The Green Party is developing an election strategy built around Canada’s urban centres, hoping to capitalize on promising internal polling results that have them in second or third place with double-digit support in some key ridings.
Multiple senior party strategists believe Annamie Paul, elected as party leader in October, is lifting the Greens’ prospects in cities. In a series of interviews, Green officials said they’ve never seen polling numbers like the ones they’re seeing in certain core Toronto seats.
The seats that party strategists have set their sights on are by and large held by the Liberals, not the NDP, despite recent news stories and op-eds suggesting the Greens are singling out NDP seats for competition.
"I don't know of any strategy that is targeting NDP seats," said Paul Manly, the Green MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, in an interview. “Our strategy is to run in 338 ridings, and we had really good returns in a number of ridings where the Liberals and Conservatives won seats, and we’ll be focusing on all of those areas.”
At the same time, the party is talking up issues like universal basic income, a "national housing affordability and homelessness emergency" and a "humanitarian crisis in long-term care" that Paul has linked to gaps in Canada's social programs exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think that people are hearing that we’re not just focused on environmental issues, but we’re actually leading the discussion in a number of other areas for social programs, for health care, and economic issues,” said Manly.
In Toronto Centre, Paul came in second place to Liberal MP Marci Ien in the October byelection, with 33 per cent of the vote to Ien's 42 per cent. A poll from December had the Greens holding on to second place with 30 per cent, while the Liberals had extended their lead to 45 per cent, and the Conservatives and NDP battled for third and fourth place at 14 per cent and 11 per cent.
Paul said in February that she is running in Toronto Centre again. Party officials say she was convinced by the strength of the Toronto numbers to stick around.
The Greens are also looking at Toronto-Danforth, held by Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin, where another poll from January had the Greens in third place at 20 per cent, behind the incumbent Liberals at 33 per cent, and the NDP at 37 per cent. There are 15 per cent of voters in Toronto-Danforth that are undecided, that poll found.
A third Toronto riding being examined is Spadina-Fort York, held by Liberal MP Adam Vaughan. The Greens are in third place there with 16 per cent, behind the NDP at 30 per cent and the incumbent Liberals at 43 per cent. There are 17 per cent of voters who are undecided in that riding.
Sitting at 20 per cent and 16 per cent in those two Toronto ridings before an election campaign is underway is "just incredible," one senior Green official said.
Another poll that has the Greens excited came on March 8, when an Ipsos poll for Global News had the party at 10 per cent nationally, up two points. Crossing the 10-per-cent barrier is a major morale booster for the party.
As of March 16, CBC's aggregate poll tracker had Green support at 6.6 per cent. Still, strategists are keen to portray the Ipsos poll as not a fluke, but the result of more sophisticated electoral preparation and Paul's national presence.
“Polls are polls, and the only one that really counts is the one that happens on election day,” said Manly, “but I think honestly that Annamie Paul has had a real presence on the national stage and in the media, and that’s making an impact.”
The Greens are careful to note that they are not gunning for an election. Paul warned other federal political parties in January about the need to work together to meet the needs of people in Canada, and to not let themselves become “myopic” in their electoral quest.
The trick will be successfully holding on to their support and building over the coming weeks and months, until an election comes, while maintaining their base elsewhere in B.C. and in places like southern Ontario, P.E.I., and New Brunswick.
Across the country, the party hopes to draw upon the organizational capacity of provincially elected Greens and focus on issues that resonate particularly with locals.
In Guelph, about an hour’s drive west of Toronto, the party expects to emphasize affordable housing, a major issue in a city that has seen its homes nearly double in market value over the last five years. Guelph is also the home base of Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner, who holds that party’s only seat at Queen’s Park.
The federal riding of Guelph is held by Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield. A December poll had the Greens in second place there at 27 per cent, behind the Liberals at 40 per cent and ahead of the Conservatives at 18 per cent and the NDP at 15 per cent, with 15 per cent of voters undecided.
In the West, Greens are eyeing the federal riding of Victoria, held by NDP MP Laurel Collins. A poll there shows the NDP leading at 35 per cent support, with the Greens close behind at 29 per cent, and ahead of the Liberals at 25 per cent. B.C. is home to Manly and Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May, the party’s parliamentary leader, as well as Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen in the provincial legislature.
Beyond those specific ridings, the Greens are looking at Prince Edward Island, where provincial Greens are the official Opposition with eight seats, and New Brunswick, where Greens have three provincial seats as well as federal Green MP Jenica Atwin in Fredericton.
In February, Paul announced the launch of a nationwide campaign called Time to Run. Paul described it as an attempt to build a Parliament “as diverse as the Canadians it represents.”
Manly said party volunteers are already making phone calls in his riding, reaching out to the base and beyond, and the party was gearing up to ensure it has all its candidates nominated as quickly as possible.
“We’re ready to go," he said.
Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer
Carl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer