Green Party of Canada

 The Green Party of Canada advocates environmentalism as key to a sustainable society. It is a relatively new Canadian party, founded in 1983. Although it has gained in votes and finances in recent years, it has not elected a federal MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT. Some Green Party members are also active at the municipal level. Membership size was just under 9000 on the eve of the 2006 leadership convention, which saw Elizabeth May, a former executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, become the party's ninth leader.

Inspired by the success of sister parties in New Zealand and Germany, the Green Party seeks to supersede the old left vs right debate between socialist red and conservative blue. Instead, it pursues a more urgent political dimension for a greener ENVIRONMENT rather than the current grey industrial smog, blight and global ecosystem breakdown. The quest is to protect the land, sea and air against POLLUTION and halt the squandering of our resources. In 2002, the Green Party embraced the six fundamental principles of the Charter of the Global Greens: ecological wisdom; social justice; participatory democracy; non-violence; sustainability; and respect for diversity.

The party's founding leader was Trevor Hancock (1983-84), 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 interest groups to a new political party, questions arose: What sort of party was it and where did it fit on the political spectrum? Did the Green Party embrace a completely new ideology? How could it move beyond a single issue and embrace a comprehensive perspective spanning a wide range of issues (eg, equality vs inequality, which historically has divided left and right)? If the Green Party leaned to the left, how could it differentiate itself from the social democratic NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY? Many Green party activists advocate being "neither left nor right" but an amalgam of socially progressive, fiscally conservative and environmentally green policies. To date the new leader Elizabeth May has guided the party in a more centrist direction.

Other key debates involved whether party decision-making should be decentralized or centralized and how to co-ordinate Canada's provincial Green parties with the national party. Opting for an open and pragmatic party or adopting a more militant ideological stance is a pivotal issue in determining the party's long-term prospects and quest for major party status.

The Green Party has run candidates in federal elections since 1984. In each of the first four elections, the party presented fewer than 100 candidates. In the last two under Harris's leadership, it has run candidates in all 308 ridings. In terms of votes and members, the party has grown. In its first campaign in the 1980s, the party received fewer than 30 000 votes in total. In the 2000 election, it received slightly more than 100 000 votes and in the 2004 election it garnered more than 580 000 votes. Members were disappointed when the party's gains in 2006 were less than expected. Still, at 665 590 votes, it was the highest ever for the party.

There are provincial Green parties in most of Canada, but no provincial section has won a seat in a legislature. The highest provincial vote (12.4%) was received in British Columbia in 2001. Party membership is largest in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec. Issues that have challenged members include the seal hunt in Newfoundland and SEPARATISM/FEDERALISM in Quebec.

Historically, the Green Party faced serious financial handicaps (eg, in 1997 the party's income was under $100 000). However, Canada's election finance reform in 2004 facilitated a financial breakthrough for the Green Party. As a result, the party for the first time ever had a sizeable overall income of just over $1 million in 2004 and projected at just over $2 million for 2006. Subsequently, debate grew within the party on what ratio to distribute the funds to the central party, regions and local ridings.

The Green Party is confronted by a number of hurdles in its quest to play a greater role in Canadian politics. The strategy of parties in Parliament is generally to ignore the Greens, broadcasters have excluded the party from the major leaders' television debates and the ELECTORAL SYSTEM does not translate votes into seats proportionally. Almost one in twenty Canadians have voted for the party, but it continues to have no seats in Parliament. Consequently, some citizens 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 Green Party significantly. The party must also overcome its past pattern of internal infighting.

The Green Party has moved from being a fringe party (with less than 1% of the vote nation-wide) to being a significant minor party (with over 4%). Even with additional funding, more candidates and increased members, an electoral breakthrough in the near future is a challenge. The party has yet to find sufficient ideological space in the Canadian political spectrum.