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The Greens' funky leader sees a Harper election plot

Elizabeth May, the always funky Green Party Leader, has a theory. We don't hear much about the green lady's theories because the media, by and large, tend to ignore her.

Her party held a major convention last month - and it was like journalists were on strike. They couldn't be found. The convention was in Toronto, right across the street from the CBC. But the alleged left-of-centre network, Ms. May pointed out Wednesday, couldn't be bothered to send a reporter. Their journalists were not the only major media who were absent.

No matter that the Greens are moving along at a solid 10 per cent in the polls, which is about the same number the Reform Party was getting before its breakthrough in the 1993 election. In the riding she is contesting in British Columbia, polls show Ms. May neck and neck with Conservative Gary Lunn. That means, according to her theory, that she could be seated in the Commons in a couple of months.

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The theory - shared by few - is that Stephen Harper will call an election this fall. People don't understand what he is up to, Ms. May said. It doesn't matter that he's not even at 35 per cent in the polls and the Liberals are crowding him. The point we're missing is that "he doesn't think about elections the way the rest of the world thinks about elections."

For him, it isn't "I am trying to become more popular." Rather, his strategy, she says, rests on "voter abandonment." He wants to drive the ever-diminishing participation in Canadian elections down further. Then it becomes a matter of which party can get its base to vote in the largest numbers. The Harper base, as she noted, is more committed.

In the 2008 election campaign, she maintained, Mr. Harper purposely drove down voter participation in several ways. He called a snap election, he had the minimum numbers of days for a campaign, he had election day right after the long Thanksgiving weekend, he had changes in the Elections Act that meant people couldn't vote without additional ID, and his attack ads had increased cynicism toward politics. The result was that every party's total vote number went down, except the Green Party's. The Liberals' dropped the most and Mr. Harper was able to increase his minority.

In the May view, the cynical plan this time is to drive down the numbers even more. Michael Ignatieff, Ms. May said, doesn't know what is about to hit him. From his pre-political history, he has made more controversial statements than can be imagined. The Tories have them all stored and ready for attack-ad delivery. An example, she said, is some incredible statements the Liberal Leader made on torture when he appeared once on the Charlie Rose show. "The Conservatives must have a video archive of him saying things that Harper believes will make him unelectable." The Prime Minister is saving them for the campaign because "he wants the shock value."

She added: "I think we're going to be into a November election. We'll see it coming, when we start getting soft, warm friendly ads about how wonderful Stephen Harper is. They'll probably feature him with the Queen and the G8 leaders. Then the attack ads will hit."

Everybody thinks Mr. Harper's right-wing manoeuvring, like his move on the census, has been disastrous, Ms. May said. "I bet he doesn't think so. For his base, which is essentially the tea party of Canada, these are good messages."

The May theory sounds unconventional in a lot of ways. Mr. Harper needs another very large minority or majority to remain at the helm and, given the way things have been trending, particularly in Quebec, those kind of numbers look difficult to achieve.

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But Ms. May is so persuaded that when asked her priorities this fall, the green file did not top the charts. Rather it was, "I'm really going to be railing on about democracy and getting people out to vote."

To try to counter voter shrinkage, she is putting together a democratic reform package. The Liberals are doing the same. Contacted Wednesday, Peter Donolo, Mr. Ignatieff's chief of staff, vowed his leader will have "some very good stuff on democratic renewal in the platform."

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About the Author
Public affairs columnist

Lawrence Martin is an Ottawa-based public affairs columnist and the author of ten books, including six national best sellers. More


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