Greens look to capitalize on provincial success in the east

As he started his first haircut of the day, Sean Aylward explained that he owns two barber shops, one in Summerside, P.E.I., and another in Charlottetown, and he's never been committed in politics. 

"I've voted for every single party in my life," he declared.  

That was until he was inspired by the success of the Green Party of Prince Edward Island in the provincial election in April. Islanders elected eight Green MLAs, enough to form the Official Opposition. 

Aylward, now the campaign manager for Green candidate Alex Clark in the federal election, is hoping to capitalize on the Green momentum in his home province.

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 "We're getting a ton of good reception," he said. "A lot of people are fed up with the same old solutions to old problems."  

Don Desserud, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island, said there could also be a Green breakthrough in New Brunswick, where there are currently three Green MLAs. In the Fredericton area, provincial Green leader David Coon won his seat with with 56.7 per cent of the vote in last year's provincial election.

Chances in New Brunswick

"There's no doubt they could take a big chunk of the vote," said the CBC's polling expert Éric Grenier. "If that comes primarily from the Liberals, that could hurt their re-election chances in a number of ridings." 

Whether the support translates to federal seats, the Green surge has Liberals worried about vote-splitting, with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau urging voters to stick with the party during a campaign stop in Fredericton last month.

But unseating federal Liberals won't be easy. The Liberals currently hold all 32 seats in Atlantic Canada, including the four up for grabs on P.E.I. In fact, in the past 31 years, Islanders have only twice sent someone to Ottawa, who wasn't a Liberal — Conservative Gail Shea in 2008 and 2011. 

Desserud said historically Islanders have voted Liberal when the rest of the country does and when it doesn't.  

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Will provincial Green support translate federally?

"It's not a simple matter of taking Green Party support at the provincial level and translating over to the federal level, because you're dealing with a completely different set of dynamics," he said.

He said the provincial Greens had a popular, charismatic leader in Peter Bevan-Baker, as well as a comprehensive platform that addressed issues such as healthcare, and education in addition to the environment. 

He also said the strength of well-known Liberal incumbents — Lawrence MacAulay, Bobby Morrissey, Wayne Easter and Sean Casey — who have long political histories, can't be underestimated. 

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"As a small Island, with small constituencies, the chances of people having a close personal connection with their MP is much greater than you would have in metropolitan areas like Toronto or Vancouver," he said.  

Support for local candidate

That's exactly what's determining Ranald MacFarlane's vote. 

MacFarlane, a pig and dairy farmer in Fernwood, south of Summerside, is furious with the Liberals over the new North American trade deal. He voted Green provincially, but is still voting Liberal in the federal election. 

"I believe in Wayne Easter," he said of the Liberal candidate for Malpeque. "There is some actual good in him that I want to be on the inside in government. If it wasn't for Wayne, let me make it abundantly clear that I would vote for the Greens." 

That allegiance to local candidates makes it difficult to predict political trends on P.E.I. 

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Desserud also said that, while many who voted Green provincially did so as a "rebellious" vote against the Liberals, not necessarily for the Green platform, that may have since changed. 

"It's like a team sport, you become a part of a team and then you identify with that team," he said.

In Sean Aylward's barber shop, Dave Uza weighs in while getting his haircut. He says he feels as though he doesn't have much of an option in this election.

"I'm not going Conservatives. I'm definitely not giving Trudeau a majority. I think we're going to go Green this year." 

Aylward said he knows Elizabeth May isn't going to be the prime minister, but he believes it's possible for his party to win seats, and while he's changed his mind in the past, he says now he's a Green for life. 

"I'm older, I'm more educated in the issues," he said. "I've got a daughter and she deserves to grow up in a world that's better than the one I grew up in and, the way we're going right now, it's not going to be."