Saturday, October 13, 2007

Leapfrogging Greens

As expected, the 2007 Ontario election campaign proved to be the "great leap forward" for the Green Party of Ontario, comparable to that experienced by the Green Party of Canada in 2004.

Voter support for the GPO tripled from 2.7% of the popular vote in 2003 to 8% last week. This far surpasses the 5.5% garnered by the federal party in 2006, and bodes well for Elizabeth May's chances to lead the GPC to double-digit figures and perhaps even seats in the House of Commons in the next federal election.

In Peterborough, Liberal incumbent Jeff Leal was sent back to Queen's Park by a comfortable margin, as most expected. Leal's sheer stamina in public service, including many years as a south-end Peterborough municipal councillor, no doubt played a major role in his re-election, as did his party's support of the Catholic school system.

Once again, Peterborough proved to be a "bellweather" riding as voting results here mirrored the overall provincial results. Leal had 48% of the popular vote, while his party averaged 42%. Leal's vote total, 24,425, was only 200 shy of his total for 2003.

PC candidate Bruce Fitzpatrick, the well-known downtown lawyer, resembled in some ways his own party leader John Tory with his businessman image and smooth command of rhetoric. Both men fell well short of their supporters' expectations, with Fitzpatrick garnering less than 26% of the vote, well below the 33% earned by then-PC incumbent Gary Stewart in 2003. In fact, Fitzpatrick's vote total of 13,093 was over 5000 votes fewer than Stewart's, likely indicating that many PC voters stayed home rather than vote for the Toronto-centered Tory and religious school funding. The PCs averaged 31.6% provincially, down from 34.7% in 2003, representing a drop of 200,000 votes across the province.

Dave Nickle, the local NDP candidate, also lost votes from his 2003 totals, dropping from 9796 to 8488, even while his party picked up 80,000 votes across the province. Nickle's 2007 support equalled 16.6% of the popular vote, almost identical to the NDP's provincial average.

Miriam Stucky, Peterborough's Green Party candidate, was the only local candidate who increased her party's vote totals from 2003 - and they increased significantly. In 2003, Tim Holland picked up 1605 votes. Stucky nearly tripled this figure, with 4,444, representing 8.7% of the popular vote. This vote total is more than half that of the NDP, and more than a third that of the PCs. This is an incredible accomplishment, given that the Green Party locally spent only about a tenth as much money on its campaign as did its rivals, had no television advertising, and was shut out of the televised leaders' debate again. Stucky's vote total was 20th in Ontario among Green candidates.

Across the province there were simliar success stories. The most notable was Shane Jolley's unprecedented run-off with PC imcubment Bill Murdoch in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound. Jolley was running at 28% in the polls the week before the election, while Murdoch, a 17 year veteran as riding representative, caused controversy by breaking ranks with his party over the religious school funding issue and watched his support tumble. Volunteers from other ridings joined Shane's team in Owen Sound in an valiant attempt to push Shane past Murdoch and take the seat. Their efforts were rewarded, as voters poured out of the woodwork and away from the Liberals and NDP, casting more than 15,000 votes for Jolley, or 33% of the popular vote. Murdoch's supporters rallied around him, whether in spite of or because of his split with Tory, and he managed to recapture his support with more than 21,000 votes, or 47%.

As a result of the tightly-contested race, voter turnout in the riding was over 66%,dramatically higher than the provincial average, which was an all-time low 52%. However, Murdoch's breaking-of-ranks with Tory didn't help the fortunes of the leader or the other PC candidates, and given the extremely low vote totals of the local NDP and Liberal candidates, may not have even been necessary to his own re-election.

Other major Green victories occured in neighbouring ridings in rural Ontario. Ben Polley in Guelph managed to earn almost 20% of the vote, while Rob Strang in Dufferin-Caledon picked up 17%. Support was also strong in nearby Simcoe-Grey, Simcoe-North, and Wellington-Halton Hills. Green candidates in urban ridings in downtown Toronto, Ottawa and London were also highly successful at the ballot box. All told, 19 GPO candidates had double-digit vote totals, and 21 finished in third place (or in Jolley's case, second), leapfrogging either their PC or NDP rivals.

Leader Frank de Jong managed more than 10% in his downtown Toronto riding of Davenport, in spite of low voter turnout and his obligation to spend most of his time touring the province.

It sometimes seems absurd to be evaluating progress toward sustainability on the numerical results of these popularity contests we call general elections. With our antiquated system of disproportional representation, the Liberal government is now free to move ahead with its outrageously inadequate energy policies and maintain its foot-dragging on issues of water conservation, toxic chemical regulation, and status quo positions on health and education.

Nevertheless, the Green Party's rising vote totals are incontrovertible evidence that Ontario's population is ever-more ready to embrace the significant changes urgently needed. Polls show that support for the Green Party and for electoral reform are quite high among younger voters, whose voices are unfortunately dwarfed by the large number of older voters in Ontario who tend to be highly resistant to change, less well educated, and much more likely to actually show up to vote.

The 2007 election has shown us that it's not a matter of "if" for sustainable public policy and electoral reform, but a matter of "when".

1 comment:

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins said...

In referring to the Green party of Ontario's recent 8% vote share, you mention "the 5.5% garnered by the federal party in 2006". However, the Green Party only received 4.5% of the national vote, 4.7% in Ontario, in 2006. So the Oct 10 GPO result is almost double that more recent one, as well as being almost triple their own 2003 result. Recent polls have the GPC at well over 10% federally, so we expect strong things in that area.