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Green Party leader Elizabeth May is shown in Toronto on June 18, 2010. (Sarah Dea/Sarah Dea/The Globe and Mail)
Green Party leader Elizabeth May is shown in Toronto on June 18, 2010. (Sarah Dea/Sarah Dea/The Globe and Mail)

Crunching Numbers

With bar set low, Greens have decent shot at victory Add to ...

Whenever it takes place, the next election will be Elizabeth May's second as Green Party Leader. After increasing her party's support and getting herself into the nationally televised debates in 2008, her supporters will expect nothing less than the party's first seat victory when Canadians are next asked to cast their ballots.

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Unlike the four parties who currently have members sitting in the House of Commons, the Greens have no regional base of support. In an electoral system like Canada's, that is problematic for a small party. But there are two provinces in which the Greens have been performing well in public opinion polls: British Columbia and Ontario.

In B.C., where Ms. May is running, the Greens currently have about 11 per cent support, their best result in the country. At 9.4 per cent, it was the best province for the Greens in the 2008 election. They are particularly strong in the southern Interior, garnering about 13 per cent support in 2008. The party also performs well north of Vancouver.

In Ontario, the Greens are polling at around 9 per cent, slightly better than 2008's result. The greatest concentration of Green support is in Southwestern Ontario around Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph.

There are three ridings in which there is an outside chance for a Green victory. Two of them, Guelph and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, are located in Ontario while the third, Vancouver Centre, is in British Columbia.

Of these three, the Greens have the best chance of pulling out a surprise victory in Guelph. In the last election, Mike Nagy finished third in the riding with 21 per cent support, behind the Liberals at 32 per cent and the Conservatives at 29 per cent. However, the popular Mr. Nagy will not be running under their banner again in the next election and the task of unseating Liberal MP Frank Valeriote will have to go to a new candidate.

Vancouver Centre and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound are longer shots. In Vancouver Centre, the Greens finished in fourth with 18 per cent support. Liberal Hedy Fry won the riding with 35 per cent, finishing ahead of the Conservatives (25 per cent) and the New Democrats (21 per cent). But the Greens have a good candidate in Adriane Carr, former leader of the B.C. Greens and current federal deputy leader, a job she shares with former NHL heavyweight Georges Laraque.

In Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, a riding Ms. May considered when she decided where to run in the next election, the Greens finished in second with 27 per cent support, 21 points behind Conservative Larry Miller. Mr. Miller will be running as the incumbent in the next election, but will be facing newcomer Emma Jane Hogbin. As the Tories demonstrated in the riding of Egmont in the last election, however, even a gap as large as this can be overcome.

While those three seats remain long-shot hopes, there is one riding that will be specifically targeted by the Greens: Saanich-Gulf Islands. Under normal circumstances, this would not be a riding to watch. But it is here that Ms. May will be pulling out all of the stops in order to get herself elected. To do so, she will have to unseat Gary Lunn, the minister of state for Sport. First elected here under the Reform banner in 1997, Mr. Lunn won the riding in 2008 with 43 per cent support, finishing ahead of the Liberals (39 per cent). The Greens, at 11 per cent, finished third.

Ms. May will have to overcome the 32-point gap in order to sit in the House of Commons. She did manage to take her party from 1.6 per cent support in 2006 to 32.2 per cent in 2008 in the riding of Central Nova, but this time the Liberals will not do her the favour of staying out of the race. There is some reason for optimism, however. A poll conducted by McAllister Opinion Research in August 2010 (admittedly ordered and released by the Green Party) put Mr. Lunn and Ms. May neck-and-neck, at 34 to 32 per cent, respectively.

The Green Party will enter the next election with a decent chance of electing one of their own for the first time. Their floor, of course, is a grand total of zero seats. But with their one targeted riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands and the potential for a victory in three other ridings, the Green ceiling is as many as four seats.

If their objective is to win at least one contest, they are in a good position to do so. But their margin of error between a complete waste of a campaign and a historic triumph is as tiny as it gets in Canadian politics.

This is the first of a five-part series analyzing the electoral chances of each of the five federal parties in Canada. Next week, we will take a look at the Bloc Québécois.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com

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