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WAYNE YOUNG: Greens eying federal seats

Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May speaks to reporters Tuesday morning in Charlottetown. She was on the campaign trail Monday and Tuesday in P.E.I. helping to drum up support for the Green Party heading into Tuesday’s provincial election.
Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May spoke in Charlottetown during the 2019 provincial election campaign. - Jim Day

After sparking a seismic shift in provincial politics, some Island voters may be surveying the federal landscape as well.

A national survey of 1,500 voters suggests the Green Party will be a lot more competitive in Atlantic Canada in the Oct. 21 federal election, perhaps even more so in P.E.I. given the party’s recent success.

In April, the Green Party won eight seats and official Opposition status in a legislature that features a minority government led by Progressive Conservative Premier Dennis King – both historic firsts for P.E.I.

In a province that has embraced a two-party system since Confederation, it was a dramatic shift in political allegiance.

But will that willingness to support third parties spill over into federal politics here?

A survey released earlier this month by Abacas Data suggests that in Atlantic Canada – where Liberals swept all 32 seats in the last election – the Conservatives have a narrow lead over the Liberals (34 to 31 per cent) but that the Green Party is becoming increasingly popular at 15 per cent, just ahead of the NDP at 11 per cent.

All four Island seats – by wide margins – went to the Liberals in 2015 and with the likelihood the incumbents will be re-offering, they’ll be tough to unseat. No doubt the Tories will also be campaigning hard to win at least a few of those seats back this fall.

But I don’t think there’s any doubt the Greens will be a factor.

Leadership matters, of course, so expect federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to make more than one stop here during the fall campaign. For the first time, she’ll have a compelling visual of the party’s success provincially – six newly minted MLAs plus Bevan-Baker and Hannah Bell – and she’ll try to convince Island voters a similar shakeup is long overdue in Ottawa.

As Bevan-Baker did during the provincial campaign, May will have to convince voters the Greens are more than a one-issue party. While Bevan-Baker didn’t shy away from the environment, he did focus more on social issues and the need to be responsible stewards of the public purse. Expect May to do the same while reinforcing her message that man-made climate change is one of the most important issues facing humanity.

To be competitive, the Greens must field quality candidates in each of the four Island ridings. In 2015, the party’s top vote-getter was Lynne Lund, polling just under 10 per cent in Malpeque. Four years later, she’s a Green MLA, one of three members elected in the federal riding of Egmont. That should give the Greens a solid base of volunteers to bolster their federal campaign and challenge incumbent Bobby Morrissey.

I’m not sure to what degree the Greens will be able to capitalize on their success provincially in the federal campaign. But it should be noted few pundits – myself included – predicted the party would form the Official Opposition before the last provincial election, so anything is possible.

It’s been a meteoric rise for the Greens on P.E.I. and on Oct. 21, May is hoping to capitalize on that success to bolster the party’s standing in Ottawa.

It promises to be an interesting campaign in a year that has already provided plenty of political surprises.

Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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