David Merner, Green party candidate for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, here standing outside his campaign office, said the party could end up holding the national balance of power depending on outcomes in key areas, including Greater Victoria (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Green candidate in Saanich riding predicts Green-NDP battle for Vancouver Island

David Merner said party has identified two Victoria area ridings as priorities

Greens across Vancouver Island including Greater Victoria are feeling buoyant after Paul Manly won the federal byelection in Nanaimo Ladysmith.

“This [victory] is going to resonate and continues to resonate,” said David Merner, federal Green party candidate for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, who is running to replace local New Democratic MP Randall Garrison.

With 99 per cent of polls reporting, Manly won 37.3 per cent of the vote in Monday’s vote, which many observers have called historic, and not just because Manley became only the second Green elected to the House of Commons. The Conservatives were at 24.8 per cent, the NDP at 23.1 per cent and the Liberals fourth with 11.0 per cent. Voter turnout was 40.1 per cent.

Looking at reasons for Manly’s victory, Merner pointed to the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal swirling around the federal Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the New Democrats’ half-hearted embrace of environmentalism under their new leader Jagmeet Singh. “Green [New Democrats] are coming over in droves,” said Merner, who is also reaching to disgruntled Liberals.

Not surprisingly, observers have interpreted Manley’s election as a potential preview of bigger political developments that could conclude with Greater Victoria (along with the rest of Vancouver Island) determining the national balance of power.

RELATED: Nanaimo-Ladysmith Green win sends message to other parties that climate issue a winner

Merner said the byelection previews the coming battle between federal Greens and federal New Democrats up and down Vancouver Island, including Greater Victoria.

Manley won a riding previously held by federal New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson, whose departure for provincial politics triggered the byelection.

A similar situation has emerged in the riding of Victoria, where current New Democratic MP Murray Rankin won’t run again after winning 42 per cent of the vote. Victoria city councillor Laurel Collins elected to her current office less than a year ago will now try to hold that seat against Green Racelle Kooy, who looks to build on the 33 per cent that former radio personality Jo-Ann Roberts won in 2015 in finishing second.

As for Merner, his race against Garrison will be a rematch of 2015, which he finished in second place with 27.3 per cent of vote to Garrison’s 35 per cent. Only this time, Merner is running as a Green rather a Liberal, and the party has identified both ridings as target-to-win ridings.

“These are…priority ridings for the Green Party,” he said. “We know that we can win here. We are going to pour resources into them. And actually, it is not just these two ridings.”

Merner said Green will continue to work hard across Vancouver Island with an eye on the larger picture. “The big question is will this Vancouver Island wave carry across the country?” he asked.

A lot of time remains between now and voting day, he said. “But if we get five or six seats on [Vancouver Island], if we get two or three seats in Quebec, which is the next most likely, if we get one or two in Ontario, and may be Halifax, where [Roberts] is running, now we are talking about the same scenario as in British Columbia, where you hold the balance of power.”

The Greens are already a prominent presence on Vancouver Island. Manley’s victory not only gives the federal Greens their second elected seat in the House of Commons; it also solidifies the party’s growing political control of Vancouver Island. Seen on a map, the federal Greens are starting to paint the south-eastern coast of Vancouver Island, well, green.

Federal Green party leader and local MP Elizabeth May established the first beachhead, when she won Saanich Gulf Islands (2016 pop: 107, 339) in 2011.

Manley’s victory in Nanaimo-Ladysmith (2016 pop: 122,710) now means that the Greens control two out of seven federal ridings on Vancouver Island, representing almost 29 per cent of the population in those ridings with the proviso that the riding North Island-Powell River also includes part of the Mainland.

This picture deepens once observers include provincial seats. All three seats held by the BC Greens are Vancouver Island seats, with two of those seats in the Greater Victoria area.

Not surprisingly, local Greens were not only quick to congratulate Manley, but also interpret his election as an omen for the upcoming federal election.

Riffing off a Manley tweet, May said the Greens want to do more than just double their current caucus from two to four in October. “Our sights are set higher for October,” she said.

Local MLA and BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said in a press release that Manley’s victory signalled a change in public perceptions about Greens.

“Whether it is the changing economy, widening income income inequality, the housing crisis, or the climate disaster, Greens across the country have important contributors in the political landscape,” he said. “Canadians are increasingly aware that the approach of the old parties is no longer sufficient to meet the problems of the 21st century.”


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