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Strategic voting leaves Greens disappointed with May as sole MP

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaking during a campaign event in Vancouver on September 9, 2015.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Moments after the polls closed in British Columbia, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May telephoned Justin Trudeau to congratulate him on his victory – and to offer her help for the coming United Nations climate change conference, just 40 days away.

But while Ms. May's indefatigable advocacy wasn't waning after election results returned her once again to Ottawa – alone – her disappointment was equally obvious.

The nationwide turning away from Stephen Harper's Conservatives did not benefit the Greens and in fact, probably left them hurt as traditional supporters abandoned the party in the quest for a more viable alternative.

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Full coverage of Federal Election 2015

"The fear factor slaughtered us," Ms. May told reporters.

But she maintained: "I'm happy with the result … More important than Green seats is that we saw the end of the Harper era."

Ms. May said her party was hurt by strategic voting advocates who worried that a Green vote would allow the Conservatives to hang on to power. She described would-be supporters who called her tearfully to say they couldn't vote for her this time around. "They think the world of me, but they don't want to help."

That included long-time fellow environmentalists. Earlier, Ms. May described the loss of their support as akin to being machine-gunned from the bushes by friendly fire.

Green Party support remained resolutely stuck at just over 3 per cent of the popular vote, slightly lower than it was in the 2011 election.

B.C. Green MLA Andrew Weaver expressed disappointment with environmentalists who advocated strategic voting.

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"Shame on them for not supporting Elizabeth who should be going to Ottawa with a group of MPs to back her."

Still, Ms. May said she remained committed to working with the Liberals, noting she called Mr. Trudeau because "I want to get my oar in."

At a downtown Victoria hotel, Ms. May rallied a disappointed crowd with the one note that elicited cheers: "Welcome to the first night of the post-Harper era."

The party hoped to tap into a strong sentiment on the West Coast against increased oil tanker traffic: Only the Green Party formally opposes the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline expansion. Ms. May, who secured re-election in Saanich-Gulf Islands, had wanted to be the MP with a role in steering a minority government, but that evaporated with the strong Liberal showing.

On Monday night, Ms. May was reaching for the next best thing.

"It will take a lot for Canada to regain its hero status on climate change," she said. "My offer to assist is genuine. . . I would love to be working in any way."

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Voters in Saanich-Gulf Islands crowned Ms. May as the country's first Green MP in 2011. That electoral breakthrough four years ago was no accident. She moved to the riding because her party had calculated that riding, despite its lengthy history of returning conservative-leaning MPs, offered the greatest potential for a Green success.

Ms. May's pitch to voters in 2015 was to elect not just one, but a team of Green MPs who would have a say in what she hoped would result in a minority government.

Mostly, the party had concentrated on the region where the Greens have opened doors: Southern Vancouver Island. Ms. May's initial victory was followed by the election of Mr. Weaver, who won his seat in the overlapping provincial riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head in 2013.

"This is a committed, engaged part of Canada that supports green values," Ms. May told reporters Monday.

The Greens raised a total of $1.7-million in 2011, but with Ms. May's presence in the House of Commons, fundraising has been stronger this time out. Party officials say they have raised $4.3-million so far this year, which helped pay for a more sophisticated campaign that saw them target 15 ridings across the country with some high-profile candidates.

In the end, the Greens missed their targets. "We saw a monumental failure in strategic voting," said Adam Olsen, interim leader of the B.C. Green Party.

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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