History of the Green Party of Canada
The Green Party of Canada was founded in 1981 by Steven Kaasgaard and his cousin in Brampton, Ontario. Mr. Kaasgaard's parents were Danish immigrants to Canada and they worked in the greenhouses of what was then known as Flowertown.
His father's family were farmers, and his maternal grandfather was a Minister who worked in the underground Danish resistance during World War II. He was shot in the back by German soldiers on the day the war ended. A plaque was erected in his honour on the street where he was killed. Mr. Kaasgaard's parents instilled in him a 'working class ethic', 'green values (i.e. living in balance with the environment)' and 'humanitarian values' that they brought with them from their homeland. Based on these values Mr. Kaasgaard envisioned a brave new political party for Canada.
The founders established principles by which the Green Party was to guide itself by including a non-hierarchical order whereby there was never to be a sole leader. The founders worked on a volunteer basis for many years in order to establish the grassroots organization of the party. The founders established core values including an anti-nuclear position on energy, non-violent civil disobedience, participatory democracy, and inclusion of feminist values. In later years, the party was hijacked by interests which steered the party away from its grassroots principles, and moved it towards conservative values. Steven Kaasgaard was listed in the official registration of the party in 1983. Today the Green Party tries to shy away from acknowledging the true history of the party and from acknowledging its founders. There are many early members of the Green Party who can verify Mr. Kaasgaard's involvement, and his role as founder. There are also historical records and historical newspaper archives that establish his involvement in the early years of the party's history.
About two months before the 1980 federal election, eleven candidates, mostly from ridings in the Atlantic provinces, issued a joint press release declaring that they were running on a common platform. It called for a transition to a non-nuclear, conserver society. Although they ran as independents, they unofficially used the name "Small Party" as part of their declaration of unity — a reference to the "small is beautiful" philosophy of E. F. Schumacher. This was the most substantial early attempt to answer the call for an ecologically-oriented Canadian political party. A key organizer was Elizabeth May.
Three years later North America's first Green Party was born in British Columbia, and later that same year the Ontario Greens were formed. The Green Party of Canada was founded at a conference held at Carleton University in Ottawa in 1983. Under its first leader, Dr. Trevor Hancock, the party ran 60 candidates in the 1984 Canadian federal election. The BC Greens ran Canada's first Green candidate. Later that year, the founding conference of the Canadian Greens was held at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. Close to 200 people from 55 communities attended, coming from every province except Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.
The birthing process was difficult, with deep divisions between those arguing for a national structure, and those in favour of a process that would build from the regions following the bioregional democracy structure.
Trevor Hancock was the party's first registered leader. Party members chose a radically decentralized party structure, and for several years a kind of green anarchism prevailed. Eventually, an uneasy agreement was reached for a federation of regional parties, with strong support for building upwards from the bottom. The question arose: "Is the priority to redefine politics from the ground up, or to play the electoral game according to the present rules? Or both?"
Many members saw the party as a way to protest Canada's political system, and not much more. Nonetheless it did run candidates.
The Green Party of Canada contested its first federal election in September 1984. Approximately 27,000 Canadians voted Green (0.2% of the votes cast). But ongoing discussions about the party's modus operandi became so exhausting that, at one point in the mid-1980s, there was a near collapse of the party. It survived — though not particularly active — for almost a decade under the stewardship of the BC Greens.
In the 1988 federal election, Greens concentrated on Quebec, where le Parti Vert (not the same as the current Parti Vert du Québec) ran 29 candidates, up from just 4 in the previous election. Les Verts received higher results than Green candidates anywhere else in Canada, polling an average of 2.4% of the vote. The Quebec wing hosted the 1990 Canadian Greens conference in Montreal. But soon after that, Canada's constitutional problems interfered, and many Quebec candidates abandoned the Greens in favour of a Quebec sovereigntist party, the Bloc Québécois. There were only six Green candidates from Quebec in the 1993 election.
In the summer of 1988, the BC Greens, under the de facto leadership of electoral-reform activist Steve Kisby, tried to get the Green Party of Canada onto its feet by hosting a conference — the first federal gathering since the founding meeting in 1983. The main accomplishment of that conference was the acceptance, after five years as a registered party, of a constitution. The party continued to field candidates at the federal level, and provincial parties were organized in a few other provinces, led by consistently strong efforts in British Columbia.
In 1988, however, despite minimal on-the-ground organization, Quebec produced the lion's share of Green candidates and votes thanks to the efforts of Quebec organizer and candidate Rolf Bramann. A year later, the provincial Greens in Quebec scored 2% of the popular vote, averaging 5% in the constituencies in which they ran under the leadership of Jean Ouimet. Montreal's municipal Ecology Party also scored very well in elections in this period under the leadership of publisher Dimitrios Roussopoulos.
Ouimet, a strong sovereigntist, maintained a party wholly independent of the federal Greens during his leadership; as a result Bramann created an organization called the Green Party of Canada in Quebec, a predominantly Anglophone entity that nominated federal candidates only. There was open antipathy between Ouimet and Bramann. Neither was affiliated with Écologie-Montreal.
At the same time as the Parti Vert began to collapse due to Ouimet's defection to the PQ in 1992, Bramann was removed from his position in the federal party due to anti-Semitic comments he and some of his candidates had made. This led to a precipitous decline in all Green Party organizations in Quebec despite a very promising start a mere four years previous.
From 1988 onwards, a pattern developed whereby the federal party tended to function alternately as an appendage of the BC and Ontario provincial parties. Lacking sufficient funding and an administrative base of its own, control of the federal Greens was sometimes a prize (when the provincial affiliate and its leader wanted to demonstrate its success), and at others, a burden (when the provincial affiliate was forced to invest significant volunteer energy or money for its maintenance) for the Greens in BC and Ontario. Successful candidates for the positions of Leader and Chief Financial Officer were typically personal associates of either the BC or Ontario party's de facto or de jure leader, for whom the leader publicly mobilized and delivered votes.
In the spring of 1996, although the hopes of electing a representative to the BC legislature proved premature, Andy Shadrack in the interior of the province received over 11% of the vote. Overall, the party's proportion of the popular vote surged to a new high. Shadrack was also the most popular Green candidate in the 1997 federal election, scoring over 6% of the popular vote in West Kootenay-Okanagan.
At the party's sixth annual gathering in Castlegar, British Columbia, hosted by Shadrack's riding association, in August 1996, a complete overhaul of the party's constitution was made, spearheaded by Stuart Parker, leader of the provincial Greens in BC. The party's new constitutional framework both democratized and centralized the party which had been previously hobbled by an unworkably decentralized structure. These changes also ended de jure (it had ended de facto some three years earlier) the constitutional prohibition against the party's registered leader acting as its spokesperson or representative. Policy was also agreed to in a wide variety of areas. An important step forward was the structuring of a Shadow Cabinet, whose mandate was to create a platform for the next election in 1997.
The Castlegar gathering marked the beginning of a new era in Canadian Green history, and a somewhat uneasy one at that. In spite of a concern about the nature of leadership in a decentralized party, the Greens' first leadership campaign had been underway for the previous six months. Four candidates contested the leadership. A mail-in ballot was held: Wendy Priesnitz (from Ontario) beat Don Francis (Quebec), Jason Crummey (Newfoundland and Labrador), and Harry Garfinkle (Alberta) to become the Registered Leader of the Green Party of Canada.
In January 1997, although initially recruited by Ontario Green Party leader Frank de Jong, Wendy Priesnitz resigned over what she characterized as domination of the party by an "old boys' network" comprising the BC and Ontario provincial leaders and their male-dominated circles of organizers and advisors. Harry Garfinkle stepped in to be the interim Registered Leader of the Green Party of Canada, and a leadership convention by mail-in ballot was held.
British Columbia's Joan Russow became leader of the Green Party of Canada on April 13, 1997. Russow won 52% of the ballots cast in the 1997 leadership race, surpassing Ontario's Jim Harris (39%) and Rachelle Small (8%). Immediately upon attaining the leadership, Russow was plunged into a federal general election. Russow's campaign in 1997 set a number of important precedents. The 1997 election was the first campaign in which the Greens conducted a national leader's tour, presented a national platform and a bilingual campaign (Russow is trilingual, speaking Spanish, French and English). Previous campaigns, due in part to the party's few resources and, in part, to the party's constitutional straitjacket, had been characterized by policy and spokespeople operating, at best, province-by-province and, at worst, riding-by-riding. In her own riding of Victoria, Russow received just shy of 3000 votes and 6% of the popular vote.
In the 2000 election, the party nominated 111 candidates, in nine out of ten provinces — all but Newfoundland and Labrador — and in one of three territories (Nunavut). These candidates collected 0.81% of the total popular vote.
Candidates were not run in Newfoundland and Labrador, as a result of ongoing divisions over Joan Russow's refusal to endorse the Green candidate in an earlier St. John's West by-election. (The candidate in question supported the seal hunt and mining development, as most locals did.) This caused much uncertainty and friction between Newfoundland's Terra Nova Green Party Association and the Green Party leader as the party gradually adapted to the realities of functioning as a true national party rather than a disorganized federation of local activists.
In the 2001 Quebec City protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas, Russow was the first person incarcerated in a jail built specially for protesters, for taking a photograph of it from outside. Russow promoted the Green Party as a leader in the anti-globalization movement, in particular the anti-corporatist and pro-peace movement, but felt undermined when the German Greens supported the bombing of Belgrade. As other members of her party had supported military intervention, Russow's leadership was called into question. She stepped down as party leader in 2001 and left the party to join the New Democratic Party (NDP). Because the NDP's federal and provincial wings are integrated, this also entailed joining the New Democratic Party of British Columbia.
Another factor in her resignation may have been ongoing conflicts within the party provincially and municipally in her home city of Victoria, where she had switched allegiance from the Parker faction to the Adriane Carr faction. Her late conversion left her on unsure footing with the powerful new provincial leader and in public conflict with City Councilor Art Vanden Berg and other members of the Parker-affiliated team that had backed her leadership during the 1997 and 1998 leadership contests.
The conflicts left Russow isolated and alienated from most members of the party. Volunteer efforts were substantially absorbed in provincial campaigns between 2001 and 2003, and the federal party became dormant between elections, as was typical in the past. Chris Bradshaw served the party as interim leader from 2001 to February 2003.
In February 2003, Jim Harris, in his second bid for the leadership, defeated John Grogan of Valemount, British Columbia, and Jason Crummey. Crummey was originally from Newfoundland and involved with Newfoundland and Labrador Terra Nova Greens. Harris, an author and public speaker, and GPC member since 1987 (though not active in several previous elections), had the support of all provincial Green Party leaders, breaking 15 years of precedent of the BC leader backing a BC candidate from their own political circle. His election was taken by many as reflecting a desire among the members to "become serious" in achieving electoral progress, and to steer away from any explicit anti-political ideas. However, his campaign also included a hard line against Red-Green (i.e., alliances with NDP members and organized labour) coalitions that Russow had supported at the municipal level in Victoria. While adopting the rhetoric of pragmatism, some argue, Harris eschewed the only strategy that has ever elected Greens under the first-past-the-post system. Harris announced on April 24, 2006, that he would stand down as leader at the party's convention in August.
The Green Party ran a fundraising campaign in 2003 to realize Harris' goal of running a full slate in the upcoming election. This party also had to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars against the $1.75/vote expected to accrue to the party after the election. The party began organizing in all provinces with paid staff.
2004 election and aftermath
In the 2004 election, the party received a significant increase in media coverage on the strength of its 308 candidates, the platform, and a national leaders' tour. The party began to be included in almost all national political polls. Its popular support peaked at 7% during the campaign, and the party finished with 4.3% of the vote. The party's strongest candidate, Andrew Lewis in the riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands, won over 10,000 votes, the first Green Party candidate to do so. Lewis still finished fourth in the riding, however.
In August 2004 at the national convention near Calgary, Alberta, Jim Harris was re-elected, with a reduced majority of only 56%. Rival Tom Manley polled nearly 37%.
Most conference debate centred around significant constitutional reform proposals, and the role of membership in ruling on matters of policy and the constitution. The conference ended with a re-affirmation of a hybrid that was developed during the campaign: a centralized executive with decentralized policy and constitutional development.
Politicians from different political backgrounds have expressed interest in the party. Former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps on March 2, 2005, spoke publicly to a group of Greens in Toronto, advising the party on its electoral strategy. Former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate David Orchard not only attended but met with members of the GPC Council; however, Orchard's involvement with the Greens dates back to the mid-1990s when he worked with Russow on a variety of trade and international issues. (Ontario leader Frank de Jong and BC leader Stuart Parker were featured speakers at pro-Orchard rallies early in his first bid for the Tory leadership in 1998.) It was also rumoured in the media in 2004 that David Anderson, the former Minister of the Environment in Chrétien's government, was considering joining the party. Anderson, however, successfully ran for re-election as a Liberal.
None of the party's candidates were elected, but the party received 4.5% of the vote nationally (up from 4.3% in 2004) and 665,940 votes (an increase of about 80,000 votes from 2004). Its best performance was in Alberta, where it received 6.6%. Sean Maw won 10.84% of the vote in Wild Rose and finished a very distant second to Conservative Myron Thompson. Shane Jolley won 12.9% of the vote in Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound riding, the largest share of the vote won by any of its candidates. In the riding Ottawa Centre, the Green candidate David Chernushenko received 6,766 votes, the largest number of votes of any of the party's candidates. It had been hoped by Greens that the party's deputy leader, Andrew Lewis, would achieve a breakthrough in Saanich—Gulf Islands where he won 16.7% of the vote in the 2004 election and carried 17 of 238 polling divisions, making Lewis the first Green candidate to win even one polling division. However, running again in Saanich—Gulf Islands in 2006 he lost one-third of his 2004 vote share, winning only 9.6% of the ballots cast.
The party's 2006 election campaign was disrupted by allegations made by Matthew Pollesell, the party's former assistant national organizer, that Harris had not filed a proper accounting of money spent during his 2004 leadership campaign, as required by law. Pollesell issued a request that Elections Canada investigate. Pollesell and another former party member, Gretchen Schwarz, were subsequently warned by the party's legal counsel to retract allegations they had made or face a possible legal action. Dana Miller, who served in the party's shadow cabinet with responsibility for human-rights issues, made public her earlier complaints that the party has violated election law and its own constitution and has also asked for an Elections Canada investigation. Miller was expelled from the party after filing a complaint within the party in April.
Elizabeth May was elected leader of the Green Party of Canada in August 2006. She ran in the November 27, 2006 London North Centre by-election, finishing second with 26% of the votes. It was the Green Party's best-ever result in a federal election, easily eclipsing the previous mark of 16.7% achieved in 2004 in the B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.
In the 2008 general election, the Green Party's vote was up again to 6.8% and 937,613 votes. On August 30, the former Liberal MP Blair Wilson announces he is joining the Green Party of Canada, becoming the party's first MP and He was defeated in the 2008 federal election, which was called before he had a chance to officially sit in the House of Commons as a Green MP. The best showing was in Elizabeth May's riding of Central Nova where May captured 32.2% of the vote against Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay. Part of the reason for May's strong showing is that she brokered a deal with Liberal leader Stéphane Dion in which he agreed not to run a Liberal candidate. In return, May agreed not to run a candidate in Dion's riding.
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- (July 30, 1988) "The Green Party sprouts." CBC News. Accessed September 2011.
- Green Party of Canada | Our History | www.greenparty.ca
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- Taylor, Lesley Ciarula (May 3, 2011). "Dryden falls, Trudeau survives: Notable election winners and losers". Toronto Star. Retrieved May 3, 2011.
- Canada's Green party looks to bright future following Elizabeth May victory | Felix von Geyer | Environment | guardian.co.uk
- CBC News In Depth: The Green Party