Green supporter could vote his conscience, knowing that an NDP vote would be as wasted as a Green.

But in ridings that could swing to the Liberals or NDP, a Green vote could help elect the Liberal. The Green and NDP votes combined would have been enough to beat the Liberals in five ridings in the last election. And the vote totals were within a thousand votes in another handful of ridings.

What makes it tough though is that most voters don't have the information to decide whether a strategic vote makes sense in their riding, according to Johnston. Most published polling is for province wide data, and none but the most ardent of political junkies are liable to pore over charts or commission polls to decide how, strategically, to use their vote.

Paper candidates

Every British Columbian does have the option to vote Green though. Thanks to an all-out push there are Green candidates in every ridings. How credible those candidates are is another question.

Carr acknowledges that the party had trouble digging up enough bodies. The count didn't hit 79 until midway through the campaign. Carr told The Tyee that prospective candidates, especially women, were scared off by the prospect of a vicious campaign.

The group that Carr and company found is green in more than one way. Many are not local to their ridings. At least 13 of them are either attending university or have just graduated. Sixteen more candidates don't even have bios on the Green Party website less than a week from the election. Reading some of those that do is like leafing through a stack of camp councilor applications.

"Leanna Mitchell, [the candidate in Bulkley Valley-Stikine] spent this past year at the University of Victoria on a scholarship taking a variety of courses including Math, Physics, Political Science, English, Biology, History and Greek and Roman studies.

"Her hobbies include playing the piano, attending local concerts, learning French and Spanish, and canoeing, hiking, running, biking, camping and swimming in beautiful northern British Columbia."

"Mike McLean, [the candidate in Yale-Lillooet] graduated with honors from Princeton Secondary School in 2000 and was a valedictorian before moving to Victoria to study Political Science in the University Transfer program at Camosun College."

But Carr insists her kid candidates aren't spoilers. Mitchell not only won a Premier's award for public service, Carr said, she also plays a lot of sports.

Some of the other Green candidates are downright wacky. Sean Orr, the candidate for Surrey-Tynehead, is running for the chance to yell at his aunt Sheila, a Liberal incumbent.

Vancouver-Hastings candidate Ian Gregson accused the NDP of sabotaging his campaign by having his ex-wife (an NDP official) go on vacation with her new boyfriend, leaving him with the kids.

Carr says that her candidates aren't there to steal votes from the NDP. Having 79 Green candidates just means everyone has an alternative to the Liberals and the NDP.

A factor, but how?

On a sunny day, nearly five years since becoming leader of the Green Party, Adriane Carr stood guard over a booth, a stoic smile plastered on her face, as the enemy poured down the hill.

Carole James was leading an entourage of NDP supporters into an Earth Day festival in the tiny Sunshine Coast community of Roberts Creek, a fair Carr has attended for the last ten years.

James must be scared, Carr told reporters, to be here, in Carr's riding, instead of out where the Liberals are winning.

And you'd have to say she's right. Five years on as Green Party leader, if nothing else Carr will definitely be a factor in this election. At least enough of one to keep the NDP scared.

Whether that's enough for Carr to keep her job remains to be seen. But Norm Ruff certainly thinks she'll have to do better than last time to survive.

"The Greens don't fool around, we saw that from the way she took over," Ruff said. "If the party was to falter, there would be a serious leadership challenge."

Richard Warnica is on staff at The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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