The Green Party of Canada is a federal political party that advocates environmentalism as the key to a sustainable society.
Founded in 1983, and inspired by the success of sister parties in New Zealand and Germany, the Green Party of Canada set out to replace the traditional left-versus-right political debate in favour of a new emphasis on protecting the environment and conserving natural resources. In 2002, the Green Party embraced the six fundamental principles of the Global Greens Charter: ecological wisdom; social justice; participatory democracy; non-violence; sustainability; and respect for diversity.
The party's founding leader in Canada was Trevor Hancock, who led the organization from 1983 to 1984, followed by Seymour Trieger (1984-88), Kathryn Cholette (1988-90), Chris Lea (1990-96), Wendy Priesnitz (1996-97), Harry Garfinkle (1997), Joan Russow (1997-2001), Chris Bradshaw (2001-03), Jim Harris (2003-06), and Elizabeth May (2006-present).
As environmental activism shifted from being the focus of mainly interest groups to the central concern of a new political party, questions arose: Where did the party fit on the political spectrum? Did it embrace a completely new ideology? How could it move beyond a single issue, towards a comprehensive policy outlook spanning a wide range of issues?
If the Green Party leaned to the left, how could it differentiate itself from the social democratic policies of the New Democratic Party? Many Green party supporters say that they are "neither left nor right," but instead embrace an amalgam of socially progressive, fiscally conservative and environmentally green ideas. Since 2006, leader Elizabeth May has guided the party in a more centrist direction.
Other key questions are whether party decision-making should be decentralized or centralized, and how Canada's provincial Green parties could be co-ordinated with the national organization.
Struggle, Success, Stagnation
The Green Party has run candidates in federal elections since 1984. The party presented fewer than 100 candidates in each of its first four elections. In 2004 under Jim Harris's leadership, it ran a full slate of candidates for the first time in all 308 federal ridings.
The party has steadily improved its performance since that time. In 2004 it garnered more than 582,000 votes (4.3 per cent of total votes cast). In 2006 the party received more than 664,000 votes (4.5 per cent) — a disappointment for many members, who had hoped that under Elizabeth May's higher-profile leadership the party might do considerably better. Two years later, however, in the 2008 election, the party increased its vote total to more than 937,000 (6.8 per cent).
In the 2011 federal contest, the Greens' vote total fell to 576, 221 (3.9 per cent). That disappointment was somewhat diminished, however, by Elizabeth May's victory — winning a seat in the British Columbia riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, and becoming the party's first member of Parliament. Since then, May has been voted Parliamentarian of the Year in 2012 by her fellow MPs, Hardest Working MP of 2013, and Best Orator of 2014. May was joined in the House of Commons by a second federal representative in December 2013, when former MP Bruce Hyer left the New Democratic Party and joined the Greens.
The 2015 election was a disappointment for the Greens, who had hoped to achieve continued growth. May was the only Green candidate elected in the country, and the party received 3.5 per cent of the popular vote, slightly less than its 2011 result.
There are also provincial Green parties in most of Canada, and some have made important progress in recent elections. The Green Party of British Columbia won its first seat in the Legislature in the province’s 2013 election. The Greens also won a single seat in New Brunswick in 2014, and in Prince Edward Island in 2015.
The Green Party faces a number of hurdles in its quest to play a greater role in Canadian politics. The party is generally ignored by the other parties in Parliament; broadcasters sometimes exclude it from the major leaders' television debates, and the electoral system does not translate votes into seats proportionally. More than three per cent of voters supported the party in 2015, yet is has fewer than one per cent of the MPs in the House of Commons. As a result, some Canadians are reluctant to cast a ballot for the party, since they feel it is a wasted vote. A more proportional electoral system would help the Greens significantly.
Despite these challenges, the Green Party has moved from being an obscure fringe party to a serious, if minor, player in Canadian politics, with seats in the House of Commons and in three provincial legislatures. Still, a greater electoral breakthrough remains a challenge.