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Briony Penn, a leading light of the environmental movement on the West Coast, has announced her candidacy for the Liberal Party in the next federal election.

Ms. Penn, 46, filed her nomination papers yesterday for the riding of Saanich Gulf-Islands, currently held by Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn.

Her decision to join the Liberals and resign from the Green Party, which she has supported for more than a decade, will likely enhance Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's reputation as a champion of the environment but bitterly disappoint Greens loyal to Leader Elizabeth May.

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Ms. Penn, a well-known eco-activist, author and media personality who once portrayed Lady Godiva in a protest in downtown Vancouver, said she is running for the Liberals "with my green shirt on" as part of an unofficial Liberal/Green alliance she sees developing across the country.

She cited several issues on the environmental agenda, such as global warming and the proposal to lift the moratorium on offshore oil development on B.C.'s coast in her decision to run for Parliament.

"The Earth is crumbling, we've got to get solutions in place right away," Ms. Penn said from her home on Saltspring Island.

She said she was courted by former Liberal environment minister David Anderson and other emissaries of Mr. Dion, who issued an invitation to women and environmentalists to run for the party. She was also approached to run for the Greens and the NDP.

"It nearly broke my heart" to leave the Greens, Ms. Penn said. "But we can't wait around for proportional representation and a national leader capable of being in government."

But she still supports the Green cause and intends to maintain her membership in the provincial party.

And she's hoping that Ms. May and other Greens are elected federally, if voters in the "Red/Green alliance" choose the best candidates in each riding regardless of political affiliation.

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If she wins the Liberal nomination at a meeting on March 31, she will run against Mr. Lunn, who has held the riding since 1997, in an election widely expected this spring.

"Holy mackerel -- that's a big surprise," was the reaction of Norman Ruff, political science professor emeritus at University of Victoria, when told of Ms. Penn's candidacy.

"She has a high profile and she'd make an excellent candidate for any party. But my gut reaction is she'd have a better chance of winning as a Green than a Liberal."

Ms. Penn, a fifth-generation Islander, is a geographer and long-time columnist for Monday Magazine in Victoria. She was the host of a local television show called Enviro-Mental for three years and is a passionate activist and founder of several conservation groups.

But she is best known internationally for her nearly-nude horseback ride down Howe Street in Vancouver as Lady Godiva on a bright but cold day in January, 2001, to protest against logging on Saltspring.

She was accompanied by several bare-breasted protesters as she rode on her brown horse to the offices of the logging company, watched by executives from the windows of their office towers. The ride attracted attention around the world and helped mobilize opposition to the logging of the bucolic island between Vancouver and Victoria.

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And she already has a warning for Mr. Dion. If he is elected and doesn't take action on environmental issues, "I'll get back on my horse and take a ride around Ottawa."

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