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Green Party leader Elizabeth May leaves a polling station after casting her ballot in the federal election in Sidney, B.C., on Monday May 2, 2011. (Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press)
Green Party leader Elizabeth May leaves a polling station after casting her ballot in the federal election in Sidney, B.C., on Monday May 2, 2011. (Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press)

Elizabeth May wins first seat for Greens Add to ...

Elizabeth May asked voters in her adopted riding to make history. And on Monday, voters in Saanich-Gulf Islands elected Canada's first Green Party MP.



The Green Party Leader moved to the riding almost two years ago, hoping to make a breakthrough in a riding that has rarely sent a non-conservative candidate to Ottawa. The beneficiary of vote splitting among centre-left candidates, Ms. May was able to coalesce those votes - and then some.

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"I stand here today as the first elected Green Member of Parliament in Canadian history," Ms. May told a cheering crowd. She said she must now prove that a single MP can make a difference on the Hill. "Today we proved that Canadians want change in politics."



In a rented airport hanger, supporters cheered and hugged under a banner that read: "Canada needs Elizabeth May. But only you can elect her."



From the first poll results, Ms. May was out in front of incumbent Gary Lunn, the Conservative candidate who has represented the riding since 1997. The collapse of the Liberal vote, which had nearly unseated Mr. Lunn in 2008, helped the Green gamble pay off.



But Ms. May's upset came at a steep cost. With the party concentrating its resources in a single riding, the Green popular vote across the nation fell sharply. Party strategists on Monday night sounded content with the tradeoff, saying they'll target as many as eight ridings in the next federal election.



Mr. Lunn called Ms. May to concede the race shortly after 9 p.m. B.C. time, with just half of the riding's 245 polls counted. At that point, Ms. May had a commanding lead of 13 percentage points over her Tory rival. And by the time Ms. May left the stage, she had almost 48 per cent of the vote, more than 13 per cent more than Mr. Lunn. The NDP pulled 12 per cent and the Liberals were reduced to less than 6 per cent.



It was a big gamble for the Greens - by pouring the lion's share of resources into a single riding against five-time incumbent Gary Lunn, a Conservative cabinet minister.



After running unsuccessfully as a Green in two other provinces, Ms. May moved west, calculating the Green Party to corral enough votes here to get her foot in the door of the House of Commons.



Earlier in the campaign, Ms. May dismissed the suggestion that the demographics of this rural and suburban riding - older, affluent and settled - painted it Tory blue. "Someone told me, 'You don't understand, that riding is full of retired oil company executives from Alberta,'" she said in a recent interview. She paused and smiled: "Well, one of them is one of my volunteers on Saltspring Island."



Mr. Lunn entered federal politics in 1997 as a Reform candidate. Victory never come easy here for Mr. Lunn, but he, too, benefited from the vote-splitting between Liberals and the New Democratic Party, and eventually the Green Party.



Ms. May, a lawyer and author, picked up on the riding's conservation ethics, particularly on the Gulf Islands, when she served as executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.



In the 2004 election, the Green candidate, Andrew Lewis, took almost 17 per cent of the vote. It was a high water mark for the Greens, and Mr. Lunn eked out a victory with less than 35 per cent support.



In 2008, Mr. Lunn bounced back, garnering over 43 per cent of the vote, defeating Liberal Briony Penn - a former Green Party candidate - by just four points.



Those results fed Ms. May's belief that voters would be willing to break out of the Big Party box and allow her to make history.



In 2008 the Green Party won 937,613 votes across the country - almost seven per cent of the ballots cast - but not a single seat in the House of Commons. Throughout the campaign, Ms. May appealed to voters here to give those nearly one million votes a chance to be heard.



Ms. May went to court in the first week of the campaign to fight a decision to keep her out of the televised national leaders' debates. Although she lost in the courts, the battle raised her profile. However she stuck close to the riding for most of the campaign, spending just eight days on the road for the party's national tour.



Mr. Lunn, although he now serves in a junior cabinet post, was able to host Conservative leader Stephen Harper in the riding twice during the campaign. But it didn't stop the loss of longtime Conservative-Reform activist Fraser Smith, whose defection to the Greens symbolized a new era.



"People did vote, tonight, for change for Canada," Mr. Smith said.

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

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