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To Strategically Withdraw or Not? Two Greens Muse

Faced with voter requests to pull out of the race, two candidates take different stances.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 25 Sep 2015 |

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here. This coverage of Canadian national issues is made possible because of generous financial support from our Tyee Builders.

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Green candidate for London North Centre Carol Dyck won't strategically withdraw before Sept. 28.

Carol Dyck is tired of people telling her to step down as the Green Party candidate in London North Centre because she doesn't have a chance at winning.

The requests have become more common recently as the election nears, particularly from anti-Conservative voters who want candidates with little shot at winning to step aside so their votes go to those best positioned to beat a Tory.

Tyee founding editor David Beers asked "no-chance" candidates running against the Conservatives across Canada to sign a Canada First Pledge in a column earlier this week.

The pledge asked the candidates to withdraw before the deadline on Sept. 28, to leave the field clear for anyone but a Conservative.

The column drew criticism and praise from across the political spectrum. Dyck said she found the appeal "troublesome."

"I feel like I really care and that's why I'm running," she said. "I actually really, really deeply care about Canada and its future."

In 2011, the Conservative in London North Centre beat the Liberal by just 1,500 votes, and the New Democrat was 6,000 back with the Green earning 2,000 votes.

Dyck said in her case there's no guarantee her votes would go to a candidate who could win, because most of her supporters see the NDP as their second choice and that party finished a distance third in 2011.

"They're always trying to decide between me or the NDP," she said.

Meanwhile, dropping out would take away her chance to help build a base for the Green Party for years to come, she said.

No regrets for provincial Green who withdrew

Another candidate, albeit provincial, took a different stance.

Months after he raised eyebrows by stepping aside to boost the chances of a NDP win in Alberta, former Green Party candidate Noel Keough said he looks back knowing he made the right decision.

At the beginning of the campaign it looked to Keough like the Progressive Conservatives would win a landslide victory, but as NDP momentum snowballed, he saw collaboration as the best path to unseat the local Tory candidate.

"When we got into the middle of the campaign it looked like there was a chance to actually defeat [the PC Party]," Keough said. "We had conversations about whether me withdrawing could contribute to that."

What helped him make his decision was the number of people he met on doorsteps in the Calgary-Klein riding who said they liked the Green platform, but would put their vote behind the NDP as a way to ensure a PC loss.

It was clear to Keough, as a candidate for a progressive party, that dropping out of the race would provide a better chance to defeat the Progressive Conservatives.

"I think it was apparent we could make a difference potentially by making that decision," he said.

Keough said he's aware some people see it as a move out of step with democracy because he took away a Green vote, but he doesn't see it that way.

"For the most part I think these kinds of moves are necessary in a system that begins as undemocratic," he said. "First-past-the-post is totally undemocratic."

Internal data lacking: Nagata

The idea of getting politicians to drop out of the race poses significant challenges, said Kai Nagata of Dogwood Initiative, a non-partisan organization aiming to put British Columbia's land use decisions in the public's hands.

He said some candidates don’t have enough internal data to support such a move.

Dogwood has commissioned polls in tightly-contested B.C. ridings, and when candidates aren't happy with the results, they often call Nagata to complain. But not a single candidate has been able to produce their own poll data to compare with Dogwood's, Nagata said.

"For the most part the impression I get is candidates are being kept in the dark about their own polling numbers in order to keep them in the fight," he said.

That, he said, stops candidates from knowing when to strategically throw in the towel. He added it is in the parties' interest to keep candidates running, even if they lose, because dropping out can hurt party credibility across the country.

"That's why I think you don't see anybody taking [David Beers'] pledge," he said.

Dyck said she has not seen any polls of her riding other than one conducted by a third party. A poll Sept. 22 by the activist group Leadnow, which is promoting strategic voting to oust the Tories, put riding support for Dyck at five per cent.

It put the Conservatives and Liberals in a dead heat, with 35 per cent of support for each. The poll was conducted by Environics Research.

Path to pro-rep

In Keough’s riding the NDP won by more than 3,000 votes. The Alberta Greens earned just 354 votes in the riding during the previous election.

Both provincially and federally, Greens have been on the losing side of strategic voting campaigns.

But with proportional representation on the federal horizon under a Liberal or NDP federal government, Keough said the chances of a stronger Green showing will grow.

"[The Greens] could very well have 15 per cent of the vote if there was a proportional system," he said.

Keough said he received a little backlash from Green supporters in his riding when he dropped out, but in general those who had volunteered for him or supported him financially told him "it was a wise thing to do."

Dyck, however, said she doesn't trust that proportional representation will be instituted under an NDP or Liberal government.

"The only reason proportional representation has got onto the agenda of any of the debates we've had is because I have brought it up," she said. "When our Liberal candidate was asked the question, he just skirted the issue."  [Tyee]

Read more: Election 2015

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