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Green Party leadership race in the balance

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

Sarah Dea/The Globe and Mail

Green Party chief Elizabeth May learns Tuesday whether she gets an early reprieve from an obligation to defend her leadership in a contest this fall.

Failing that, she must wait until the party's late August convention to see if fellow Greens agree with a proposal to delay a mandated leadership race until after the next federal election.

The party's constitution requires a leadership race every four years. Unless this is changed it will mean Ms. May's 48-month term ends August 31 - and she must duke it out with challengers this fall to regain the top job.

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The Greens are holding a party convention August 20 to 22 in Toronto. But pre-convention balloting results are being made public Tuesday, the party says, and these could determine whether a resolution to delay a leadership race succeeds - or must go to the floor for more debate.

A leadership contest carries the potential of an upset for the party's highest-profile leader, who took the Greens to 6.8 per cent of the popular vote, or 942,000 ballots, in the 2008 election from 4.5 per cent in 2006.

The 56-year-old Ms. May says she's ready for whatever party members choose - even if that means battling for the leadership as the odds of a federal election grow by the month.

The Green Leader recently posted a message on her official blog that she calls an effort to dispel the impression she's "somebody desperately clinging to leadership."

Ms. May said she was moved to do this because of accusations posted on the Internet that leave the impression she's trying to avoid a leadership race. She said she's absented herself from council decisions on the matter, as well as the sponsored resolution to delay a race.

"If you think there's some big effort to keep me in what could laughably be called power … Relax. I am good with whatever is decided," she said in an interview.

If party members decide to proceed with a race now, Ms. May can already count on one challenger: retired army lieutenant-colonel Sylvie Lemieux, who is also campaigning for a contest to start soon.

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Greens say that other potential candidates wait in the wings, some of whom would like to run but are leery of a race so close to a possible federal election. Party speculation is that potential candidates could include broadcast personality Ralph Benmergui, former B.C. Green leader and current federal deputy leader Adrienne Carr and former Green Party of Ontario leader Frank de Jong.

Ms. May is trying to win the Green Party's first seat in Parliament and is targeting Conservative minister Gary Lunn's riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands for the next ballot. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are among the most fertile ground for the party.

Early Green convention voting results being released Tuesday also include balloting on a resolution sponsored by Ms. Lemieux and others that calls for a leadership campaign for the top job to start this fall.

Members can vote "green," "yellow" or "red" on resolutions that include delaying a leadership race until after an election or holding one shortly. Any that receive 60 per cent "green support" in this early voting are considered passed. Any that earn a "red" vote from 60 per cent of the party's roughly 10,000 members are deemed dead.

Ms. Lemieux, for her part, says on her website that the fact Prime Minister Stephen Harper has indicated he doesn't want a fall election is all the more reason to proceed with a Green leadership race.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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