BALDREY: Green Party by-election win not the start of a Green wave

That breakthrough victory by the federal Green Party in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election was certainly impressive, but it is by no means indicative of some kind of Green wave just waiting to roll across the country.

To hear Green leaders such as Elizabeth May and Andrew Weaver tell it, the win by new MP Paul Manly is the first of what will be numerous victorious Green Party candidates across the country come the October election.

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The always-optimistic Green leaders are now positively gushing with hope that the federal party is on the verge of some kind of election result this fall that will vault them into a lofty stratosphere.

While there is certainly a good chance the Greens will add numbers to their still-tiny two-person caucus, some reality needs to be injected into the conversation. In addition, reality often seems to be far away from the Greens’ predictions when it comes to election outcomes (although, to their credit, the Greens did predict a runaway victory in Nanaimo-Ladysmith).

First, this was a by-election, folks. Not a general election, but the kind of vote where the outcome is essentially meaningless since it would have no impact in determining which party is in government. It has also been called the “mulligan” by-election since voters there will be given another chance to elect their MP in just a few short months’ time.

By-elections usually have low voter turnout and this one was no exception. Turnout was around 40 per cent, which meant that about 35,000 people who voted in 2015 opted to stay home and sit this one out.

It’s safe to presume most if not all of those non-participants will show up at the ballot box in October, which means trying to read too much into this by-election result is fraught with peril.

May has argued her party’s victory is proof that fighting climate change is the number one political issue on the minds of voters. While I would sincerely like that to be true, the by-election result actually shows the opposite to be the case.

If that issue were indeed so important to people in that riding, surely the Green vote would have ballooned from 2015 levels. Instead, it went up by a fraction – about 1,200 – while, again, about 35,000 people opted to not even to bother to vote.

In other words, the biggest issue in that riding by far was apathy, not fighting climate change. I hope that taking climate action will one day emerge as the most pressing problem that Canadians think requires urgent action, but unfortunately, we’re not there yet (witness the anguish expressed by Metro Vancouver motorists over rising gas prices).

Still, there is no question the victory has given the Green brand a big boost and enlarged the party’s profile beyond Vancouver Island, its traditional area of strength (there are now two MPs and three MLAs from the Island).

In addition, if May can persuade ex-Liberal attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to run under the Green banner in the fall (and maybe convince fellow disaffected Liberal Jane Philpott to do the same) her party stands to pick up a few more seats in the next election (and do not count the party out in the federal riding of Victoria).

There is also the possibility the party morphs into becoming a protest party of sorts, where those dissatisfied with the established parties go to register their scorn with the status quo. However, that is unlikely to happen as long as the Greens keep essentially “green” issues their top priorities.

Meanwhile, the federal NDP (and the Liberals in some places) may also be looking over its shoulder at the Greens gaining momentum on their turf. The Greens took Nanaimo-Ladysmith from the federal New Democrats, and may pose a threat to NDP incumbents in a few more ridings as well (the aforementioned Victoria seat).

Still, the last Angus Reid poll pegged Green support at just 11 per cent nationally. It will undoubtedly be greater in parts of B.C., Ontario and the Maritimes in the fall.

But it’s still not a Green wave. At least not yet.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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