Maybe We Should Be Paying Attention to the Green Party Leadership Race...

…especially considering the results of this poll (hat tip to Greg at Sinister Thoughts).

The Conservatives emerged from a rough-and-tumble April down on their post-election honeymoon numbers. Tim Woolstencroft of The Strategic Counsel is reportedly “surprised” at the drop, given that the Conservatives introduced a popular budget, but he seems to have forgotten the controversy over the military funerals and the flags at half-mast, and a softwood lumber deal that some Canadians (including BC Premier Gordon Campbell) consider to be a sellout. Then there’s Harper’s willingness to pick a fight with Ontario leader Dalton McGuinty, although I suspect this probably came after most of the poll sampling was taken.

So, Conservative numbers are back to just slightly below their election-day levels. That in and of itself isn’t big news (although with the Conservatives up five points to 30% in Quebec, their rates in the rest of the country are lower), but take a look at the Green Party numbers: 9% nationwide. The Greens won 4.75% of the vote in the 2006 election, and while I can’t find the full poll results myself, I can only assume that this translates to even larger numbers in British Columbia.

While the Canadian public continues to give cautious support for the new government, I think there is a significant portion of the country who wish to say “a plague on all your houses” to the four parties currently boasting seats. The Greens have seen shifts towards them before in expression of this sentiment, but they’ve never before flirted with 10% popular support nationwide, to my recollection. By way of comparison, the NDP in their worst moments have polled lower than the Greens. The Greens are within spitting distance (and possibly the election of one MP) away from becoming a serious mainstream party in Canada.

Assuming that they have a leader with sufficient gravitas, that is. And that’s important since Green Party leader Jim Harris, the man who arguably maneouvered the Greens into this territory of near-electability, isn’t running for reelection.

The Green Party leadership convention is scheduled to take place in Ottawa on the weekend of August 24-27. Right now, there is only one declared candidate: David Chernushenko, the deputy leader of the party, who managed to win 10.2% of the vote in Ottawa Centre — the highest percentage any Green Party candidate was able to take in the last election. Elizabeth May, former executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, is also considering a run but hasn’t formally declared.

In the past few years, the Green Party of Canada has built a base of support that blends concern for the environment with sound centrist business-friendly policies. As Jim Harris, himself a former Red Tory, said (paraphrased), “businesses can make profits hand over fist if they want to, so long as they do so in an environmentally and socially sustainable way”. The Greens are too easily labelled by skeptics as flaky environmentalists (even though I don’t think there’s anything flaky about environmental concern), and Jim Harris defied that stereotype. I know of a number of individuals suspicious of the environmental movement were impressed by the Green Party’s balanced and sustainable policies, and the party has won enough support to obtain federal funding for its operations.

But no seats. And with no seats comes no seat at the leaders’ debate, and a serious handicap in building a national profile.

It would be tempting to hope that a bigger name, like David Suzuki, would step forward to fully lead the Greens out of the political wilderness, although I suspect that his leadership would be easy for opponents to stereotype. Elizabeth May is not nearly so much a lightning rod, and she has experience in running a national organization, but her environmental background may lead voters suspicious of her ability to handle non-environmental issues. David Chernushenko could mold himself after Jim Harris, as the business owner of the consulting firm Green & Gold Inc., and with praises from the CEO of the Delphi Group. The problem, however, is that like Jim Harris, David would have to start from scratch in building a national profile. Elizabeth May has a slight advantage over him in this regard.

If the Greens can find a bigger name, with sound and sensible business credentials, who can eloquently advocate sustainable policies, the party may become a force to be reckoned with in the next election. Jim Harris has taken the party to the edges of electability. The party’s next leader will determine whether they continue along this path, or slip back into obscurity. It may not be the wide-open Liberal leadership race,, and the new leader may be years away from residing in Stornoway, but the Green Party’s race is still one to watch.

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