The abject failure and amazing success of the “beachhead strategy”

Ah, the beachhead strategy. The idea is to put almost all your resources on a single riding to earn a beachhead in a legislature, from which to grow from. It’s the political equivalent of D-Day in World War II. The BC Greens tried and failed with it multiple times for then-leader Adriane Carr (2001 and 2005 especially come to mind), and it never did work for the party. I was more involved with the 2009 STV referendum campaign than the BC Green provincial campaign so I’m not certain whether a beachhead campaign was attempted for leader Jane Sterk, but it looked like it from the outside looking in. For 2013, Jane Sterk specifically repudiated the beachhead strategy and instead went with a strategy of focusing on supporting a team of strong candidates across the Greater Victoria region, and was rewarded with a seat in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, a riding that would have been an unlikely pick pre-election for the party to put all its resources behind.

But all of this was after a beachhead strategy had arguably worked for federal Green party leader Elizabeth May in the 2011 federal election. Not on the first try though, the party’s beachhead strategy in the riding of Central Nova in the 2008 federal election, where most of the party’s resources were dedicated to an unsuccessful attempt to get leader Elizabeth May elected.

In 2015 the federal Greens took a region-wide strategy focusing a lot of resources on Vancouver Island, and failed to pick up additional ridings beyond May’s. It does raise the question as to whether a strategy that focused primarily on May’s riding and the neighbouring riding of Victoria (where the Greens came second) could have succeeded where the regional strategy failed.

But the beachhead strategy appears to have been strikingly successful electing New Brunswick Green Party leader David Coon in 2014, and later electing PEI Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker in 2015. And since then both Green Parties have surged in the polls.

But then the BC Green Party went into the 2017 election without a beachhead strategy. In 2013 BC Green Party candidate Adam Olsen had narrowly missed winning the provincial riding of “Saanich North and the Islands” by a few hundred votes, and it would have been easy enough to focus just on re-electing Andrew Weaver plus winning Saanich North that was predicted to be just as close in 2017 as it had been before, but instead Weaver focused on a province-wide strategy. Adam Olsen got a lot of support from the provincial party to be sure, but so did most Vancouver Island candidates which paid off with both Olsen winning and Sonia Furstenau in a riding to the Northwest of Greater Victoria, electing Canada’s first Green Party caucus at either the provincial or federal level. This despite the campaign spending significant time and resources in New Westminster, Kamloops, Nelson-Creston, and elsewhere. Had the Green campaign put almost all of its effort into just Olsen’s and Weaver’s ridings, it seems unlikely they would have also picked up the third seat (and I’m glad they did, I’m very impressed by Furstenau).

So what’s my point? Its that the beachhead strategy can be both a beautiful success or an abject failure. It will be interesting to see how it plays out for the Ontario Greens.


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