The future of Saskatchewan’s Green Party hung in the balance after provincial leader Larissa Shasko recently stepped down to join the NDP. It looked like the Greens might not recoup after being broad-sided. Shasko’s resignation the same day that federal Green leader and MP Elizabeth May spoke in Saskatoon led to speculation that the NDP had a hand in the matter. Green leader since 2009, Shasko was clearly frustrated over the gruelling inner workings of the party and will work for Regina NDP candidate Yens Petersen, who is on the green side of the NDP.
According to Praxis Analytics’ last poll the NDP needs all the help it can get. The Sask Party has 63% support among decided voters, with only 13% of voters undecided and the NDP trails with 26% support; “well below its 70-year historic ‘floor’ vote”. There’s little doubt who will win the November 7th election; what remains unknown is how badly the NDP will lose and which party will survive as Saskatchewan’s third party.
The Liberals are in steady decline, with less than 6% support and no ability to run a full slate. While 35% of decided voters pick the Liberals as second choice, this won’t translate into votes. One-half of Liberal supporters pick the NDP as second-choice; in two-party run-offs in close seats this could lead to the Liberal vote collapsing. Only 28% of Liberal supporters pick the Sask Party as second-choice.
Can Green Party support re-emerge in the aftermath of Shasko’s hasty departure? Green support has dropped from 5% in 2009 to only 3% now. This drop likely contributed to Shasko jumping ship; in her resignation she emphasized she’s wants her efforts to lead to someone finally being elected. Her move to the NDP may play a role in greening the NDP, which is likely necessary for it to ever return to governing.
Under Lingenfelter the NDP remains in deep trouble. When asked “is there a party leader you would NOT want to see as Premier” 59% polled by Praxis said “yes” to Lingenfelter. Meanwhile, only 16% said “yes” to Shasko, which was close to the rating for Premier Wall (14.5%). It’s not surprising that 78% of Sask Party supporters said they didn’t want Lingenfelter as Premier. But 75% of Green Party supporters felt the same way. This was nearly four times the percentage of NDP supporters (22%) who didn’t want Lingenfelter as Premier.
Voter age matters. Only 13% of those from 19-34 didn’t want to see Shasko as Premier; whereas 23% of those over 65 felt this way. It was just the opposite for Wall: 19 % of those 19-34 didn’t want to see him as Premier compared to only 7% of those over 65. Green support rises markedly as voter age declines; but youth aren’t yet voting widely. NDP supporters may hope that twenty-nine year old Shasko’s party-jumping will enhance their party’s standing among young Green sympathizers. It however seems unlikely that the groundswell of support among youth for the late federal NDP leader Jack Layton will translate into support for the Lingenfelter-led NDP.
Green voters don’t necessarily shift to the NDP; while half of them said their second-choice was the NDP, one-third said it was the Sask Party. There has been a decline of second-choice support for the Sask Party among Green voters since 2009. But there aren’t enough committed Green votes to make an overall difference, though a small shift might affect particular constituencies where the vote between the NDP and Sask Party is close, such as in Yens Petersen’s riding. Some voters may follow Shasko’s lead and vote strategically to avert an NDP routing at the polls.
It is largely myth though that the Greens take votes from the NDP. More NDP supporters picked the Liberals as second choice (44%) than selected the Greens (25%). More NDP supporters (29%) even selected the Sask Party as second-choice. What might that say?
THE THIRD PARTY
The big question remains whether the Greens can build back enough support to become the province’s third party. Accomplishing this depends mostly on inspiring and mobilizing more people to vote. The prospects looked bleak after Shasko’s departure but the Greens appear to have weathered the storm. At their September 24th emergency membership meeting in Regina they elected past leader Victor Lau as the new leader and renewable-energy activist Mark Bigland Prichard as deputy leader. Lau handily defeated Larry Waldinger and the controversial Brendan Cross, past leader of the First Nations Party. In a close race Bigland-Prichard defeated Owen Swiderski with past Green leader Amber Jones coming distant third.
Can the Greens better “message” their vision and critique to the wider public? The Praxis poll suggests they have something to build on. This poll had voters rank various issues and then to indicate which party “does the best job”. “Healthcare” ranked highest (4.5 out of 5) and the NDP and Sask Party tied among voters for doing the “best job”. On all other issues except two the Sask Party had the highest rating for “does job best”. The NDP rated highest for housing, but the Greens outranked both the NDP and Sask Party for the environment, an “issue” which ranked high among the public (4.2 out of 5).
NOT SINGLE ISSUE
What will the Greens do with this? Many don’t wish to be seen as only an “environmental party” and of course the Greens should support rent control and social housing. It would however be a mistake to downplay the climate crisis, which Waldinger rightly called the Green’s “signature issue”. It would also be wrong to downplay the dangers from the tar sands or nuclear power. Rather than watering-down their environmentalism, the Greens need to convincingly show how the environmental crisis is linked to all sectors (economy, health, agriculture, taxes, etc.) “Environment” after all is not a single issue; without “it” there would be no economy, no society.
The Greens should assertively enter the healthcare debate, emphasizing the role of environmental degradation in declining personal and community health and rising health costs. The Greens should stress that Saskatchewan not only has the highest per capita greenhouse gases and is the largest uranium exporter in the world, but is one of the biggest users of toxic agricultural chemicals. Neither fossil-fuel or nuclear energy nor chemical agribusiness is environmentally sustainable, and some politicians must begin to champion the need to convert to renewables and organic agriculture. The majority of the electorate are already moving towards non-nuclear, renewable energy and are becoming more concerned about ecologically-safe food. The greens should highlight policies such as a feed-in tariff to bring more renewables on to the public grid (Saskatchewan is far behind on this) and provide more backing for policies that encourage organic agriculture.
The million dollar question is whether the Greens can undercut some of the existing support for the corporate-driven, environmentally-unsustainable economic growth of the Sask Party. This “growth at any cost” mentality could lead us to become a nuclear dump for the rest of Canada and the continent. Saskatchewan’s economy is now so tied to the export of non-renewables that the continuing worldwide economic meltdown could soon make us all vulnerable. The Greens should confidently join the debate about the NDP’s proposal for a Bright Future’s Fund, arguing that the saved non-renewable royalties should be used to make the conversion to a sustainable economy. It could focus on bringing the north up to the same living standard as the south, instead of remaining Canada’s second poorest region. The slogan “One Saskatchewan” could capture this Green vision.
Nothing ventured nothing gained!