Jordan: A year ago when people wondered which fringe party could matter in the 2019 election, most analysts pointed to Maxim Bernier’s newly created People’s Party of Canada. Would that party grow? Could it eat into the conservative base? Would it split the vote on the right? A year later that seems a little silly. The People’s Party is still at just a couple of points in the polls, but it turns out there is a little party that could decide the election, it was on the other side of the spectrum sitting right where it’s being all along, waiting for the rest of the country to reach the same conclusion about the key issue they’re most known for that they’d reached years ago.
News Clip: Climate change is not, and I’m going to repeat that, not an environmental issue. It’s a massive security threat, and it needs to be dealt with by government at all levels as a security threat that requires taking bold action. One of the clear things that we’ve seen from this by election and I want to congratulate all the candidates who ran it, is that Canadians are really preoccupied about climate change.
Jordan: Are Canadians really ready to meet the Green Party where they’ve been living all these years? Sure, every poll shows support for the party is rising. But look, rising is relative when your as low in the polls as the greens typically are in federal elections. So even if that general support is there, will it translate to results? Will it translate to ridings won? Can it make a difference on election night? And if it does, at whose expense? Welcome to the fight for the climate vote.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Cormac Mac Sweeney is the Parliament Hill reporter for CityNews, and for the Rogers Radio Brands, and also for us. Hi Cormac.
Cormac: Hey, how’s it going?
Jordan: It is going really well. I’m hoping that you can kind of parse this brewing fight on the left side of the political spectrum right now for us.
Cormac: It’s a remarkable dynamic right now, months to go before the election we’re seeing votes evaporate for both the Liberals and the New Democrats, and they’re all shifting green. You know, the old saying it ain’t easy being green well, it’s pretty easy right now because things are looking up for Elizabeth May and her party. We’ve got the greens polling at probably the best that they’ve ever pulled at federally. Some polls have them up at around 12% which is huge because back in 2015 the greens were, I think, less than 5% of the vote so they’ve more than doubled their voting base in the lead up to the 2019 fall election, so they’re firing on all cylinders right now and the Liberals and New Democrats are wondering what the heck to do to make sure that they keep those voters on their sides but also not only that, steal voters from the other Progressive Party is to try and make sure that they can secure some sort of victory and try and stop the conservatives, who are also firing on all cylinders right now. So it’s a heck of a fight on the left as the conservatives continue to gain momentum, and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.
Jordan: Is there anything concrete you can point to? I know we’ve talked a couple times on this podcast, most notably when they had a chance in PEI of the sort of general affection the greens are seeing, and the rise in the polls. But is there anything concrete you can point to that might be driving people moving to consider the greens?
Cormac: Some of this is based on stats, and polls, and others is based sort of anecdotally. But I think what we’re seeing is a few different things here, that is just creating this perfect scenario for the Green Party. One is the fact that climate change and the concerns around climate change on a broader national scale are finally catching up with what the Green Party has been preaching for years and years and that is we need to take action to protect the environment and protect our Earth, and Canadians are now really catching up to the point where this is becoming one of the biggest issues seen nationally among the voting public, that action needs to be taken and serious action at that. That’s one thing, one aspect of it is that Canadians are catching up with the concerns for the Greens but the other aspect to all of this is that we’re seeing kind of a collapse and a failure, if you will, from the Liberals and NDP to take a look at the New Democrats side of things, Jagmeet Singh is failing to gain traction since taking over the party leadership. We’ve seen the NDP a fallen support. He struggled to get the attention that he was hoping to get, there was a lot of excitement around Jagmeet Singh in the hope that he would be this charismatic, dynamic young leader that would really help bolt the NDP back to the level that we saw with Jack Layton. That has not happened at all, and he’s struggled in a number of interviews as well, where he’s been accused of being too vague on certain issues, or possibly flip flopping on others. And so while the new Democrats are struggling, the Liberals have had problems of their own. Justin Trudeau, back in 2015 was able to unite the progressives behind him. He stole from Green supporters, and NDP supporters and some conservatives, and really built up this perfect sort of momentum around him during that long campaign in 2015 that helped vault him from third, him and the Liberals, from third party status to government, it had never happened before. But since taking office, a lot of the promises, and a lot of the things that he was elected on have created problems for him. Just looking at things like…. the promise to change the way we elect our MPs. There was a lot of hope that would actually happen. It never ended up happening. The liberals have had other scandals such as SNC Lavalin and the more recent problems of the Mark Norman case. Those are eating away at liberal support as well, and on top of all of that, I mean with the environment being a big issue in the eyes of Canadians, some are pointing out what some people see as a contradiction of the liberal position. While they say we need to take serious action on climate change, we’d need this carbon tax, here’s the government buying the trans mountain pipeline to make sure that the oil from our oil sands is being sent off to other markets, something a lot of people who are very passionate about the environment disagree with, and so you have a lot of troubles for the Liberals and the NDP right now, and a lot of progressives who don’t know where to turn because they’re dissatisfied with what they see from what has traditionally been the two left or left of center parties and now they’re looking to the greens as a possible viable option and so you have this perfect scenario, as I said, where climate change is becoming more of an important issue in the eyes of Canadians, the traditional parties that Canadians have known for decades are not satisfying a lot of these younger voters and they’re deciding, you know what, maybe whether it’s a protest vote or legitimately giving the greens a shot, they’re definitely looking at the greens with a lot of serious consideration.
Jordan: When they look at them, especially for those people for whom climate is a major issue, what do they see exactly? What gives the Green Party the credibility on climate? Do they have a specific plan?
Cormac: They do, and actually it was just recently released. They entitled it mission possible, and I think the whole thing is that the Greens for years have been branding themselves as the environmental party. Now that could work against them in certain ways where they’re sort of seen as only a one issue party, and it’s an image that they’ve been trying to shake for some time now under Elizabeth May but nonetheless, the greens are seen as a very credible party when it comes to the environment. You ask any Canadian like who do you think is the party that would do the most to try and save the environment, I think the Green Party would likely be the number one answer. So they did release this ambitious plan for the environment at a time when a lot of Canadians are paying attention to these issues. They are pitching to go well beyond what the Liberal government has said will be its targets in terms of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. I mean well beyond in the fact they want to double the reduction target. So the Liberals say they want to try and hit 30% to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 30% by 2030. Well the Green Party says we can do better than that, we’ll do 60% of reduction from the 2005 levels by 2030. That’s a dramatic shift, and they’re not just looking at, you know, pricing pollution as a way to deal with this, they’re talking about some major projects such as retrofitting every building across the nation and, you know, eliminating our reliance on foreign oil, making sure that from province to province, renewable energy can be more easily shared, something that even the conservatives are kind of pitching with their energy corridor option right now. So the Greens have released a very ambitious plan, and I guess now that it’s out there, it hasn’t had a lot of time to really set in for Canadians, whether they’re paying attention to promises like this so far out from the election or not is another thing. But we’ll see how they respond with these very ambitious targets that Elizabeth May and her Green Party have put forward.
Jordan: Two weeks ago the Greens actually won a by election, which feels like something that doesn’t happen. How did that come about and what happened in Ottawa afterwards, because what I’m fascinated by in this story is the number of people who have seen a rise in the polls from the greens but to your point, written them off as a one issue party or well they can’t climb that high, can they? And did this send a message? Are there people in Ottawa talking about them now?
Cormac: There are definitely people talking about the greens, and I think this by election victory, although and I will say that by election results are usually not reflective of where things go in a general election. But it is a way, and it’s seen by some as a way to send a message to the government of the day. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the day after the by election that he gets it. There’s a message from Canadians. They care about climate change and they want to see action on climate change, and that’s what his government is focused on through its carbon pricing system. And so I think there was a message sent to both the Liberals and the NDP that they needed to up their game when it comes to environmental issues. The NDP as well has sort of changed its tactics since that by election result, and so I think a lot of politicians, while they were seeing some of this growth in this so called green wave sweep across the nation and a lot of buzz and a lot of talk about the greens, it wasn’t until we saw on a federal scale a victory such as having the second elected MP from the Green Party arrive at the House of Commons before they started to really, you know, publicly address this because I’m sure that behind the scenes, both those parties were looking at the greens as a potential threat and trying to figure out what to do. But again, this is all come recently for the Greens, where they’ve seen this rise over the last several months. As we mentioned part of it to do with the focus on climate change, part of it to do with the distaste of the otherwise traditional parties that Canadians have been voting for a while. But I think there was a message sent and people are adapting.
Jordan: How do people see Elizabeth May, who maybe until recently, not many of them ever thought much about?
Cormac: There’s a bit of a joke around Ottawa that Elizabeth May is everyone’s political aunt. You know, she’s a likable person, she has something to say about almost everything. But up until recently, I don’t think a lot of people actually were considering her as potential prime ministerial material, and I think more people are sort of giving her a bit of a shot. She’s not distasteful in anyway, you know you haven’t seen Elizabeth May be the subject of a lot of controversy. She has. She’s had her own problems within her own party, there has been pushed back. There have been allegations that she’s been a bully as a leader, things like that. But whether Canadians have been paying a lot of attention to that is something else. She is seen as somebody who has integrity, who has a passion for what she does, and I would be hard pressed to find another MP in the House of Commons who spends as much time in the House of Commons debating on almost every different subject then Elizabeth May. So she’s very committed to her work. There is broad support for Elizabeth May, but whether that translates into prime ministerial materials is something else. A Nano’s poll that just came out recently, actually has her in terms of the preferred prime minister, she’s still well back behind Andrew Sheer and the current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who come in and around 28, 27% each. May is actually in third, back at 10%, but she still holds about a three point lead ahead of the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, so you could argue that anecdotally she was kind of written off by a lot of voters as you know, we like her, she seems like a nice person but she’s not Prime Ministerial material. She’s starting to change those perceptions a little bit, and she’s climbing in terms of the preferred prime minister index as well as you know, in terms General Party Support. So things are looking up for her, but a week is a long time in politics, let alone months to go before the next election. I think both for Elizabeth May, in terms of her personal branding, and the Green Party in terms of their national branding as a party, they have to be concerned right now that they don’t crest too soon. that the wave doesn’t break a little bit too early before the election campaign.
Jordan: Yeah, that was my next question is just what do they need to do from here to make sure that they can grow that base? Because, you know, we’re talking about numbers like 12% being really impressive for the Green Party, and that’s great to see if you’re a Green Party supporter, but it is, 12% is a long way from where a legitimate contending party wants to be.
Cormac: That’s true. It’s still very far away from, you know, becoming the governing party of our federal government. But at the same time they’re on their way up. The question now is what will they be able to do to actually keep this up nationally? And there’s a lot of risk, because of the fact as we just talked about, they might be cresting too early. They have a lot of momentum from earned media basically through their achievements, whether it be the opposition in PEI or the bi election win in Nanaimo, Lady Smith out in BC, and they won’t get that kind of bump up again throughout the summer months because we’re not anticipating toe have any massive surge for the greens in any other type of electoral format. So you know, we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Over the summer a lot of Canadians just tune out first of all, so a lot of the momentum that they’re getting right now when Canadians get back in September and start to get back to their daily routines, will they still feel the same way about the greens? The Liberals are starting an interesting messaging line right now, which the Greens have to be concerned about, and they’re countering as well. The Liberals in the days after the Nanaimo Lady Smith by election where the Greens won the second MP, the Liberals started saying that they needed to unite against the conservatives, and then the conservative premiers who are fighting against the carbon tax that progressives and Canadians had to unite against the best option to protect that action on climate change. Now that is clearly a call for Green Party members and new Democrats to say, if you want to stop the conservatives, your best option is a liberal, and that kind of fear tactic politicking does work at times, it depends on every scenario, we’ll have to wait and see what happens in 2019 but that’s the way the Liberals are likely going to play it whether they’re flat out saying don’t vote Green otherwise you’re voting for Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives and other conservative premieres or whether they’re sort of hinting at it, that’s the message that’s going to be sent to voters. So Elizabeth May, not to be outdone, is kind of countering this in in a little way. She was on Huffington Post’s podcast recently, and she said that she hopes that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau still tries to form a government even if he doesn’t win the most seats in the House of Commons, and it’s an interesting tactic because I will say this for Elizabeth May she’s always talked and defended different parliamentary options in the House of Commons, which, according to our parliamentary democracy, you can have a party finish second and still get the confidence of the house and still remain government, even though they didn’t win the most seats from the other parties. That is a possibility, it happens in other countries, it could happen in Canada if there’s a will to do that. But she’s pitching that sort of softening the voters to the idea that the Greens could play a role in being decision makers, in being the balance of power to support the liberals. So while the Liberals are saying don’t vote green because you could be voting conservative, the greens are saying vote green because we could be the balance of power in a situation where Andrew Sheer could form government but we might be able to help stave that off anyway. And so they’re at least giving those voters the option to say, well wait a second, it might not be so bad if we have more greens. Especially in BC where the Green Party does hold the balance of power right now with the NDP in government, and as much as BC was stuck after that election in a very tricky situation, you know, their provincial government hasn’t blown up yet, and so this is probably going to lean towards millennials, and younger generation voters who don’t traditionally stick with the traditional parties, it’s not your grandpas politics anymore. They might be much more open to having a minority situation than what we’ve seen in the past.
Jordan: I saved this question last because it’s kind of crappy to ask, but it keeps occurring to me. You mentioned that we’re going to spend all summer without a chance for the greens to really jump back into the fray and get some more publicity. If this summer is really bad in terms of wildfires, which there’s one out in Alberta right now, and flooding which we’ve seen in Quebec, and Ottawa, and other places, is that the way that the greens stay in this conversation? Does that help them?
Cormac: It would be unfortunate that natural disasters is the reason why we’re talking more and more about protecting our environment. But it’s just a fact that we are seeing more of these stories pop up in the discussion turning as a result of you know, whether it be wildfires, or flooding, the political conversation around these natural disasters is shifting towards what we need to do to prevent this moving forward. The greens are definitely going to be a part of that discussion. Anytime that pops up you see a lot of reporters gathering around Elizabeth May asking her what she thinks on these issues. She is a federal party leader, first of all, but at the same time, that’s right up the Green Party’s alley. So if we have a summer where this is kept consistently in the spotlight, yeah the Green’s will stay a part of that conversation, that could help at least maintain the support in the rise that they’ve seen in the past. I think one issue and one risk for the greens here as well is sort of being shut out of the conversation. Not so much of the fear factor that could pop up where the Liberals say don’t vote green or you might get the Conservatives as a government, but it’s interesting because the conservatives, whether it be Alberta Premier Jason Kenny, Ontario premier Doug Ford, federal leader Andrew Sheer, they’re all really attacking the Liberals and only attacking the Liberals. The conservative path to victory out of all of this is to have a split progressive vote. They like seeing the greens doing so well, they like seeing the NDP and greens around that same 12 to 14 percentage point mark, because it’s eating away at the liberal chances of winning some of these more contested ridings, and so that could allow the Conservatives with just maintaining their 30% bass to come right up the middle and win a lot of these seats. So they need to see these other Progressive Party’s do well if they want to stave off the Liberals. But the conservative messaging around all of this has been attack the liberals, attack the liberals, attack the Liberals. So what they’re doing as a result of that is potentially making this a two party race, and that’s what the Liberals would like it, they want to be seen as the only other option. But through this debate over the carbon tax, it’s become conservative versus liberal as opposed to progressives versus conservatives. And so that’s a risk for the Green Party over the summer if we are talking about this and the conservatives choose to only attack the carbon tax over all of this and they really want to hit hard on the cost of living aspect of the carbon tax, then you know, for the NDP and the greens, they risk being shut out of the conversation simply because of the tactics being used by The Conservatives. We’ll see if there’s a softening and a change of tone from the Conservatives as they fine tune their message, because they do want to make sure that both of the other progressive parties are being, I guess you know, a thorn in the side if you will to the Liberals. But it’s gonna be a very interesting dynamic. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall, and I find that fascinating. I’m really excited to see how this all shakes out. Can the greens holds this sort of momentum? You know it be tough, it will be hard for them to do it, but there’s a possibility there. What happens with the NDP? Can they see a last minute surge in any way whatsoever? And then you know, regionally in terms of specific ridings, how this all breaks down for the Liberals and whether we see a collapse in liberal, not necessarily popular support across the country, but in terms of liberal seats in the House of Commons because of you know, a more general progressive support vote amongst different parties. Nobody knows. We’ll wait and see what happens but It’s gonna be a fascinating race to the finish for the fall 2019 vote.
Jordan: Thanks Cormac.
Cormac: Any time.
Jordan: Cormac Mac Sweeney. Always a pleasure, he’s our man on Parliament Hill. And that was The Big Story, for more from us we’re at thebigstorypodcast.ca, and @thebigstoryfpn on Twitter. Leave us some feedback, tell us what you think. You can find all of the Frequency Podcast Network podcasts at frequencypodcastnetwork.com, and you can find us on any podcast platform you choose. Apple, Google, Stitcher, Spotify, Luminary, you don’t even have to pay for us if you’re on luminary, we’re not behind that wall. Thanks for listening, I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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