As the Ontario election draws near (leaders' debate is tomorrow), everybody is starting to make predictions (here's one, and here's another, very neat site). So, I'd better start making my own. My prediction? The Green Party of Ontario will get six percent of the vote (current polls place them at two). No seats, but an impressive amount of votes, nonetheless. This party is, after all, running a full slate of candidates for the first time and is getting some decent media attention. In the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo I've seen no less than four Green Party lawn signs, three on actual lawns -- a surprising find in a riding that's one of the safest Conservative seats in the region.
Does this mean trouble for anybody? Dan and I were talking about who would lose the most if the Green Party was allowed into the televised leaders' debate tomorrow (an academic discussion, now, given that the CRTC has ruled against them).
The obvious implication is that any further fracturing of the opposition works against the Liberals and Dalton McGuinty. An example of this belief is the controversy in Nipissing, where a businessman with connections to the Tories offered the Green Party candidate a large donation to bolster his campaign and possibly split the vote. Bob Hunter, reporter for CityTV, former Greenpeace activist and former candidate for the Liberal party also took this tack, suggesting that the Green Party pull out of the election and allow a Liberal government to run a referendum on proportional representation, rather than "let their enemies win" and keep the current first-past-the-post system in place.
But not so fast: because the Green Party is all about the environment (such that their social and education policies are a little weak), they step outside the pedantic definitions of left and right wing. Leader Frank DeJong was on a CBC Radio phone-in show Ontario Today (the audio archive of the phone-in should be online until this Thursday) and said that he had no objection to corporations making profits "hand over fist", so long as they were environmentally responsible profits. He would hand over responsibility of our waste to the businesses that made it (forcing them to pay for the full cost of disposing their excess packaging) and he would offer strong tax incentives to ecologically sensitive operations and new green technology. What are his policies on labour laws? Probably reasonable (allowing companies to force workers to work 60 hour weeks can't be green), but certainly not beholden to any union. This left-right combination could pull some voters off the Tories, if Tory supporters were disillusioned by the Eves government and looking for innovative, forward-thinking business solutions and a government that would foster them. That's the only explanation I have for opinion poll numbers which show Tory supporters as being the weakest supporters for including the Green Party leader in the televised debates (In recent polls, 55% of Tory supporters said they want to see Frank DeJong participate, compared to 61% for the NDP and 62% for the Liberals) when it would appear that such an inclusion would handicap McGuinty.
Finally, there is the New Democratic Party, which has traditionally seen itself as the party of protest and the party of the young -- and which has been neither for the past ten years. There is a sense among NDPers that the Green Party is campaigning in areas that were previously the stronghold of the New Democratic Party. They are probably more than a little irked that the Green Party has captured the interest of the new and developing left, and has placed higher than the New Democratic Party in no less than three Ontario byelections.
But no party has anything, really, to fear from the Green Party, beyond the message their performance sends. I think if the Greens do take six percent of the vote, we will also see that voter turnout rose in this election, from 58% in the 1999 election to around 62%. The Green Party has captured the interest of a number of people who wouldn't otherwise have voted, so I expect that they will put on their best performance ever in the polls without drawing off enough Liberal support to ensure a Tory majority. And, yes, I see this as a good thing.
The absolutely dismal voter turnout in recent Ontario elections is something that all politicians should be ashamed of. Since only 58% of the people eligible to vote actually turned out to vote, that meant that 42% cast a metaphorical ballot for either "none of the above" or "ah, nobody interests me, you people decid." To politicians, this form of protest voting doesn't register, because it has no impact on the outcome. Whenever it is pointed out that the Tories were re-elected in 1999 with 45% of the popular vote, we speak only of that vote, and we don't mention that only 26.1% of eligible voters in Ontario actually cast a ballot in favour of Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revolution. For the remaining 42%, the choices are simply too unpalatible, or too uninspiring for them to get up and walk the few blocks it takes to go down to a voting booth and mark an X for somebody, and the cynicism of some voters is truly startling.
When I was a canvasser for the 1995 election, taking down names of voters and adding them to the voters' list, I was struck by how willing some voters were to take me, a non-partisan worker for the election process, as a representative of politicians in general, who all sucked. I actually had a young woman pull her friend from the door and slam that door in my face because she "all politicians are corrupt and I'm not voting, so go away." To these people, the process itself isn't working.
This is a festering sore on Ontario politics, and it's being ignored by the Tories and the Liberals so effectively that they're going to have absolutely shocked looks on their faces when the mobs with torches arrive at Queen's Park and start setting up the guillotine. The NDP is, at least, aware of the low voter turnout, but rather naively believes that their policy package which appealed to the "common man" before, can do so today without significant tweaks. There has been little attempt, by any mainstream political party to go out and assess the issues of this large and growing pool of common people and bring out policies that interest them.
The Green Party has intrigued a number of voters out of their lethargy, and this is a trend that I hope continues. Ontario voters need to show up at the voting booth, even if they don't decide to vote. The mainstream parties need to be sent a clearer message that the electorate finds them all unappealing. In Ontario, voters have the ability to show up at the voting booth and actually decline their ballot. This action is counted in a way that simply staying home is not, and is the closet Ontario has to a true "None of the Above" vote. Alternately, as Mr.G suggests, casting a protest vote for the Green Party, a political movement that has intriguing, forward-looking ideas and is looking at new ways to solve old problems, would send such a message as well.
If voters are truly dissatisfied and want to show it, they have to vote. Mere silence does not convey the message loudly enough.