Saturday, October 11, 2008

What Lies Ahead for Elizabeth May?

May's Central Nova -- and continuing leadership -- prospects looking dim

With balloting in the 2008 federal election to begin in mere days, Elizabeth May has to be looking at her decision to gamble in running against Conservative deputy leader Peter MacKay with some regret.

The most recent polls taken in Central Nova find Peter MacKay comfortably sitting on 39% of the vote in the riding. May, sweeping up some portion of Liberal voters, is currently contesting second place in the riding with the NDP. Louise Lorefice, the NDP candidate, narrowly trails May, 19 to 22 per cent.

With many observers thinking the 2008 election just may turn out to be the year that the Green party breaks through and wins some seats in Canada's parliament -- the convenient defection of former Liberal MP Blair Wilson to the Greens doesn't count -- one has to wonder what this might do to May's leadership prospects.

After all, the general convention in Canadian politics is that a party leader must hold a seat in parliament. And while some leaders -- such as Preston Manning and Lucien Bouchard -- have, in the recent past, rejected this convention, May might not find herself in the comfortable position that Manning and Bouchard found themselves in.

When Manning and Bouchard declined to seek election as their party's representative in parliament -- in favour of Deborah Grey and current Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, respectively -- they had their party firmly behind them in that decision.

Of course, there does remain one important distinction between the two situations: Duceppe and Grey won their seats in by-elections. And while Manning himself did survive one general election defeat -- at the hands of Joe Clark -- as leader of the Reform party, a different internal dynamic tends to apply after a party wins its first seat in a by-election.

May herself has already proven herself unable to grasp the differences in these dynamics. For example, she continues to refer to her agreement with Stephane Dion as "leader's courtesy", despite the fact that leader's courtesy has never actually been exercised during a general election. This is a tradition generally reserved for by-elections in which a newly-selected party leader seeks entrance into the House of Commons in place of a previously-elected compatriot.

If Elizabeth May's facetious "leader's courtesy" gambit in Central Nova fails to pay off, she may find the chickens discontented over her decision coming home to roost.

More interestingly yet, if May does find her leadership of the Green party terminated over the gamble, a successive Green party leader may find their way into the house to be quite perilous, even if the Green party manages to elect a member.

After all, one has to imagine that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton may not be so eager to exercise the "leader's courtesy" that May declined to extend -- or even offer -- to them.

After all in politics, as in life, turnabout is fair play.

Whatever lies ahead for Elizabeth May, it would seem that being seated as the newly elected MP from Central Nova -- and maritime giant killer -- is not it.

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