The Island Green Party will hold its spring conference in June at the Emerald Community Centre. Billed as an opportunity for Green party supporters to “re-define politics on Prince Edward Island,” I am sure the conference will also focus on broadening the party’s base, and strategies leading up to the next provincial election.
That election is less than two years away, and the challenge for the Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, who defeated Liberal Cabinet Minister Valerie Docherty in a stunning upset, is to build a viable, competitive political organization across the Island.
That’s no easy task for any third party, in a province where the two old line parties have exercised a stranglehold on voter loyalty for generations, through effective district organization and fundraising, sizeable donations from businesses and corporations hoping for government handouts, and a ubiquitous system of patronage and favoritism.
Premier MacLauchlan promised to end the practice of corporate and union donations to Island political parties, but then changed his mind abruptly, presumably after a sobering warning from his party’s fundraising chairman. The Opposition Conservatives not surprisingly were complicit in that about face.
If armies march on their stomachs, in our current political system political parties march on money. Elections campaigns are expensive. Parties need lots of money for advertising and staging events, and if the coffers are full, and the bank credit is good, electoral success at least is within reach.
The Island Greens will need to build a war chest.
Peter Bevan-Baker’s 2015 campaign in Kelly’s Cross-Cumberland was somewhat of an anomaly. It took impetus from widespread opposition to the ‘Plan B’ highway project, and it blossomed because of the Green Party leader’s own popularity and credibility. It also harnessed the energies and commitment of hundreds of volunteers from diverse backgrounds, including local environmentalists and counter culture activists.
Can the Greens replicate that success in other electoral districts?
The recent by-election in Summerside-Wilmot should provide some hope. Although the Liberal candidate was victorious, Green Deputy Leader Lynne Lund won a surprising 21.9 percent of the vote, and established herself as a formidable door-to-door campaigner.
The upcoming conference in Emerald undoubtedly will address organizational and fundraising issues, and the task of building election machinery from one end of the Island to the other.
But the bigger challenge I believe is for the Greens to communicate their principles and policies to a larger Island audience, and to explain how the party differs from the Liberals and Conservatives, and to a lesser extent the New Democrats.
What is this re-defining of Island politics all about?
Islanders are not ideologically driven in their politics. Nobody consults the old political philosophers when considering the merits of provincial campaign platforms. Now that social hiring is less prominent, and the attachment to party weaker, Island politics is more about trust and belief in candidates and leaders.
The Green Party’s core values of ecology, local self reliance, participatory democracy, social justice and equality, and non-violence, are difficult to argue with.
But the currency of the Greens is honesty and integrity.
In a current environment of government scandals and misdeeds, Bevan-Baker and the Greens promise a higher public morality, and although it smacks of arrogance and self-righteousness at times, that higher bar appeals to an Island electorate tired of the old gangs, and the same old self-serving oligarchs.
Peter Bevan-Baker is a man of considerable intellect. His civility sets him apart as a politician. He is viewed by Islanders as decent and forthright, and his performance in the legislature to date has borne this out.
But how does a political party with such lofty principles and rules of conduct maintain its purity while building to become a contender in the hardball, at times mud slinging arena of Island politics.
Perhaps it’s simply a matter of ignoring the slings and arrows and sailing through like a saintly virgin in a white boat.
It will be difficult to escape some of the old ways. For example, if the Green Party did attain power, I am sure that key positions in its government would be filled by people faithful to the party and its core values, and that political operatives and campaign supporters would be suitably rewarded with opportunities.
Will that be doing politics differently?
Moreover, no political party I believe is ever free from the opinions and influence of established interests or groups. For example, the Green Party’s critic for education, Karla Bernard, is an educator with the Public Schools Branch. I have wondered if that explains, at least in part, Peter Bevan-Baker’s careful and pulled back approach during the recent rural school closure debate. Conservative Stephen Myers was on the front lines, as was NDP leader Mike Redmond. The Green Party leader was there, however he seemed ambivalent about it all.
Peter Bevan Baker and his Green Party have already changed politics on Prince Edward Island.
They will not become the governing party anytime soon, however given the continued lacklustre of the Conservatives, and the long odds of a fourth term Liberal government, it is entirely possible that Peter Bevan Baker and his party could send several people to the legislature following the next election, and possibly even hold the balance of power.
Watch for that white boat sailing through your community.