Green Party: Seat or Status? Analysis of a Constitutional DilemmaSave this online in Del.icio.us. [?] Vote For this Post
If the Green Party elects Elizabeth May to its leadership, Greens could find themselves sitting in government while simultaneously losing their status as an official party. The Green Party leader would sit in government as an independant.
At least, that's a conclusion that could be drawn after reading the provocative news/analysis/commentary piece written by Murray Dobbin at Rabble News. The odd position the Green Party might find itself in can be explained by the goings-on in the Green Party and by Canada's constitution, which defines the functioning of the Canadian political system.
1. Current Green Party leader Jim Harris has announced he is stepping down because of the Green Party's lack of improvement in its results over the previous election. (Personally, I was surprised, by their negligeable improvement from 4.3% to 4.5%, given that they were polling over 8% at certain points in the race, but I digress...) The result is that the Green Party is having a leadership race that will culminate in an August leadership convention. May is considered by Dobbin to be the front-runner in the race (the only other candidate to date is Ottawa Centre Green candidate David Chernushenko.
Still with me? (So far, Murray Dobbin has written an editorial/news item that says Elizabeth May will succeed Jim Harris as leader of the Greens.)
That's good, because here's where it gets strange. And I don't mean strange like the story of my friend who walked his neighbour's two male dogs for years before finding out they were gay when one mounted the other on a downtown sidewalk. No, this is stranger than that, this is strange in the sense of constitutional peculiarities on the order of a constitutional law professor's wet dream.
2. A party needs to win at least 4% of the national vote to earn the status of 'official party' and the funding associated with that status, according to the Canadian constitution. For that reason, Jim Harris ran candidates in every riding in the country; Harris was giving voters in every electoral district ('riding') the option of voting Green. This optimized the Green Party's chances at attaining the 4% bar for official party status, since the 4% is counted as a percentage of the total national vote. Harris succeeded in this endeavour, and in fact earned 4.3% of the vote in 2004, as mentioned above. Editorialist Dobbins says this garnered the party 1.1 million dollars.
3. A riding is represented in Parliament by the candidate in an election who wins the most votes, still according to the Canadian constitution. Candidates who don't win the riding's seat in Parliament still see the votes they earned go towards their party's count for official party status. This is why the Green Party could be an official party without having seats in Parliament: many people voted for it, but they weren't concentrated enough in any particular riding to win the party a seat.
- So where am I going with this you ask? Dobbin writes that May might change Harris' electoral strategy, and the result is that the Greens might lose official party status and yet win a seat in Parliament.
4. Let me quote Dobbin here:
"While May would probably not replicate Harris's approach of running in every seat — in the process helping elect Conservatives and defeat NDPers — she will minimally want a seat in the House of Commons for herself. Would the NDP, in return for the Greens avoiding ridings where the NDP has a chance, facilitate her election by not running against her?"
The Greens would likely see their national vote count drop, if the Green Party runs less candidates in order to accomodate the NDP. This drop would be significant enough to reduce the Green Party's total percentage of the nation-wide vote below 4%, causing the Green party to lose its status as an official party. By extension, this would cause the Greens to lose their 1.1 million dollar funding that they get for being an official party.
On the other hand, due to the NDP's "reciprocal" accomodation (I put it in "quotation marks" because I feel the Greens would be giving much more to the NDP than the NDP would be giving in return), the Greens might finally get a seat in Parliament... provided May can beat the Conservative, Liberal, and other candidates in her riding.
I'm as conflicted on this as I was on the ethical issue I posted about yesterday concerning what I perceive as the sneaky online advertising techniques promoted by Google Adsense experts.
- On the one hand, I think the Green Party does a good job raising issues and getting politicos to at least pay lip service to the environment (which they weren't before the Green movement). So I want Greens in Parliament.
- Yet if there's only one Green in Parliament, who isn't even recognized as a Green but rather considered an independant, and the cost of getting that Green there is to lose official party status... well, I don't think having a Green in Parliament is such a great idea. One step forward and two steps back, as it were.
I should note also that May is founder of the well-known environmentalist Sierrra Club. More importantly, she wants the Green Party to grow beyond being about the environment only. This in turn might keep the Greens above official party status by getting votes from people who wouldn't vote Green since they were a one-issue party.
It comes down to crunching the statistics and seeing which approach is more beneficial electorally and financially to the Green Party.
May is definitely going to increase my interest in the Green Party, at any rate.
I'll hopefully have a comment on this development (in the near future) from Quebec NDPer Nicolas Thibodeau .
Related articles in the categories of: federal politics, the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May, Jim Harris, the Canadian political system, Constitution, and last, but not least, the NDP:
- Murray Dobbin's article on the Green Party
- Canada's Political System The Queen, the House, the Senate, the PM, the MPs etc.
- Stereotypes of the Official Parties's tax policies
- Platforms of the parties with official status