Despite their small stature in Parliament, the Green Party, Bloc Québécois and the People’s Party could each impact the election result on October 21. Our analysis of their pre-election prospects caps off our spotlight on each political party heading into #Elxn43, with previous blogs examining the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP.
Green Party of Canada
With the writ period upon us any day now, the Green Party seems to be on the upswing. The Greens’ fundraising and polling numbers are at the highest points they have ever been, mostly at the expense of the NDP. Just last week, the Greens benefitted from a high-profile defection of several provincial NDP candidates in New Brunswick – though not as many as were originally reported. In the aftermath of this episode, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have been publicly sniping at each other – reflecting the battle for third place nationally, polls tightening between the two parties. With a motivated volunteer base and a likeable leader, Elizabeth May could ride a “Green Wave” in certain parts of the country as the Greens look to grow beyond their current two seats. With rising popularity comes new scrutiny, however, from both the media and the other parties. The Greens may have had an easy ride in the past, but the “big three” parties may be turning their sights on them this election. Is Elizabeth May up to the task?
What voters are they targeting?
Naturally, the Green Party is targeting those concerned about the environment and climate change, a topic which has never been more salient. This puts them into direct competition with the Liberals and NDP for votes. With Liberal poll numbers currently below their 2015 results it is possible that some previous Liberal voters may be considering the Greens, as climate change now rivals affordability as a top voter issue, particularly among the millennials who delivered Trudeau’s majority last election. Meanwhile, polling indicates that the NDP has lost significant support to the Greens in several areas such as Atlantic Canada, Ontario, Vancouver Island, and BC’s Lower Mainland. The impact on vote-splitting could be significant, as polling suggests the Greens could win as many as eight seats nationally and play spoiler in many other ridings.
Policies So Far
The Greens naturally have a more aggressive climate policy than any of the major parties. They want to double the Paris targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030, rather than 30 per cent. They would quadruple the carbon price from $50 to $200 per-tonne, support home retrofits and ban the sale of combustion-engine cars after 2030, replacing all existing combustion-engine vehicles by 2040. The Greens would also ban foreign oil imports while opposing all pipeline development.
On the social side of the platform, the Greens have an ambitious plan that extends well beyond federal jurisdiction, promising a “Guaranteed Liveable Income,” national pharmacare, abolishing tuition and cancelling student debt. They also advocate for proportional representation.
What are their strengths?
The Greens are the only party whose leader has left a net positive impression on voters, and have an increasingly secure power base on Vancouver Island that they can grow from. The national brand as the party most concerned about climate change is helping the Greens, as some polling now indicates that Canadians believe climate change is as big an issue as a growing economy.
What are their weaknesses?
For the Greens, their greatest weakness is the inability to deliver on polling numbers going into election day. They often poll well between elections, only to see voters choose between the main parties when the future direction of the country is at stake. It remains to be seen if the Greens’ support will materialize this election, or if it is all just smoke and mirrors.
Compounding this challenge will be the growing pains that come with aspiring to be a truly national party. While the Green Party’s Q2 fundraising total of $1.4 million essentially tied the NDP, it still lags well behind the other parties. At the same time, the Greens have struggled to professionalize their political operations while staying true to their core principles.
What is their advertising strategy to date?
The focus of the Greens’ advertising in the pre-writ period has been to leverage the growing consensus around the climate crisis and Elizabeth May’s personal popularity. Already stealing away many NDP voters, May is also targeting Justin Trudeau through online ads on Facebook, running eight different Facebook ads throughout July. There are two overriding themes: one is that the Liberals have not kept their promises on climate action, and two, Elizabeth May is the leader who will act on protecting the climate and rise above partisan politics. Interestingly, the Green Party did not launch any ads in August – potentially saving their ad dollars for the writ period.
What is their range of outcomes?
The Green Party’s goal this election is to increase their current seat count from two to at least a range of three to five by sweeping Vancouver Island. They will target other regions where they have strong provincial support, such as Guelph in Ontario, PEI and New Brunswick, where they could increase their vote count. The ultimate goal is to reach party status in the House of Commons (12 seats), but even the most positive polling has them falling far short. The problem for the Greens is that while their support is growing and can disrupt many races, it is not concentrated in enough regions to put many Green candidates over the top.
Ridings to watch:
Victoria – Long time NDP MP Murray Rankin is not running in the 2019 election, opening the seat to new challengers. In 2015, the Greens placed a distant second but managed to pick up 21 points on their previous showing at the expense of the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals, potentially indicating a shift in seat allegiance. Local city councillor Laurel Collins will represent the NDP while Racelle Kooy will run for the Greens.
The rest of Vancouver Island – With the Greens’ by-election win in Nanaimo-Ladysmith and an open contest in Victoria, there are rumblings that a shift has slowly been taking place with progressive voters moving to the Greens over the NDP, putting traditionally safe NDP seats in jeopardy. If this happens, three to four additional seats could be close on election night, as the NDP fights to keep its base and the Greens aggressively try to expand their seat count.
The rest of Canada – From PEI where the Greens formed the party’s first provincial Official Opposition, to Guelph, where provincial leader Mike Schreiner was elected to Queen’s Park last year, the Green Party has started to turn sentiment into votes. Whether that translates into seats or playing spoiler to other parties remains to be seen.
How will vote splitting benefit/hurt them?
The Greens will likely do well in two-way races across Vancouver Island, but they will struggle to get the plurality of votes elsewhere in Canada. Progressive vote-splitting could net them a few seats, but will more likely see the Greens playing spoiler in ridings across Canada in tight races. If the Greens take votes from disaffected progressives who voted or Liberal or NDP in the past, they may help to elect Liberals in traditionally NDP ridings, and Conservatives in traditionally Liberal ridings.
Arguably one of the most interesting stories in this pre-election period is the Bloc Québécois, who have seen their zombie-like come back to life as they pivoted away from independence as their main electoral plank, and are instead focusing on climate change and Québec’s role in the climate crisis debate. The recently reunited caucus has a new leader in Yves-Francois Blanchet, and seems to be primed for a showing strong enough to get them back to official party caucus status in the House of Commons after the election. The seats being targeted will likely come at the expense of the NDP, as the Bloc tries to take back previously lost battleground electoral districts in and around Québec City and Montreal.
Like the Greens, the Bloc is targeting environmentally-minded voters in Québec, along with those who want to see greater powers for Québec. As a result, their coalition seems to be restructuring the party by occupying NDP and Conservative territory that the two parties had worked hard to develop over the last ten years. Depending on how much support the Bloc gains, it could harm the ruling Liberals who were hoping to capture the NDP vote and run the table in Québec thanks to a potential vote split.
The Bloc is only contesting seats in Québec, but the regions they are targeting deserve special attention. The traditional ground that the Bloc often occupies largely focuses around Québec City and the majority of rural Québec, areas the Conservatives and the NDP have been working diligently to bring into each of their own camps. With the Liberals polling strongly at this time, it is unlikely the Bloc will focus on fortress Montreal as they seek party status after losing it in the past two elections.
Policies so far
Under new leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, the Bloc is not giving up on the idea of nationhood for Québec, but it won’t be the sole issue that they run on in this election. Certain staples such as repealing the Clarity Act, advocating for independence, and supporting Québec’s social programs are still important planks, but in this election, there is a much greater focus on the environment.
The Bloc has always had the benefit of focusing their resources on one region, but in recent years it has become difficult to hold their turf against national parties. With their internal in-fighting seemingly behind them, the Bloc can target grassroots organizing, regionally-tailored messaging, and strategic deployment of resources to a much more refined area than the other parties. As a result, they stand a good chance of winning more seats than the Greens on election day.
The vote-split that the Bloc relies on so heavily to win seats could prove to be their downfall if enough federalists return to the Liberal side and the soft nationalist vote splits two or three different ways. With a healthy lead in the Québec polls, the Liberals are eyeing not just the entirety of the NDP’s Québec caucus, but the Bloc’s remaining 10 seats as well.
The Bloc’s social media strategy seems to target their traditional support base in rural Québec with promises to protect the lucrative dairy industry and its supply management system from being broken up. They are also targeting electoral reform, promising public funding for political parties while also standing up for Québec and its independence. The Bloc ran five ads in July and only one in August, encouraging previous supporters to look at the party again as they try to recover lost support that they bled to the NDP and Conservatives.
Range of outcomes?
The Bloc’s high-water mark was forming Official Opposition in 1993 in the aftermath of the failed Charlottetown Accord and the decimation of the Progressive Conservatives. There is little chance of that happening again, however with a weak NDP, the Bloc has a real chance of recouping enough seats to achieve official party status in the House of Commons. This could position them to potentially hold the balance of power in a minority government situation. By virtue of the constitution, the Liberals will get first chance to form government in a minority situation, and while the NDP seem like a logical partner from a policy perspective, the Bloc or Greens could win enough seats to factor into balance of power in the House Commons after the election.
Ridings to watch:
Beloeil–Chambly – NDP MP Mathew Dubé will be contending against Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet. If Dubé manages to hold onto his seat, it would spell trouble for the Bloc as someone else in the Bloc Caucus could be asked step aside for a by-election. This seat is also being eyed by the Liberals which could make for an interesting contest.
Hochelaga – Arguably one of the closest three-way races in the country, it is far too early to suggest who has the edge in Hochelaga, given how tight the race is between the NDP, Liberals and Bloc. If we had to pick a riding that will go late with recounts it would be this one.
Longueuil—Saint-Hubert – The surprise defection of MP Pierre Nantel from the NDP to the Greens makes this race one to watch. The question is, what will Nantel’s voters do? Do they stay with the NDP, follow Nantel who has represented the area for eight years, or do they go Bloc or Liberal?
Of all parties in Canada, vote-splitting helps the Bloc the most. In 2015, the Bloc didn’t receive more than 50 per cent in any of the districts they won, and in the riding of Pierre-Boucher—Les Patriotes—Verchères, the Bloc only won with 28 per cent of the vote. The Bloc will be counting on the vote split in the coming election to pick up seats in four and even five-way races as the Greens start to register in Québec. As a result, there are a number of ridings where the Bloc may only need the support of a third of voters to win. These races will need to be closely monitored on Election Day as they could determine who forms the government, or who may hold the balance of power
People’s Party of Canada
It is easy to write off Maxime Bernier as an unfortunate political sideshow, as he grinds the axe for his narrow loss of the Conservative Party leadership. His style of grievance politics is unfamiliar to many in Canada, and his polling numbers have been unremarkable. He is unlikely to be included in the official debates and has been plagued with news stories about white nationalist candidates, inflammatory remarks and organizational chaos.
However, it would be a mistake to not pay him serious attention. In nearly every other democracy in the developed world, ethno-nationalist populist parties have emerged from the political wreckage of the Great Recession.
Even in cases where these parties have not formed government, they have had a profound impact on their respective countries and politics. Despite never having obtained more than a few seats in the UK House of Commons, it is hard to argue that UKIP has not forever altered that country and its politics. Without Nigel Farage, Brexit would be an idea relegated to the crank’s domain of letters to the editor and online newspaper comment sections.
Whether it is Trump, Bolsonaro, Farage or Kurz, the far-right has rapidly emerged as the first serious challenge to the duopoly of post-war progressivism and think-tank conservatism.
Many pollsters have argued that there is no cultural or structural reason why Canada would be immune to this trend. After all, we are subject to the same forces of globalization, inequality and ecological crises as everyone else. Others have argued that Canada’s high education levels and diverse society serve as a bulwark against populism.
What are their strengths?
The real question is whether Bernier is organized enough to ride this wave. There are some early indications that he might. Earlier this year, the PPC pulled in an astonishing 10 per cent of the vote in the Burnaby South by-election that elected NDP leader Jagmeet Singh – pulling in more votes than any national or regional polls would have predicted. As of September 5, they had nominated 314 candidates – more than any other party, other than the Conservatives. In the first quarter of this year, they raised $764,000 – an impressive feat given how new the party is.
Who are they targeting?
As in other jurisdictions, there is a sense that the People’s Party might be speaking to a group of voters who pollsters have a difficult time measuring. These are people who are otherwise disengaged with electoral politics, or who might be embarrassed to admit that they support a party on the ideological fringes.
Ridings to watch
While the PPC may have little chance of winning more than a few seats, their impact may be felt in other ways. If the Conservative Party loses more than three per cent of its voters to the PPC, their prospects of forming government becomes unlikely. Close races in the 905, BC or Atlantic Canada will be delivered to the Liberals, shifting potentially dozens of seats. A couple of notable candidates could draw greater attention to the PPC, such as Renata Ford in Etobicoke, and former Conservative MP (and current Manitoba MLA) Steven Fletcher in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley.
Range of Outcomes
Depending on the election outcome, a fight for the heart of the Conservative party could begin after the election. Hardliners will point to the PPC as evidence that the party needs to move further to the right, while the moderate, Bay Street wing of the party may lose even more influence.
Or, in six weeks, Bernier could simply become a historic footnote. Time will tell.
Sheamus has over 15 years of experience in government, communications and public affairs, including on Parliament Hill, at Queen’s Park and in the private sector. Before joining Counsel, he was Acting Vice-President, Corporate Affairs and Communications at Shoppers Drug Mart. At Queen’s Park, Sheamus served as Director of Communications to the Minister of Health and Long-term Care and in senior roles with the Attorney General and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.
Ben Parsons is a high-tech political professional who has worked on central campaigns at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. He has extensive experience in issues management, digital advocacy and public engagement campaigns. Federally, Ben served as a senior advisor at the Liberal Research Bureau (LRB) in government where he provided guidance on political risk management and media strategy. Ben also worked at the LRB between 2009 and 2011 in opposition.
Evan is an experienced political organizer who has worked in the House of Commons and on campaigns at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Evan’s training includes a double Master’s degree from the University of Toronto and the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs specializing in the evolution of Chinese governance practices. Prior to joining Counsel, he served as the Executive and Legislative Affairs Manager for a Member of Parliament, where he provided support for the MP’s roles as Parliamentary Secretary for Democratic Institutions, and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.