The leader of Yukon’s Green Party says the party will be running candidates in the upcoming territorial election, but it’s being hit hard by former members who say they have to vote strategically this time around.
Kristina Calhoun said she plans to run for the second time in Riverdale North, and she hopes about four Green Party candidates will put their names forward before the election.
The Yukon Green Party was born in 2010, and is entirely run by volunteers. During the 2011 territorial election, Calhoun won 35 votes in Riverdale North. The only other Green candidate, Mike Ivens, won 69 votes in Porter Creek North.
Back then, Calhoun said, the party had about 250 members. Now, that number has dropped to fewer than 50.
“I feel like the majority of the electorate are now in a position where they don’t feel free to vote with their conscience,” she said. “Many of our volunteers, supporters, etc. have decided to support another party.”
Calhoun believes that’s because Green Party supporters are afraid of “more of the same,” and are willing to vote strategically just to get the Yukon Party out. She wouldn’t say whether more of her former members are defecting to the NDP or the Liberals.
This isn’t a new problem for the Green Party in Canada. Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May pleaded with Canadians not to vote strategically prior to last fall’s election, all the while being accused of splitting the vote on the left.
In the Yukon, former federal Green Party candidate John Streicker took 19 per cent of the vote during the 2011 federal election, and was widely accused of contributing to Liberal MP Larry Bagnell’s loss to Conservative Ryan Leef.
Last fall, Green Party candidate Frank de Jong took just three per cent of the vote, while Bagnell swept back to power with 54 per cent.
Calhoun said Canada’s first-past-the-post voting system continues to hurt the Greens, because a party can win a majority government even if the majority of the population hasn’t voted for that party. That means people may be less likely to vote for a small party if they’re worried about a larger party claiming or retaining power.
“The volunteers are down, the members are down,” she said. “It’s definitely a hit to democracy and diversity when you have a system of government that doesn’t take into account the majority’s will.”
Calhoun believes people are fed up with the Yukon Party, partly because of its record on First Nation relations and the Peel watershed debacle.
“It’s just amazing to me that there’s one government that could upset so many people in such a short span of time,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Calhoun said the Green Party isn’t about to throw in the towel.
“You don’t just quit because you’re having a bad time,” she said.
Aside from electoral reform, Calhoun said a major election issue for the Green Party will be the importance of a carbon tax in the Yukon.
“We definitely do need a carbon tax, despite Premier (Darrell) Pasloski’s assertion that the Yukon doesn’t,” she said. “If you use the resources, you should be taxed on the resources.”
She argued that a carbon tax has improved British Columbia’s economy, even though people living in northern B.C. experience a cold climate similar to the Yukon’s.
In May, the Green Party called on the Yukon government to end funding for Catholic schools in the territory, to avoid dividing students along religious lines.
But Calhoun wasn’t sure whether that will be a platform plank during the coming election. “There are a lot of issues right now that are very important and need to be addressed immediately,” she said.
She did say the party’s platform won’t just focus on environmental issues. She said the Green Party recognizes that the economy and the environment “go hand-in-hand.”
Calhoun said the Yukon Green Party measures success by the extent to which the issues it raises are brought forward during and after the election.
“What we always make sure we do is we offer a solution,” she said. “The success for us is when any of those solutions are acknowledged, adopted, talked about, put in place.”
Calhoun said the Green Party is having a meeting on Aug. 25, and will announce its candidates and its platform after that.
In Riverdale North, Calhoun will be up against Mark Beese for the Yukon Party, Rod Snow for the NDP and Nils Clarke for the Liberals. The riding is currently held by the Yukon Party’s Scott Kent, who is now running in Copperbelt South.
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