People want change. You hear this every election. Sometimes it is just wishful thinking on the part of an opposition leader, but in this case it is absolutely true. After 15 years of NDP rule, the people of Manitoba want change.
Yet, a majority of Manitobans are reluctant to vote for the main opposition, the PCs. Whether they are distrustful of the party or ideologically opposed to them, 50% or more will not vote Tory. There is a need and a strong desire for a political alternative to both the Tories and the NDP.
This void represented a huge opportunity — one that was seized by a young charismatic lawyer at the helm of a struggling party, while another underdog party with a young charismatic lawyer at the helm has been stuck in neutral.
The Manitoba Liberal Party won but one seat in the Legislature and received a meager 7.5% of the votes in the last election. This put it a mere 1 seat and 5% ahead of the Green Party, but since then the Liberals have surged and the Greens have sputtered.
There is no question that the Liberals are a more established party, but the Greens are no longer a fringe party. They have an MP in Ottawa, and MLAs in British Columbia and New Brunswick. It’s not a stretch to imagine that, if they played their cards right, the Greens could elect an MLA in Winnipeg and capture a significant share of the vote from The People Who Want Change.
That is unlikely to happen, however. Green Party leader James Beddome has moved from the Wolseley riding where he was runner-up in 2011 to the Riverview-Fort Garry riding. I question if that’s a wise decision, but more importantly, the Green Party has been remarkably silent in the lead up to this election.
That is not entirely accurate, however. The Green Party did announce a proposal to change education funding — one that I agree with and have argued in favour of in the past. Education should not be funded through property taxes. Doing so is cumbersome and causes conflicts, inequality and inefficiencies. It is a terrible system and the Green Party is the only one I know of that is proposing to change it. Instead it will be funded centrally by the provincial government, like in other normal provinces. I would argue that this also gives municipalities more ability to fund themselves through property taxes rather than having to beg the province for money.
The Green Party has also unveiled a Green Action Plan that includes a carbox tax among several other things. I could find no mention of it in the Free Press, which is unfortunate because there is a lot to talk about and environmental policy will be a big party of our future. It also goes to show that it’s not entirely the Green Party’s fault that they’re flying under the radar.
That said, they have also been slow to nominate candidates. Five are listed on their web site as I write this, and only three are officially nominated with Elections Manitoba.
James Beddome assures me that they will be announcing more candidates shortly and still intend to run a full slate. They will also be unveiling more proposals, including a costed guaranteed annual income policy (something that the Liberals have also touched on). James explains that it will be “delivered through the tax system as as a refundable tax credit that will be funded through revenue neutral reductions in non-refundable tax credits.”
In the last election the Manitoba Green Party had good ideas, and in fact had one of the more reasonable platforms of the four main parties. I would love to see a Green presence on Broadway, not because I’m a tree hugger (I am a little bit) but because I believe they can add value, just as I believe Liz May adds value in Ottawa
But the clock is ticking. I don’t mean to stress out Beddome, but with approximately two months to go there is not much time left to get the pieces in place. And even if they do rev up the Big Green Machine and announce policies and nominate a slew of candidates in the coming weeks, it may be too late. The Liberals have established themselves as the main alternative to the governing NDP.
Imagine if the Green Party had been sending out press releases and making announcements throughout the past year. Recruiting candidates … making statements about government policies … just generally behaving like a contender and being visible in the press. They could have been duking it out with the Liberals for that big chunk of the votes that are looking for a home, and Beddome himself could have established himself as the man to beat in his riding.
On January 6 Mary Agnes Welch wrote “The Greens better start looking sharp fast.” Over a month later there has very little visible progress.
I get that it’s an uphill battle trying to organize a campaign for a struggling party with limited resources and finances, all while the leader is juggling running a political party with establishing a law career. “It ain’t easy being green” I once heard someone say — possibly a talking frog — nevertheless the voter discontent in this particular election presents a great opportunity for an innovative party to grow their base and seat count, and the Greens are missing out.
They could be the sharpest kids on the block in the next two months and I’m not sure it will be enough.
Note: I realized after I wrote most of this that much of it resembles the Jan 6 story by MAW, only, you know, not as good.