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Elizabeth May: The lone Green in a blue sea

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks to supporters after being elected MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands in Sidney, B.C., on Monday May 2, 2011.

Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press

Elizabeth May is moving from the visitors gallery to the floor of the House of Commons now that voters in Saanich-Gulf Islands have given her a beachhead for the Green Party of Canada, but she enters a more polarized Parliament with diminished opportunity to make an impact.

Even as she celebrated her victory on Monday night as Canada's first Green MP, Ms. May was reeling from the realignment that ended seven years of minority government.

On Tuesday, Ms. May acknowledged her influence in Ottawa is curtailed by the Conservative majority.

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"My goals to restore civility and respect to the House of Commons are undiminished by the fact that we now face a majority government where, perhaps, some of the potential for one seat having a lot of influence in a minority would have been different."

Ms. May moved to the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2009 after identifying it as the best opportunity for a Green breakthrough. The party focused its energy on getting Ms. May elected, and on Monday she soundly defeated the five-time incumbent, Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn, by a margin of nearly 11 percentage points.

"But it came with a price," noted Norman Ruff, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Victoria. Across the country, Green Party support shrank. The party had 361,000 fewer votes than in 2008, sliding from 6.9 per cent of the popular vote to 3.9 per cent.

As Canada's sole Green MP, Ms. May said her first stop in Ottawa will be to appeal to the Speaker of the House to grant her recognition and a budget more in keeping with a national party leader than a lone MP. She noted that the Progressive Conservative Party, when it was reduced to just two seats, was given standing in Question Period as if it had been a recognized party in Parliament. "They will not be able to shut me down or shut me up," she said.

Mr. Ruff said that will be a tough sell. "You need 12 MPs to really get the perks and the time in Question Period. But clearly one shouldn't underestimate Elizabeth May."

Ms. May said her party lost support because she was denied a spot in the national televised leaders debates, and her party struggled to attract Canada-wide media coverage.

"The reality is, once we were shut out of all media coverage, we knew we were going to lose votes," she said. "It would have been a disaster had we not had a strong base in Saanich-Gulf Islands to at least win a seat."

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The election of a single MP was critical, Ms. May said. Without the victory, she predicted, "you'd all be gathered around now asking when I was going to chuck it in … and you'd all be writing obituaries for the Green Party."

Ms. May outlined her plan to combat heckling in the House of Commons as her first priority once Parliament resumes sitting. She did not raise environmental issues at her news conference Tuesday, but when asked, she said she is not hopeful the new Conservative majority will make ecology a priority.

"The Conservative platform gave us no reason for encouragement," she said. "There is far more detail and verbiage about how the Conservatives plan to celebrate the anniversary of the War of 1812 than there is on the climate crisis. So we know we have a significant, daunting challenge."

Ms. May says she'll reach out to other MPs, and to elected Greens in other countries, "so we can bring the Conservative government around to not being the embarrassment and laggard of the world on the climate change issue."

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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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