Greens seek wider role in Canadian election

January 21, 2006 - 0:0
SAANICH, CANADA (AFP) -- Used to being a minority political player across most of Canada, in the lush and bucolic Gulf Islands off the west coast, the Green Party is hoping to make strong inroads.

Here, in the 2004 federal election, Green Party deputy leader Andrew Lewis received about one in 10 votes. He hopes for an increase on January 23 when Canadians will elect their next federal government.

"I'm not predicting any wins," he says modestly from his home in this Vancouver Island city after a day spent island-hopping and campaigning in the riding of the Saanich-Gulf Islands. "To be honest, I think it's a long shot."

"But we're building support across the country. I'm hoping in the next election our percentage of the vote will be higher," Lewis says hopefully.

The Greens are being helped by new electoral rules. Each political party receives about 1.79 Canadian dollars (1.53 U.S. dollars) from government coffers for each vote received.

Since the last election in June, 2004, Lewis said, that money has made an enormous difference in building a campaign for the Greens. "In the last election we had one person working half time. In this election, we have 20 people."

Green party politicians have won seats and influence in several European countries, but even the party faithful here admit cracking North America will be harder.

They will not win seats here unless Canada's electoral system is reformed, predicts Patrick Smith, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby. "If we had a proportional system, they'd have seven percent of the seats," says Smith. "They'd have parliamentary representation, as they do in Germany and other places, and they might begin to make a difference."

Smith noted that while small parties have a limited role in building coalition governments, they can have a major impact on policy. "At some point, the logic of this has to hit people. The unfairness of our electoral system is really quite dramatic."

The elections for the 308 seats in the national parliament are essentially winner-take-all horse races. Because of the distribution of seats, it is possible, says Smith, for a party to form a government with a lesser percentage of the overall vote than the second party.

"If I were elected an MP (Member of Parliament) in a coalition government, my number one priority would be a commitment to have electoral reform," says Lewis.

While several provinces are considering electoral reform, no other national party is proposing such changes.

In Canada, despite significant voter support in 2004, the Greens have also been left out of the national televised leaders' debates, excluded by a consortium of broadcasters who organize them.

Green Party leader Jim Harris cried foul, to no avail.

"If Jim Harris had been in the leaders' debate it could have completely changed the dynamic of this election," Lewis complains.

And, if the Greens could impact policy, Canada would likely be a significantly different country.

Lewis, a landscaper by trade, says a Green administration would tax pollution, give tax breaks for human labor, and take Canada out of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Mexico.