Opinion: The Greens should not take Vancouver Island for granted

Opinion: The Greens should not take Vancouver Island for granted

Will the coming election be the end of the Green Party on Vancouver Island? It very well could be considering both the shaky state of the Greens and Annamie Paul’s reticence to engage with her party’s most loyal supporters. The 44th election is in full swing and Paul has less than a month to shore up her rickety party before people go to the polls on September 20th.

Since Elizabeth May led the Green Party into parliament in 2011, the voters of Saanich and the southern Gulf Islands have dutifully returned her to parliament in both 2015 and 2019. Long the lone Green MP on Parliament Hill, May was joined by Paul Manly in 2019 after he won a by-election in Nanaimo-Ladysmith. Jenica Atwin made it a Green trifecta that same year, but it proved to be a brief one after Atwin defected to the Liberals. Back to two seats, the Greens are one bad campaign away from being swept from parliament a decade after they entered it.

Annamie Paul has had little time for Vancouver Island since becoming leader last summer. A virtual Zoom “town hall” with provincial BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau was the best the Toronto-based Paul could do. While other party leaders like Jagmeet Singh, Erin O’Toole and Justin Trudeau crisscross Canada to engage with their party faithful, Annamie Paul has not made it out west to her own base.

The Liberals dominate Montreal and Toronto while the Tories hold the Prairies. Whether the Green Party likes it or not, southern Vancouver Island is the closest thing the Greens have to a base in Canada. The party leadership evidently desires a sort of Laurentian respectability by focusing on winning seats in central Canada. Despite the internal turmoil of the Greens, the party has managed to swell its coffers with donor money. Much of it is apparently being spent on legal action stemming from squabbling within the party. If Annamie Paul’s direction as a leader is any indication, it is likely what is left over will be spent on trying to secure a seat for Paul in Toronto rather than incumbents on Vancouver Island.

Fortuitous fundraising is no guarantee of success in Canadian elections. If that were the case, the Conservatives would be Canada’s “natural governing party” instead of the Liberals. Parties succeed because of policies and popularity. If the Fairy Creek blockade and horrifying forest fires of this summer are any indication, there is much to be gained from engaging with environmental populism. Paul promised to be the “chief spokesperson” for the grassroots after becoming leader of the Greens, making her absence from BC all the more baffling.

Paul Manly, the other Paul in the Green Party, did manage to take a trip down the highway to meet with the activists at the blockade. Nonetheless, a leader’s presence is far more impactful than that of a rank-and-file MP. There is a reason why Erin O’Toole attended the Calgary Stampede himself rather than send an underling to shake hands with the Tory base in Alberta.

Annamie Paul should not take the support of Vancouver Islanders for granted. There is never a  guarantee an MP will keep their seat in an election. Even Elizabeth May is not invincible within her stronghold of Saanich-Gulf Islands. After all, Gary Lunn of the Conservatives held the same seat from 1997 until 2011 when May wrenched it away from him. It was by all metrics a Tory safe seat until it suddenly wasn’t and the Greens have no immunity from change either.

Both the federal and BC Greens hold their only seats on southern Vancouver Island. There is evidently greater support for Green policies along the lower half of the Island Highway than anywhere else in Canada. It would be a mistake for Paul to risk it all just for a shot at winning a prestigious seat in Toronto.

Author: Geoff Russ

Geoff Russ is a political journalist and writer based in British Columbia.

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