A former NDP executive member, Chris Bruce, is aiming to found the Green Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Bruce, who is collecting the 1,000 signatures necessary for the group to be recognized as a political party in the province, is hoping to overcome local perceptions of the Green Party and put distance between his group and its counterparts across Canada.
The Green Party of Canada is a grassroots political party that is primarily concerned with environmental issues. Its history in Newfoundland and Labrador, however, has been one of conflict and failure since the party adopted a stance opposing the seal hunt.
“There is the very major and likely incredibly real barrier of the potentially irrevocable damage that the federal Green Party has done in opposing the seal hunt,” Bruce said.
“If people aren’t willing to listen to anything that follows ‘I’m in the Green Party,’ then that would be a big problem, so one of the things I’ve been focusing on pretty heavily is making it very clear that the Green Party of Newfoundland and Labrador will be pro-hunting.”
Robert Miller, a former Green Party of Canada candidate for St. John’s East in 2011, has a slightly more bleak perspective on the matter.
“Potentially, if you find someone who was a supporter of the NDP in the past and they find themselves without a party and choosing, there is that potential,” said Miller.
“However, it would become quickly apparent that the organization as a whole feels very strongly towards certain issues and they don’t live up to their own standards, and I think a lot of people would reject them.”
That doesn’t deter Bruce, however, who sees the formation of his party-in-waiting as offering a break from the stifling party structures that have formed the core of the province’s politics in the past.
“The inspiring line for the average citizen would be this opportunity to build a house out of wood that’s not rotten, whereas the other parties have a little bit of rot in the foundation,” said Bruce, who refers to the old money and connections that dominate the political life of Newfoundland as baggage.
“There is the slightest of possibilities that an institution could be developed that would have the public good front and centre, would operate within the public, and would not have that institutional contempt for public dialogue that our (mainstream) parties have.”
The fate of the Green Party may rest with the perceptions of disaffected former members of the three mainstream parties.
John Riche, an NDP candidate in the 2011 provincial election, does not see the Green Party as being a viable home for former members of other parties because of the damage done to the party’s brand by the federal Greens.
“Getting elected in the Green party in Newfoundland is going to be impossible because they’re going to forever be saddled with ... the Green party’s anti-seal hunt campaign — even though that’s not part of the provincial platform — and the tree-hugger mentality that people see them as having from the outside,” said Riche.
“If you can’t sell it, you can’t sell it and that’s the thing about politics: you can stand on your ground and not win, but what are you accomplishing then?”
Stephen Harris, a former Green Party of Canada candidate who ran in 2006, is more optimistic than Miller and Riche when it comes to the Green Party of Newfoundland and Labrador’s fate.
“I think it could work out,” said Harris. “Newfoundlanders are natural environmentalists because we’re surrounded by it, especially in Labrador and rural Newfoundland communities.”
Bruce concedes that building the party into a contender will be difficult, but is convinced that the branding problems can be overcome.
“There are lots of examples of name similarity just not lining up; even here in Newfoundland, the Progressive Conservatives are associated in no way with the Conservative Party of Canada,” he said.
“Convincing people that we are pro-hunt will be difficult, so I think framing it in the centrepiece of the party will be important in letting people know that we are different than what people think we are.
“I think that the system needs to be started fresh here to say, let’s develop a grassroots system, but one that is built by Newfoundlanders for Newfoundlanders, with our own unique interpretation of things.”