Elizabeth May could have something in common with John A. MacDonald, Canada’s Prime Minister who was elected in Victoria for his third and last term back in 1878.
It’s been that long since the South Island has been home to a federal party leader with a shot at winning a seat, says a local political scientist.
May, the Greens’ national leader, is her party’s only real chance at earning a seat in the federal election. However, she’s up against an incumbent who has held the Saanich-Gulf Islands seat since 1997.
“This is one of the most interesting races: this is a saw-off between Gary Lunn and Elizabeth May,” said Dennis Pilon, political science prof at the University of Victoria. “You can never predict politics … but do I think she has a shot? Yes, I do.”
May acknowledges winning against a longtime MP isn’t going to be easy.
“I’m not overconfident by any means,” she said. “Gary Lunn’s a tough campaigner, and elections in this riding are hard fought and often very close.”
The other two main party candidates in the riding, Renee Hetherington (Liberal) and Edith Loring-Kuhanga (NDP), also can’t be ruled out. Lunn narrowly escaped a loss in 2008 to Liberal candidate Briony Penn. The margin of victory was a relatively tight 2,600 votes.
“I don’t see (Lunn or May’s) high profile campaigns as a challenge – actually it’s an opportunity, because it brings with it so much more awareness,” Hetherington said. “I wouldn’t say we’re out of the spotlight. What’s really important to me and what I focus on is the people on the ground … I contact them, I knock on their doors, because these are the people that are voting.”
Loring-Kuhanga says her ties to the area, where she’s worked and lived for 27 years, gives her perfect insight and perspective into what her community needs.
“People will recognize that. And if not Gary, then who is it? Who will better represent them? And who has a party behind them? I hope they think it’s me,” she said.
Despite being party leader, May said she’s hoping to spend no more than eight days of the entire campaign outside her riding. Party obligations require her to do a cross-country tour.
“The other party leaders all have safe seats. Usually leaders know that their own seat is a place where they don’t have to spend a lot of time. But let’s face it, there are no safe seats for the Green Party,” she said. “And Saanich-Gulf Island voters have a right to expect someone who is going to be accessible, going to be knocking on their doors throughout the whole campaign.”
Pilon expects May’s presence will be enough to attract some local voters to support the Greens.
“The leader normally gets an extra bump in terms of support because they get so much coverage,” he said. “And sometime people say, ‘Well, she’s the leader of the party and she deserves to be elected.’ It’s this weird sense of fairness that I think reflects the best in people that comes into play with the leader bonus.”
May also says that being leader doesn’t take away from her duties to listen to residents in her local riding.
“As far as balancing those duties, I can voice concerns that are very consummate with the values of the people of Saanich-Gulf Islands. There are federal issues that I care about as a Green, and that I care about as a resident of Saanich-Gulf Islands,” she said.
Calls to Gary Lunn’s campaign office were not returned.
May may be excluded
Outside the McPherson Library at UVic, primed to announce prospective funding for post-secondary education, Green Party leader Elizabeth May checks her Blackberry and smiles.
“I received a message from our lawyer saying that our documents have been filed in federal court, challenging the decision of the (broadcasters) consortium not to allow me in the leaders debate,” she said Thursday afternoon.
UVic political science professor Dennis Pilon says her exclusion from the televised April 12 and 14 leadership debates are inherently wrong.
“When TV executives decide, ‘no, we’re not going to let you in this broadcast, they’re interfering with the democratic process,” he said.
He also added that while there’s an ongoing “crisis of youth disengagement for politics,” excluding a federal leader that has significant support from Canadians – as evidenced by 937,000 votes in the last election – is “just stupid.”
“Which is the party that youth disproportionately choose? The Greens. We’re not actively bringing (youth) into politics, but when they do get interested in politics, we’re going to shut them out,” he said. “It’s a bad decision politically, and it’s a bad decision pragmatically.”