A Win For Apathetic Voters

It might be a good idea if the Green Party of Canada muted their victory trumpets slightly until October when a parliamentary seat won will have real significance.

The Green seat won in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection on May 5 rates a feeling of optimism, but no more. It’s like being ahead by a couple of goals at half time; it’s a nice, confident feeling but there’s still 45 minutes to play.

I am not raining on the Green parade. Out-playing the always powerful New Democrats in one of its strongholds is great. But you only get to keep this by-election trophy seat for six months – and the goals scored in the first go-round don’t count in the general election finals scheduled for October as (dreadful thought) the leaves begin to turn.

While the Greens earned the right to sip victory toasts, a few among them took time for a more sobering look at the numbers which tell cautionary tales for winners and loser, for political activists and our “don’t give a damn” citizens.

In the 2015 general election, Paul Manly attracted 14,074 votes for the Greens but was defeated by New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson with 23,651. Malcolmson resigned her federal seat and won a January 2019 byelection to succeed Leonard Krog as MLA for Nanaimo. 

On May 5, Manly increased his vote to a shade over 15,000, and Bob Chamberlin carrying the NDP flag crashed to 9,392. Among the 2015 general election “also ran” Liberals and Conservatives were close, with 16,753 and 16,637 respectively. On May 5, John Hirst, Conservative, slipped to 10,093 while Liberal Michelle Corfield flamed out with 4,478.

The only columns with no surprises were those recording eligible and actual voters. In 2015 some 95,200 were registered to vote, but only 71,399 bothered. On May 5, the registered voters’ list had grown to 99,413; those who bothered dropped to 40,711 or just over 40 per cent.

Such staggering indifference to the right and privilege of participating in a free and secret vote should be more than enough to stifle any rejoicing by a person or party ignored by 60 per cent of the electorate. In fact, it could be argued that the main reason for the Green victory was voter apathy.

Maybe the “second half” to be played out in October will give the Greens a stronger claim that they are surfing a durable wave of popularity, rather than the strength they are now claiming from a byelection ripple. Maybe they will be able to persuade the thousands of New Democrats who failed to vote in Nanaimo a few days ago to vote Green in the fall and justify triumphant trumpeting.

But it’s far more likely that many Canadian voters will stay home on voting day this October and contribute nothing to the vital process of electing a government. In that event any trumpet playing should be as a mournful dirge for the democracy we don’t really care about. Sad, but honest.

(Comprehensive election statistics can be found on Elections Canada and Wikipedia.)


  1. The figures from the byelection compared with the previous general election tell the story. The Greens won because so many NDPers, Liberals and Conservatives stayed at home.

  2. Greens have momentum because they’re new. If that momentum extends to October and the Big Three continue to be afflicted by apathy the Greens may well achieve official party status, if not actually gaining the balance of power that their leader hopes for. I do not support the Green platform but I appreciate the dynamics of apathy.

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