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High-stakes by-election a big test for May

Elizabeth May knows what’s at stake in the fight for Victoria riding.

Deddeda Stemler/The Globe and Mail

Elizabeth May, federal Green Party Leader, is hoping for the best in all three by-elections pending across Canada in coming months, but is mindful that the contest in the riding of Victoria is being cast as an especially acute test for her party.

After all, voters in Victoria have had a chance to watch Canada's only Green MP in action. That would be Ms. May, who represents Saanich-Gulf Islands, which is just beside Victoria, the riding New Democrat Denise Savoie gave up this week when she quit politics due to undisclosed health concerns.

"It's an important riding for us because it's immediately adjacent to my riding," Ms. May said Friday in an interview. "There's certainly going to be more attention on how we do in a riding right next door to where I serve and where my constituency is.

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"We're very excited about Calgary Centre, but nobody in the media is saying, '[It's] a test for the Green Party.'"

All of the national parties want to win Victoria, but the stakes could be especially high for Ms. May's party and the New Democrats, who took it from the Liberals in 2006 and have held it ever since.

Victoria was once a solid Liberal riding. Former federal environment minister David Anderson held it for 13 years until 2005. Shaun Govender, a spokesman for the federal Liberals in B.C., said his party hopes to mount a successful campaign to show that it is still valid and has moved on from its drubbing in the 2011 election.

But now it is 2012 and Thomas Mulcair, the new federal NDP Leader, will be looking to show he can preside over a win in the riding as decisive as Ms. Savoie's 16,349-vote margin of victory in 2011 over her nearest rival, the Conservative. Ms. May's Greens came in at 11.6 per cent, or about 7,000 votes.

Mr. Mulcair made a special trip to Victoria this week to stand alongside an emotional Ms. Savoie at a news conference when she bowed out of politics – a show of support for a colleague, but perhaps also an indication the party is serious about keeping the seat.

Nathan Rotman, national director for the New Democrats, said on Friday the NDP expects to have a lively, full nomination race that will yield a candidate who will benefit from not only a strong campaign but the popularity of the provincial New Democrats. Polls show the B.C. New Democrats far ahead of the provincial Liberals, who have no connection to the federal party.

"Certainly [B.C. NDP Leader] Adrian Dix is doing very well, is very popular across the province and on the Island, and we'll be working with our colleagues in the B.C. caucus in the lead-up to this and the campaign," he said.

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"We certainly are going to be working hard to hold the seat and expect we'll have a good fight, but we're optimistic about our chances."

He said he sees the fight as between the NDP and the Conservatives.

Ms. May's win in Saanich, he suggested, came from concentrating resources, and said he doubted they could do it again.

Mr. Anderson said Friday that the election of Ms. May indicates an interest in environmental issues in the region. "The issue really is, this being a by-election, whether she can cut through the other parties and say, `We are new and something different.' She's on an uphill battle in Victoria, an NDP seat."

To win Victoria, the Greens would have to vault past the Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP.

Ms. May said she's expecting a contested nomination. "My riding was contested," she said. "I'd be stunned if we didn't have a contested nomination in Victoria." Ms. Gray says a few prospects she declines to identify have expressed an interest.

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She hopes voters will feel free in a by-election to send a green message. "Doubling the Green Party caucus is a much bigger change in the political dynamics of Canada than just sending another Liberal, NDP or even a Conservative. Nothing really changes in the way Parliament operates with a new backbencher in the other parties."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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