The nip-and-tuck race that the Greens and New Democrats played through the early count in the Victoria byelection makes one thing clear.
The Green Party is for real. They may or may not hit a grand slam home run by actually winning the constituency and stealing it away from the NDP, but the party certainly hit a solid triple.
Candidate Donald Galloway, a University of Victoria professor who answered leader Elizabeth May’s call almost on a whim, dogged the New Democratic Party’s Murray Rankin through three hours of counting and traded the lead multiple times as the first few thousand votes were counted.
The conventional wisdom prior to the vote gave the race to Rankin, with most of the arguments centring on the ordering of the runners-up.
Instead, the Greens kept pace with the NDP through three solid hours of counting, while the Liberals and Conservatives fell on their faces.
A nervous crowd of more than 100 New Democrats got periodic updates over the early going. Anxious calculations were the common reaction.
A few dozen Greens gathered at a Yates Street meeting place and greeted the numbers with increasing jubilation.
The early showing was a far cry from the last few performances by either party.
Former NDP MP Denise Savoie won three elections going back to 2006, increasing her count and her margin each time. She won 2011 with a simple majority, a rarity in multi-candidate races. Some of that was attributable to the surge generated by the late Jack Layton.
That wave has crested in Victoria, and Greens polled between eight and 11 per cent over that period. But May is earning a national reputation from the neighbouring riding and she threw everything into the race. It didn’t go unnoticed that she was the only leader to pay a lot of attention to the local contest.
That contributed to Liberal Paul Summerville’s poor showing. In the last election, Liberal candidate Christopher Causton finished well back, dragged down by the poor showing of former leader Michael Ignatieff. Summerville’s 12 per cent share in the early count shows the only thing worse than a poor leader is no leader at all.
Greens campaigned partly on the byelection advantage — nothing much turned on the result, so sympathizers would throw a vote their way without worrying about national implications.
A party official spelled it out last week: “The byelection will have no consequence on which party forms the government ... So you don’t need to vote strategically based on who you don’t want to form government. In other words, you can actually vote for the candidate that really represents your values, instead of using your vote to prevent a candidate that doesn’t represent your values from being elected.”
Around the same time, the NDP were mass emailing voters, warning them about the danger posed by the threat of electing the Conservative.
But Dale Gann finished well back.
It turns out the NDP were worried about the wrong opponent. There were mutterings at NDP headquarters that the federal Tories pulled a fast one in the late stages and urged their voters to go Green after reading the writing on the wall and seeing a loss was inevitable.
Analysis today will centre on whether the hot-button sewage treatment issue decided things.
Rankin was the only candidate to stand in favour of the expensive treatment plant that will jack homeowners’ tax bills up by hundreds of dollars.
The Conservative abandoned his government’s stand on treatment last week. The Liberal condemned it from the outset, and the Greens surprised many by engineering a careful flip-flop from previous years and coming out against the current plan.
Whether it was sewage treatment, the byelection freedom to vote as you please or May’s reputation, it turned the former fringe party into a solid performer Monday on turf the NDP used to own.