More than 20 years ago Sylvaine Zimmermann helped to found the Green Party of Canada. Until this years nomination race for the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky riding, she was content to play a role behind the scenes drafting policy, finding and coaching candidates and helping to raise money for the Green Partys notoriously underfunded campaigns.
In the last federal election, Zimmermann helped the Green Party to run a full cross-Canada slate with candidates in every riding.
This election, a former Reform MP was interested in running for the Green Party in this riding. Zimmermann had no doubts the candidate was sincere in representing the ecological and environmental foundation of the party, but was not convinced the candidate was as committed to the socially progressive mandate of the party. Zimmermann decided to run herself, and was acclaimed last week.
Now she is looking to build on the progress that the Green Party has made in recent federal and provincial elections, and to keep the environment and other Green issues as part of the debate.
"Were finally at the point where I can say yes. Weve finally reached the point where we can say we are a legitimate, serious party," said Zimmermann. "Adriane Carr really helped to give us that legitimacy a few years ago when she became the leader of the (provincial) party and in the last provincial election Dennis Perry showed that Greens could be serious, business-minded people."
Andrea Goldsmith, the Green Party candidate in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast in the 2004 federal election, also inspired a strong following. She earned 9.7 per cent of the popular vote, close to the 10 per cent required under election laws to be reimbursed for 60 per cent of her campaign expenses.
Across the country, the Green Party earned 4.3 per cent of the popular vote in the last election. As a result, the party met the two per cent limit set by the outgoing Chrétien government to receive official party status. As a result, the Greens earned $1.79 in funding for every vote they received, or just over $1 million from Elections Canada.
Spread out across 308 ridings in Canada its not a lot of money, but Zimmermann is starting her campaign with a little over $1,000 in the bank.
"Right now were really at a disadvantage democratically because we dont accept corporate donations, we dont accept union donations, only funding from individual citizens," said Zimmermann. "We never have as much money as the other parties. If we did wed be on a level playing field but right now were not."
With Conservative MP John Reynolds retiring Zimmermann believes the playing field is as level as it is going to get. Reynolds has enjoyed a lot of support from outside of the party because of his commitment to his constituents over the years, and the race for his seat is considered one of the closest in the province. If the Green Party can increase its support by the Jan. 23 election, Zimmermann believes theres a chance they can come up the middle.
"In all elections our main emphasis is to get the dialogue opened up to the real issues and I think weve managed to succeed because everyone is trying to sound like us now," she said. "What (other parties) are lacking still is the true motivation and the lifelong dedication to those values weve been talking about for over 20 years.
"Beyond that, in this election, and especially in this riding, we have a real opportunity. Its going to be a long haul, and its going to be a fight, but we have an opportunity.
"Everyone is saying its going to be another close election and another minority government. If we could win this seat we could potentially hold the balance of power in Ottawa, which would be an amazing opportunity to show that politics can be done differently in Canada a more solutions-based approach where people listen, and people work together to come up with solutions instead of just power-mongering."
One of the staples of the Green Party platform is the need for proportional representation at the provincial and federal level, whereby the percentage of votes given to each party would more closely reflect the make-up of Parliament.
"I think (proportional representation) would revitalize our democracy a bit. About 70 per cent of the population aged 18 to 30s, that demographic, doesnt vote and thats the minimal form of participation in a democracy. To get it to work again, we have to get our government to be more representative, and make our votes count for more so they represent what people believe in," said Zimmermann.
Zimmermann does not have her own website, but has a page at the Green Party website at www.greenparty.ca.