The deadline to nominate candidates for the September 20th election has passed, and for the first time in two decades, the Green Party has failed to nominate a full slate.
On August 15th, I raised the possibility that the Greens might fall short, nominating somewhere in the neighborhood of 245 candidates. As I write this, two days after the deadline, Elections Canada lists (by my own count) 248 confirmed candidates for the Greens, leaving 90 ridings uncontested.
Certain regions are particularly badly hit: Newfoundland and Labrador have no Green candidates whatsoever; Québec is missing candidates in one third of its ridings; Alberta is missing half. Toronto and surrounding area are riddled with holes, especially puzzling given their proximity to leader Annamie Paul’s riding.
In addition, the party’s reduced slate may include as many as 100-120 “paper” candidates (people who have volunteered to put their names on the ballot, but do not intend to actively campaign). The last time the party reported a candidate total to the media, prior to an emergency recruitment drive for paper candidates in the closing week of nominations, the total sat at 142 candidates. (As of today, only 145 candidates are displayed on the party’s website.)
A Global News report of September 1 indicates that the party had prepared a strategy in December to put forward a full slate, and, according to leader Annamie Paul, “enough candidates [stepped] forward”. However, “lack of resources” were blamed for the party’s failure to collect the 100 signatures per candidate required to run.
Paul also stated that the party “took a little more time getting off the ground … in order to make sure that we were more diverse and inclusive”. (Several party officials have privately described the candidate search to me in a less complimentary manner, calling it “slow” and “bureacratic”.)
All signs indicate that the party fell into the “slate canyon”, a phenomenon I described in my previous post. Parties in the 2-5% range of support must either commit to running a full slate, or a smaller slate of their strongest candidates, or they risk serious financial consequences.
A Million-Dollar Mistake?
A major source of public funding for federal parties in Canada is the campaign expense reimbursement. To qualify, a party must meet one of two criteria:
- They received 2% of all the votes cast in the national election.
- They received an average of 5% of the votes cast in the ridings where they ran candidates.
Parties that qualify receive a reimbursement for 50% of their central campaign expenses. In the case of the Greens, that could mean up to a million dollars.
In the 2015 election, the party’s expenses totalled $3.91M (however, this was a historically long election), and in 2019, they spent $2.45M.
In 2021, the party has experienced significant financial troubles, and earlier this year members discovered the party was mere months from going bankrupt, with only $300,000 cash on hand. However, despite those troubles, the party was able to secure a campaign loan of “under $2 million”, according to an August 22nd report in the Toronto Star.
To estimate the party’s likely campaign expenses this year, we can exclude the $300,000 cash (needed for survival expenses). Donations typically spike during an election, so combined with the campaign loan, we might expect an upper estimate of $2M for the party’s election expenses in 2021.
(A recent mailout by the party refers to a “campaign [fundraising] goal of $600,000”. It is impossible to know whether this goal will be reached, but it seems unlikely it will be exceeded. This gives further support to the upper estimate of $2M.)
That would make the 50% reimbursement worth $1M, or about half the value of typical donations in a non-election year.
How likely are the Greens to receive the expense reimbursement? This is where the reduced candidate slate becomes critical.
Calculating the Greens’ Tragic Number
Achieving the 5% threshold is unrealistic for the party at this point. With the party currently polling at 3.4%, with all the internal turmoil and financial strain, and with an established pattern of consistently losing support during election periods, there is no reason to expect the party to rebound to 5% overall support.
So, to secure the funding, the only chance for the Greens is to meet the other threshold by receiving 2% of all votes cast in the election. This is where the reduced candidate slate can be fatal, because it denies the party some of the votes it would have received with a full slate.
So if more than 2% support is needed because of lost votes, what would be the “tragic number” for the Greens?
The “Equal Ridings” Method
As a first guess, we can assume that all ridings are equal. Given that there are 338 ridings total, this means that any riding without a candidate would result in 1/338th of total votes being lost.
With only 248 candidates out of 338 ridings, the Greens would be losing 27% of their potential votes. To achieve 2% of the total votes cast, they would actually need 2.73% support across the country. The 0.73% would be lost in ridings without a candidate, and the remaining ridings would be enough to achieve the 2%.
“Worst Ridings” Method
However, all ridings are not equal, nor even close. So, for a more refined approach, we might assume that the 90 ridings without candidates are the party’s 90 weakest ridings. (This makes sense, since candidates are typically harder to find in ridings with less support.) The party would lose fewer voters from these ridings than it would from the average riding.
The following graph shows the Green Party’s vote concentration in the 2019 election. (Tap or click to view full size.)
In 2019, the Green Party’s 90 weakest ridings brought in only 10.4% of the party’s total votes. (Much less than 27% of the total votes, as we would have expected if all ridings were equal.) So, to receive 2% of votes cast this election, we would estimate the Greens would need 2.23% actual support. The 0.23% would be lost in ridings without a candidate.
A Best Estimate
The “weakest ridings” model isn’t completely realistic either. For example, we know that in 2021, the party has no candidates in Newfoundland and Labrador. But in 2019, three of NL’s seven candidates received more votes than the candidates in the party’s 90 weakest ridings.
We could refine our model by going riding-by-riding through the 2019 results, or by looking at regional polling today, but I don’t think that level of detail is necessary. It’s safe to say that the party’s tragic number lies somewhere between the “all ridings are equal” estimate and the “90 weakest ridings” estimate—likely closer to the latter.
My best estimate for the Greens’ tragic number is that they need to go into voting day with 2.4% overall support. Any less than this, and they would miss both thresholds for the expense reimbursement.
The Green Party’s failure to nominate a full slate of candidates puts up to $1,000,000 of public funding at risk. To ensure that it receives the campaign expense reimbursement, the party will need to remain above 2.4% support by election day.
In past elections, the Green have consistently lost several points of support during the campaign. With the party in turmoil and under financial strain, there is every reason to believe the pattern will repeat this year.
With up to a million dollars on the line, the distance between 3.4% and 2.4% has never looked so small.
Updates & Sources
Updated September 3rd to add graph of the 90 weakest ridings, add the party’s campaign fundraising goal of $600,000, and make minor improvements to wording. Updated October 20th to clarify wording in several places.
The Toronto Star reported the party had obtained a loan of “under $2 million”: https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal-election/2021/08/22/its-hard-enough-for-green-candidates-to-campaign-annamie-pauls-leadership-fight-isnt-helping.html
Global News reporting on the party’s nominated shortfall and some of the difficulties the party faced: https://globalnews.ca/news/8159149/annamie-paul-green-party-turmoil/
Campaign expenses in 2015 ($3.91M) and 2019 ($2.45M) are drawn from Elections Canada published returns.
Nominated candidates are listed on the Elections Canada website (by my count 248, as of the time of writing): https://www.elections.ca/home.aspx
An easy-to-read list of candidates, organized by region, is available on Wikipedia (it showed 252 candidates at the time of writing): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candidates_of_the_2021_Canadian_federal_election
The CBC Poll tracker aggregates polls from various polling companies to provide a more reliable measure of each party’s standings: https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/elections/poll-tracker/canada/
The party’s $600,000 fundraising goal was stated in a paper mailout to members, dated August 27, 2021. (Viewed first-hand.)