On the road with the Queen’s Greens

Green leader Elizabeth May loses London byelection, garnering 25.8 per cent of vote

Volunteers from Vancouver to Charlottetown poured in and out of a London, Ont., office building last week, trying to prepare to send the first Green Party candidate to Ottawa. The Queen’s Greens were there, and a Journal reporter accompanied them.

Elizabeth May, the party’s new leader, ran in the London North Centre by-election to fill the seat in Parliament left vacant when Liberal Joe Fontana resigned his seat to run for mayor. She garnered 25.8 per cent of the vote, coming in a close second to Liberal candidate Glen Pearson, who had 34.9 per cent of the vote.

According to the party’s website, this was the highest percentage of votes the Green Party has gotten in a federal riding.

Despite the loss, May was not disappointed with the results.

“Months ago, I would not have predicted that we could come this far,” she said. “It’s a huge and exciting breakthrough for the Green Party.”

She said the election was a message to other parties that the Green Party is a force to be reckoned with.

“We ran a very short campaign,” she said. “In this time, we were really able to send shock waves to the other parties.”

May says she’ll continue to push the policies of the Green Party.

“I’ll be at committee hearings, releasing press releases, and organizing at the grassroots,” she said. “London isn’t viewed as a city where the Green Party would be strong. Having such a positive voter turnout really rocked people back on their heels.” Jared Giesbrecht, Law ’08 and Queen’s Greens chair, and other campaign volunteers spent the weekend talking to residents about the election, spending much of their time on the University of Western Ontario (UWO) campus.

Unfortunately, most students were not aware a by-election going on.

Ben West, UWO campus co-ordinator for May’s campaign, said he was disappointed in a lack of student voter turnout, which he attributed to misinformation rather than apathy.

“We’ve seen other parties write off the campus and students as apathetic, thinking there’s not point in putting energy into it,” he said, prior to the election. “Personally, I see no evidence of that. I feel like there’s not been any effort from Elections Canada to make people aware of the by-election. That being said, we’re pushing really hard to get the word out on campus.”

West said the Green Party’s socially progressive agenda appeals to young people in particular.

“In general, young people are disenfranchised by the political process. The Green Party offers something for them to actually be excited about.”

Giesbrecht agreed, saying student apathy stems from the inability of old parties to address the substantial issues of our day.

“Unfortunately, they are part of the problem rather than the solution,” he said. “Because we are a very young party, students and young people play a major role in the Green Party. This openness to young people is creating overwhelming optimism at a time when the old parties are becoming increasingly exclusive.”

With the recent formation of the youth wing of the Green Party of Canada, Young Greens clubs have sprung up on campuses across Canada, and membership within the last year has doubled. Labeling themselves as a party that thinks outside the box, West said launching a video campaign on YouTube and utilizing online communities like Facebook and MySpace has helped to engage young people.

“We’re trying to engage people in as many ways as possible. I think you have to get out the vote in a totally different way that isn't traditional politics, and this is the party that tries to do that,” West said.

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