Green parties around the world tend to have a tough time getting elected in countries that employ first-past-the-post electoral systems.
The Green Party of Canada, for example, has never won a seat in the House of Commons. But there are cases – like Brighton, UK, and Melbourne, Australia – in which Greens have earned first-past-the-post seats. In both instances, they prevailed in ridings with large gay populations.
Why? Well, aside from environmentalism, Green parties generally run on principles of social justice, reliance on grassroots democracy, nonviolence and a generally positive and respectful approach to issues. Those qualities, if somewhat abstract, tend to appeal to large numbers of gay people. And Green Party of Canada deputy leader Adriane Carr is counting on that phenomenon as she makes another bid to claim the seat in Vancouver Centre in the May 2 general election.
“The gay community has been at the forefront of really fighting violence, isolation, negativity and negative impression in culture,” says Carr. “Other parties are immersed in it, but the Greens stand alone in saying it’s not good enough that we have a politic where it’s common practice to attack each other, to be negative, to be almost violent in the kind of advertisements that are put forward.”
But is that enough to earn Carr the breakthrough she needs in Vancouver Centre? Perhaps not. What she overlooks is that in Melbourne and Brighton, the Greens won seats after long-time Labour incumbents stood down. In Vancouver Centre, long-time Liberal incumbent Hedy Fry says she has no intention of withdrawing any time soon.
In Brighton, Caroline Lucas was a Green Party leader; she had been elected previously as a Member of the European Parliament and was a national figure in the UK. Also, in both Brighton and Melbourne, Greens prevailed in three-way races while Carr finds herself in a clear four-way race.
“Demographics are necessary but not sufficient,” says Alice Funke, publisher of Pundits’ Guide, a website devoted to electoral information. “In these core urban downtown ridings, they’re very difficult to organize, and it takes a political party a period of time to build up an organization.
“You cannot reach that many doorsteps multiple times without a lot of volunteers,” Funke adds. “While I don’t doubt that the [Green] organization in Vancouver Centre is probably one of their stronger ones in the country, Carr is competing against Hedy Fry, who has by all accounts a very successful organization herself.”
Another challenge Carr faces is the difficulty of engaging voters one-on-one in dense urban ridings like Vancouver Centre.
“People who live in high-rises are never at home,” says Funke. “You might be able to campaign in a bar, you might be able to campaign on a street corner, but the cornerstone of political organizing is attaching a face to a name on the voters’ list, knowing who your supporters are and reminding them to get out to the polls. That’s very hard to do in a riding like that.”
Fry says she has yet to see Carr at community events outside of an election period.
“If you care about a community, you don’t give it up and just do it when there’s an election,” says Fry. “You continue to be involved in the community, and I have never seen her with any community involvement whatsoever between elections, never mind the queer community.”
Fry, a physician, has a long-standing connection to Vancouver’s gay communities and a record of treating HIV/AIDS patients when few other doctors would. Carr doesn’t have a similar history with Vancouver’s queer communities.
Still, the Green Party has one of the most comprehensive gay rights platforms of any political party and had the first openly gay party leader in the country, in Chris Lea, during the 1990s.
When asked how she would resonate with gay voters, Carr tends to generalities.
“I’m really fun,” she says. “I have an incredible amount of energy, and I’m new. For me, this is a super-exciting opportunity to do something meaningful for my community.”
Carr says that her “fresh enthusiasm” differentiates her from Fry, who, Carr says, did great things at the beginning of her career but has been silent lately.
Fry says she doesn’t feel like Carr is a threat.
“I think that the Greens are desperate,” she says. “They’re coming up with all kinds of theories to get them to win. So whatever her strategic plan and her theories are, she’s welcome to them.”