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Byelections give boost to Greens

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OTTAWA -- Three federal byelections Monday night failed to alter the party standings in the House of Commons -- returning two Conservatives and a New Democrat -- but the results gave a clear boost to Green party fortunes.

Despite the low voter turnout that is typical of byelections, three Green candidates actually managed to increase their cumulative vote count in the byelections from the 2011 general election -- the only party to do so Monday -- while playing an influential role in both the Victoria and Calgary Centre outcomes.

The Conservatives lost vote share in all three ridings they contested and, despite their success, their vote totals were down dramatically.

Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt hung on to Calgary Centre but her share of the popular vote dropped 21 percentage points in the face of a surprise surge by the Liberals and the Greens. A Conservative handily won the central Ontario riding of Durham, but came a distant third in Victoria, where the NDP eked out a slim victory over the Greens.

While byelection results are notoriously fickle, the Green surge is enough to raise some interesting questions about vote splitting and inter-party co-operation as Canadians look ahead to the real contest in the general election of October 2015.

Just ask Green party Leader Elizabeth May. "I hope it says, 'look, the Greens have arrived,' " a jet-lagged May said Tuesday after returning from Victoria.

If so, it also says new and interesting vote splits are on the horizon that could benefit the ruling Conservatives immensely. That's a point May is eager to make.

"I don't worry about how the byelections went, but I think it should be an object lesson to the Liberals and the New Democrats that it's time to start talking to each other," she said, after noting her party's official policy position is one of co-operation.

Liberal leadership candidate Joyce Murray also said the Calgary Centre outcome demonstrates the need for co-operation among Liberals, New Democrats and Greens.

"This was, I think, a good illustration of what happens when we split the progressive vote, election after election," said Murray, a Vancouver MP. "Over 60 per cent of the votes were cast for progressive candidates who probably agree on more than half of the issues."

Murray is the only Liberal leadership contender so far to broach the idea of co-operation among so-called progressive parties. For the next election only, she is proposing runoff nominations to choose a single progressive candidate in ridings where a united opposition front could defeat the Conservatives.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has adamantly ruled out any co-operation with the Liberals.

Despite winning Victoria, the byelections were not great news for the NDP, which saw its vote share plummet 13 points in Victoria and 11 points in Calgary in the face of a Green surge.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2012 A11

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