With Prime Minister Trudeau triggering an election today (August 15th), the major parties are accelerating their efforts to nominate candidates by the deadline.
Green Party supporters should be alarmed by their party’s lack of progress in this area. Based on available evidence, the party is not on track to field a full slate of candidates this election, and could face serious financial and political consequences as a result.
Where Nominations Stand Today
The election date has been set for 20 September. Candidate nominations close 21 days before election day, so parties will have until 30 August to nominate their candidates. 338 candidates are required for a full slate. (Though the Bloc Québécois only targets Québec ridings, of which there are 78.)
With these facts in mind, the graph below shows the nomination progress of the major federal parties as of 14 August. The dashed lines are straight-line projections, based on each party’s pace of nominations over recent days. The two vertical lines indicate the election call and the close of nominations. (Click or tap the graph to view full size.)
The established parties are all on pace to nominate a full slate, with the exception of the Green Party, which is on pace to complete only 245 nominations. (Data for the People’s Party is sparse, but suggests a ballpark projection of 190 candidates for this semi-established party.)
It may be tempting, based on this graph alone, for Green supporters to assume that simply “picking up the pace” will be sufficient to correct the problem. However, a look at additional data provides reasons for concern.
The Application Process
Little is known about the internal decisions driving the Green Party’s candidate selection process. Their recruitment campaign, “Time to Run”, was launched February 5th and called on supporters to help recruit a diverse slate of community leaders.
Since then, member mailouts and internal governance meetings have provided a glimpse into the number of applications received and the processing of those applications.
The graph below shows the number of applications received, applications approved, ridings with at least one approved application, and nominated candidates. (Click or tap the graph to view full size.)
Note: A February 25 announcement indicated that the party had received “hundreds of expressions of interest”. I was unable to determine whether an “expression of interest” is the same as a candidate application, so I have excluded this data point.
As with the previous graph, we see that current nominations are less than half of a full slate. Extending from the final nomination tally on 14 August, the darker dashed line shows the projected pace of nominations, while the lighter dashed line shows, for comparison, the pace needed to reach a full slate.
The triangular points indicate the number of applications received. Announcements on 7 May and 14 June both referred to “hundreds” of applications; these have been represented by a single data point showing 200 applications on 14 June.
The Leader’s Newsletter of 9 July made a more specific claim of 238 applications, and a report to the 27 July Federal Council meeting made reference to 304 applications having been received.
Assuming the party continued to receive applications at the same pace, it would have received about 350 applications today, and would receive about 380 by the nomination deadline. (Both numbers are represented by the darker dashed line extending from the most recent application tally.)
At first glance, this might appear to be enough to nominate 338 candidates with room to spare. However, there are some important factors to consider.
Some ridings, naturally, produce multiple candidate applications. When this happens, a nomination contest is held, and only one of the applicants ultimately becomes the candidate. For this reason, more than 338 applications are needed to nominate a full slate. But can we estimate how many?
One source indicated to me that in the 2015 election, and again in the 2019 election, the party received approximately 1000 applications. The party was able to field a full slate in both of those elections, so we can assume that 1000 is a safe upper boundary. This would give an applications-to-nominations ratio of 3-to-1. (In the graph above, the pace to reach 1000 applications is indicated by the lighter dashed line that extends after the most recent tally of applications.)
Additional statistics from the 27 July Council meeting suggest a lower boundary. Of the 304 applications that had been received by that time, about 230 had been approved. Those 230 had applied in about 210 ridings, which suggest that at least 10% of applications overlapped, giving an applications-to-nominations ratio of 1.1-to-1.
This is a pretty wide range. Thankfully, there’s one other piece of data that can help us estimate an applications-to-nominations ratio: the concentration of the party’s support base in previous elections. It’s logical to assume that the strongest ridings would produce multiple candidate applications, while the weakest ridings would fail to produce even one, and would need to be contested by “parachute” candidates.
The math is too complex to include in this post, but based on the party’s highly-concentrated support, a reasonable benchmark is that the party would need 680 genuine candidate applications, plus 40 paper candidates, to field a full slate. (Giving an applications-to-nominations ratio of about 2-to-1.)
Using this ratio, the Green Party’s projected 380 applications would only be enough to field around 230 candidates. (190 approved applicants, plus 40 paper candidates.) This is a very similar number to the 245 nominations that we projected in the first graph, based on the current pace of confirmed nominations.
Rejections and Withdrawals
Beyond the normal math of nomination contests, candidate totals are also affected by rejected applications and withdrawn candidacies. Both of these are present in every party, but in a healthy campaign, they affect only a small number of applicants.
Anecdotal reports indicate that starting in late July (following the Green party’s very public leadership crisis), an elevated number of candidate applications are being withdrawn, with at least one confirmed candidate also withdrawing. The number of rejected applications is also reportedly higher than in past years, while some prominent or “star” candidates never applied to begin with.
Even if rejections and withdrawals are at elevated levels, that would be unlikely to make a big difference to the total number of applications the party would need to nominate a full slate. For example, the target number might be 720 instead of 680.
However, aside from the direct effect on numbers, these are negative events that also affect morale and interest levels. This slows down the pace of applications, which is a problem given that the party already needs to pick up that pace.
Why does it matter so much if a party doesn’t run a full slate? To begin with, it affects the perception of the party’s legitimacy: a party unable to field candidates in all 338 ridings either does not represent the interests of the whole country, or is not a well-developed and well-run national organization.
However, for the Greens, there are far more serious consequences looming.
First is the percentage of the national vote. In the 2019 election, the Greens received 6.6% support with a full slate of candidates. If we assume the party had only run 240 candidates in 2019, and those candidates had received the same 6.6% support in the ridings where they ran, then the party’s share of the nation-wide vote, all ridings being equal, would have been only 4.7%. In other words, the national vote share would under-represent the party’s true support, influencing public perception of the party’s strength.
However, this is not 2019. The Greens are currently polling at only 4.8%. Even if we assume support is the same on election day (which history tells us is unlikely), running only 240 candidates would result in a national vote share of 3.4%, a twenty-year low. This would be an embarrassing step backward for the party; however, the national vote percentage affects more than just perception.
One of the criteria for inclusion in the Leader’s Debates, in both 2019 and 2021, was that the party must have obtained at least 4% support in the most recent election. Depending on the criteria used for the next election, having received a national vote share below 4% in 2021 could result in the Greens being excluded from those debates.
A second concern, also related to the national vote tally, is that federal parties that receive more than 2% of the national vote are entitled to receive a reimbursement for 50% of their election campaign expenses.
If today’s polling holds until election day, the Greens would receive more than 2% national support, even with a reduced candidate slate.
However, as of July, the Green Party has only $300,000 cash on hand for both campaigning and normal operations, leaving it incapable of mounting a national election campaign of any meaningful impact. This makes it almost certain that support will decrease during the campaign, as the Greens seem to “disappear” from the perception of the average voter. That, combined with a reduced candidate slate, could realistically pull the party below 2% national support.
Should that happen, the total amount of public funding the party would lose would be in the neighborhood of half a million dollars.
Worse still, one of the factors considered by banks when determining whether to give a campaign loan is whether the party can expect to receive the expense reimbursement. At this point, short of a fundraising miracle, a campaign loan is the only pathway to a serious national campaign for the Greens, so inability to access a loan could effectively shut down the campaign.
By reasonable measures, the Green Party is not on pace to nominate a full slate of candidates. Party supporters should be deeply troubled by the possible consequences.
Under Canada’s first-past-the-post system, parties on the edge of “established” status are in a fragile position. There’s a very real possibility that sluggish nominations could be the trigger that pushes the Green Party into a self-reinforcing death spiral: inability to secure a campaign loan, an incomplete candidate slate, doubly-reduced election results, future debate exclusion, and ultimately, a deep blow to the party’s perceived legitimacy and future prospects.
Given that the number of applications received thus far does not appear to be sufficient to nominate a full slate, this can’t be cured by speeding up administration. The Greens will have to find a way to attract more candidate applications, and quickly.
Weekly tallies of nominated candidates come primarily from Politico’s Corridors newsletter (which in turn obtained those numbers by asking the parties directly):
- July 7: https://www.politico.com/newsletters/corridors/2021/07/07/why-an-election-is-definitely-probably-in-the-offing-796338
- July 14: https://www.politico.com/newsletters/corridors/2021/07/14/everyones-promising-a-million-jobs-796477
- July 21: https://www.politico.com/newsletters/corridors/2021/07/21/all-the-reasons-trudeau-should-think-twice-about-an-election-796623
- July 28: https://www.politico.com/newsletters/corridors/2021/07/28/trudeau-shops-for-votes-in-atlantic-canada-796759
- August 4: https://www.politico.com/newsletters/corridors/2021/08/04/what-canadians-really-think-about-americans-493841
- August 11: https://www.politico.com/newsletters/corridors/2021/08/11/it-would-be-weird-not-to-have-an-election-797082
Additional sources for numbers of candidates and, for the GPC, numbers of applications:
- Party mailouts to members in February, May, and June.
- Summary of Federal Council meeting of July 27th, recounted by an observer.
- August 13, iPolitics.ca: https://ipolitics.ca/2021/08/13/in-funds-and-candidates-tories-are-the-most-prepared-for-a-vote/
- August 14, Toronto Star: https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/2021/08/14/conservatives-email-supporters-in-search-of-candidates-ahead-of-federal-election-call.html
- Aggregate polling levels from CBC Poll Tracker https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/elections/poll-tracker/canada/
- The party’s financial situation was detailed in internal governance meetings recounted to me by an observer, then subsequently reported widely in the media.