Springtime for the Greens?

These graphs show the difference in votes (X) and spending (Y) for each party in three of the federal by-elections from 2012. (Note: the Conservative financial report from Toronto-Centre isn’t yet available.)
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With four by-elections fast approaching, is it finally time for a Green breakthrough?

Long suffering lone leaf Elizabeth May finally won her seat after her consistency was the target of the entirety of the national party’s attention in 2011.  Then, the party threw the kitchen sink at Victoria and Calgary Centre in long-shot attempts to make Western inroads, only to surprise themselves with the results.  Fortune, then, smiled on the ecological party as they picked up ship-jumping independent Bruce Hyer.

Now, they’ve got what will likely be the last set of federal by-elections before the next election — and dreams of expanding the caucus of two.

They’ve got three things in their favour — lower voter turnout, no expectations, and a whole bunch of cash.

With the Greens hitting the streets this week, on the start of a gruelling seven week campaign, they’ll be the ones to watch in Macleod and Fort McMurray–Athabasca.  Yes.  Fort McMurray.  The oilsands.

If you break down the numbers from the two 2012 by-elections where the Greens mounted a surprisingly grand showing, it’s abundantly clear: Green money is gold.

In both Victoria and Calgary Centre, the Greens narrowly outspent all their competitors.  And in both ridings, the Green campaign proved infinitely more efficient.

In Calgary Centre, the seat vacated by Lee Richardson, the Greens — and Chris Turner, their flag-bearer — dropped a cool $100,000.  That picked them up 15% of the vote, and a sizeable 2,200 votes.  The Liberals spent nearly as much and earned a mere 400 votes.  The NDP and incumbent Conservatives spent $90,000 $95,000 respectively — the former shed 6,000 votes and the latter, 18,000.  That’s what a low voter turnout means for the incumbent: your voters just don’t show up.

Victoria is the seat that showed the most promise on election night for a Green pick-up.  While the New Democrats ultimately hung on, the Greens surged into a close second place — thanks, in no small part, to their $97,000 investment.  They picked up more than 6,000 votes, over the 2011 general election, while 16,000 voters failed to come back out for the NDP in the by-election.

While the established parties need to spend the limit, or near it, just to stop the by-election bleeding, Green dollars appear to be very effectively in spurring excitement and buzz for the polls.

In Toronto-Centre, the Greens spent less than the year prior, and they lost votes when the results came in.  In the most recent spate of by-elections, the party languished in fourth.  While we don’t have financial reports from all of those campaigns yet, it seems all but certain that May and the Greens phoned it in.  While it could certainly be a matter of the Greens putting money where they anticipate to do well, there’s something quite exceptional about the Greens’ performance in those two fateful by-elections.

In 2011, for both ridings, the Greens had spent around $30,000.  So, in the by-elections, they tripled their investment, and increased their vote share by around the same amount.  When the other parties upped their investment — even going from nothing, to spending the limit, like the NDP did in Calgary Centre — they lost votes.

And given that the Greens always have a few hundred thousand stashed away in the bank, especially after their fantastic fundraising year in 2013, they will not be left wanting.

Adding to the good fortunes of the environmentalists is the fact that Harper dropped the by-elections on Canada Day long week — kryptonite for voter turnout.

It’s counter-intuitive that any of the ridings will go Green: the rural riding of Macleod, the oil-depending environs of Fort McMurray–Athabasca, the heavily immigrant riding of Scarborough–Agincourt, or the fiercely-contested dogfight in Trinity–Spadina.

But, with Trudeau’s popularity flagging, Mulcair’s ship failing to properly launch, and the Prime Minister in the doldrums of personal popularity, a visible Elizabeth May could be seen as a viable protest vote against the three main parties.

And even a strong second place finish could be a shot in the arm for the stalled party.

Because if they fail to prove that the little hippy party that could, actually can, they may as well pack it in now.

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OTHER ARTICLES BY JUSTIN LING

This week in opposition misfires
Harper standing on his tennis court
Economic Bananas
When is an open nomination not open?
Old Stephen Harper vs. New Stephen Harper on the Fair Elections Act
Stephen Harper the dinosaur

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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling

 

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