Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lizzie May's Free Ride Is Ovah

Ignatieff will run Liberal candiate against Elizabeth May

Green party leader Elizabeth May's delusions of grandeur have taken another crushing blow today, as Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has announced that he plans to run a Liberal candidate against her wherever she chooses to run.

In the 2008 federal election, then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion declined to run a candidate against May. In return, May declined to run a Green candidate against Dion. The agreement, tenuously justified according to "leader's courtesy" (a measure unprecedented in a general election), was the first chapter in the story of considerable cooperation between May and Dion.

The victory May would have scored if her's and Dion's machinations were successful would have been highly symbolic -- May was running in Central Nova against Deputy Prime Minister Peter MacKay.

Speaking in Halifax, Ignatieff explained that this is merely part of his plan to run candidates in every running in the country.

"I have respect for Elizabeth May but I'm running a national party and in a national party we have candidates in 308 ridings across the country," Ignatieff insisted.

This comes as May has attempted to retake the national spotlight in order to insist that the Green party hasn't lost relevance.

With the exception of a brief episode during the Liberal party's flirtations with a coalition government in which it was suggested May would recieve a Senate seat, both May and the Green party have been largely invisible since the 2008 campaign.

"When you're in a federal election campaign, the leaders get a certain amount of attention that doesn't continue past the election if you're not either leader of the official Opposition or prime minister," May said. "That's the reality of politics."

Unfortunately for May, however, this is hardly the case.

There are plenty of ways for a developing political party to maintain visibility outside of an election. After failing to elect any candidates in the 1988 federal election, Preston Manning's Reform party successfully built its reputation by opposing the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords.

As Tom Flanagan notes in Waiting for the Wave, his far-from-disinterested analysis of the Reform party's rise, even the negative press garnered by the Reform party's campaigns against the two consitutional reform accords were successful in increasing party recognition.

For a largely-unknown party, there really may be no such thing as bad publicity.

But then again, therein lies the rub. One could very much ask the question of whether or not the Green party is a developing party at all. After all, it's been around since 1983 and has never elected an MP. Ever.

Whatever the Green party is developing into, it's clear that it isn't developing into a political contender. Now the most promising political alliance the party has ever built -- one that got the party its first MP (albeit an unelected MP), got its leader into the televised debates and got its leader a fighting chance in winning a massive upset victory -- seems to have gone the way of the Green Shift.

There is, of course, another difference between the circumstances confronting the Green party and those faced by the Reform party in 1988. Elizabeth May is spending a considerable part of her time promoting her new book, Global Warming for Dummies. In 1988 Manning was promoting a book of his own. Except that his book, The New Canada was largely about his party, and fully outlined his party's political agenda.

By contrast, May's book is yet another addition to the rapidly-growing genre of climate change apocalypticism. If Global Warming for Dummies outlined the Green party's full political agenda it would only confirm the popular perception that the party is a one-issue party.

Despite Elizabeth May's insistence that the very real struggles her party is currently facing is just "the reality of politics", the truth is much different -- her party is in desperate need of new leadership.

The free ride she's been enjoying by virtue of the Liberal party's generosity is over. The free ride she's been enjoying from the Green party should follow.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Far and Wide - "A New Dynamic?"

Zoe Caron - "Canadians Want Environment either a) OVER Economy, or b) AND Economy"


  1. It'd be a shame if the Green Party were to fade away, given that I think it still has a lot of interesting points to make.

    For one thing, Elizabeth May was the only party leader who said anything about the alarming number of foreign takeovers of Canadian businesses, and she was the only one who said anything about electoral reform.

    Then there was the fact that, during the debate, she and Gilles Duceppe, of all people, took Stephen Harper to school over contracting out those ships for the Canadian Navy to foreigners rather than having them built in Canada. Harper's poor performance in the leadership debates is all the more noteworthy when he's outclassed by a complete political rookie and a guy who's dedicated to breaking up the country.

    It's a pity more people don't give the smaller fringe parties more attention, since some of them have some really interesting ideas. Again, the Greens were the only ones talking about foreign takeovers and the need for electoral reform; the Progressive Canadian Party revives many of the best ideas of the Red Tory movement; the First Peoples Party offers an important voice for Aboriginal Canadians.

    Unfortunately, our antiquated electoral system makes it almost impossible for these parties to get elected, even though the Greens got almost 300,000 more votes than they did in the last election, and almost a million votes altogether.

    It's a Catch-22 in that no one pays attention to them because they're fringe parties. But how the heck are they supposed to get out of that "fringe party" trap if no one will pay attention to them? In 1993, National Party leader Mel Hurtig was barred from participating in the leadership debates-instead of giving the voters the opportunity to judge him and his party for themselves and choose whether they want to support him, the national media chose for them.

    It's sad, but typical. Another interesting note is that, according to Canada West Foundation head Roger Gibbins in his book Western Visions, Western Futures, he notes that the Reform Party actually attracted a fair amount of support in Ontario, upwards of 30% of the vote, while the Liberals didn't always do that bad in Western Canada, either. Unfortunately, this support was spread out across the region and wasn't enough to get them a seat, thereby creating the false impression that no one in the West voted Liberal and no one in Ontario voted Reform, both of which were simply not true.

  2. They have an important role to play, but they need to maintain a coherent, independent vision in order to accomplish that.

    This means they can't dabble with merely being Liberal lite, and they can't settle for being strident anti-Conservatives.

    They need to redevote themselves to the principles that made this party compelling not too long ago.

    This means ditching Elizabeth May. She isn't an albatross so much as she's a hole in the hull.


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