“Third parties are like bees,” the intellectual historian Richard Hofstadter wrote in 1955. “Once they have stung, they die.” It’s an aphorism that aptly describes the anti-slavery and anti-immigrant parties of the mid-nineteenth century, the Populists and Progressives who ushered out the Gilded Age, as well as more recent third-party standard bearers, from George Wallace to Ross Perot. All of these movements and figures influenced American politics dramatically, before fading away and leaving the basic two-party duopoly intact.”
—Ross Douthat in the New York Times, May 15, 2012
With the collapse of minority government and a minority government’s future guarantor—proportional representation—the national Green Party of Canada has lost any credible prospect of becoming a significant ongoing influence in Canadian politics. It can’t intimidate a majority government. Furthermore, whenever the public is aroused, the Green’s priority concern—the environment—can be easily taken up as a priority by existing political parties, on both the left and the right.
However, it still has a working stinger. And it should use it now. The configuration and leadership of Canada’s opposition forces—the alternative Canadian government—will be resolved over the next year.
Presently, with 3% of the vote, meaningful support in British Columbia, one excellent communicator in the House of Commons, and a nice middle-class brand, it can make a strategic difference: either by joining Thomas Muclair and the New Democrats or by joining the Liberal life-raft in the center.
The Green Party would be a prize for either potential suitor. Mulcair’s prospects in BC and his image as a centrist builder would be enhanced. Joining the Liberals could literally keep them alive long enough for further room in the center to open up.
You could object: This isn’t America! Okay, but don’t try to say that we’re more complicated, that we’re too prickly to express ourselves within two national political parties. There is no compelling evidence that Canadian voters or their political elites want or need a multiparty political system to articulate changing national values and challenges.
Regional parties do have a legitimate, if temporary, place in the political market place. That’s why, now and then, we have minority governments. Regional grievances, however, are hardly the core business of the Green Party.
Unless a decent majority of Greens soon decides whom they want to support, the Green Party will fade away without ever being a serious nuisance, let alone a game-changer. That would be a sad fate for an institution founded on the principals of sustainable development.