Skip to main content

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May stands along the waterfront in Sidney, B.C., on Sept. 8, 2009, where she officially announced she is seeking the nomination for Saanich-Gulf Islands.

Deddeda Stemler/deddeda stemler The Globe and Mail

Having failed last year to knock off a veteran Conservative cabinet minister on the East Coast, Elizabeth May is now on the shores of the Pacific taking on a Vancouver Island Tory minister who boasts a string of five straight victories.

And this, according to the Green Party, is the easier road to the House of Commons.

Ms. May announced Tuesday in Sydney, B.C., that she will run for the contested Green Party nomination in Saanich-Gulf Islands. The Green Party Leader made the decision in spite of earlier vows to only run in the Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova, where she ran and lost last year to incumbent Conservative minister Peter MacKay.

Story continues below advertisement

She says the party, as well as Canadians at large, convinced her Central Nova was too hard and that she should find a riding where she stood a better chance of getting elected.

"I was persuaded by the Greens across the country and by members of the public - complete strangers - who have come up to me since last October to say, 'We really wanted you in the House of Commons. Don't run where you ran last time,'" she said in an interview.

But some are scratching their heads at Ms. May's decision to once again challenge a sitting cabinet minister; this time Gary Lunn, the federal sports minister. Mr. Lunn won the riding last year - his fifth consecutive victory - with 43 per cent of the vote, defeating Liberal Briony Penn, a former Green Party activist. The Green candidate finished third with 10 per cent of the vote. The NDP candidate, Julian West, withdrew from the race during the campaign yet still received the support of 6 per cent of voters.

Mr. Lunn is also taking on an increasing media profile as the federal minister responsible for Vancouver's 2010 Olympics.

"Why not go after a backbencher?" asks Dennis Pilon, a political scientist with the University of Victoria. "Why not go after a bottom feeder, rather than these people who've already got some profile and are regularly featured on the television, which is very, very important in terms of people recognizing the name."

Mr. Pilon said the Green Party Leader would likely have had a better chance running in a Liberal-held riding where the incumbent has retired. Further, he said the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives are all competitive in Saanich-Gulf-Islands and so Ms. May will have a hard time getting large numbers of voters to abandon their traditional party and swing her way.

Mr. Pilon nonetheless suspects the riding's large number of environmentalists will embrace her decision and make the Greens competitive in the riding.

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. May said the riding's environmental leanings make it a good fit. She also expects the Greens to be an attractive choice for voters who will blame a fall election on the overly partisan nature of the four parties in the Commons.

"We have a very dysfunctional, overtly toxic system," she said in an interview yesterday. "I'm alarmed by the level of combativeness and unnecessary abuse in the House of Commons. It's not necessary, it's counter-productive and it turns people off voting."

For his part, Mr. Lunn said Ms. May's announcement does not come as a surprise but that he does not think her candidacy will have a significant effect on the local political dynamics.

"I think the last thing we need is an election. I think all that election talk is complete craziness," he said, rejecting Ms. May's characterization of the government. "The Prime Minister, I thought, has reached out, but at the end of the day, he's got a mandate to govern."

The decision to choose Saanich-Gulf Islands comes after extensive party polling and visits to other ridings. Ms. May finished second, with 25 per cent support, when she ran in a 2006 by-election in London North Centre. In the 2008 campaign running in Central Nova, she again finished second with 32 per cent.

The nomination in Saanich-Gulf Islands is set for Sept. 19. Environmental activist Stuart Hertzog has already declared his intention to run and has launched a vocal campaign against Ms. May's leadership. Mr. Hertzog has criticized what he sees as a move toward top-down decisions in the Green Party since Ms. May took the helm in 2006.

Story continues below advertisement

She says the fact that Canadians may be faced with a fourth federal election in 51/2 years shows the current parties in the House of Commons have not figured out how to make a multi-party, minority Parliament work.

Some have suggested the solution to Ottawa's political instability through minority Parliaments lies in fewer parties, not more. Ms. May obviously disagrees.

"The culture of politics right now, with so many old-line parties being so combative, makes people yearn for something different, which is why the Greens are growing," she said.

Report an error
About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.