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Why Canada’s Green Party is (finally) a prime-time draw

Elizabeth May, the Green candidate, will make history by appearing in a nationally televised debate on Thursday night.

By Susan BouretteCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 2, 2008

Elizabeth May, Canada’s Green Party candidate, at a whistle-stop in Vancouver.

Andy Clark/Reuters

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Toronto

One way or another, Canada’s Green Party leader Elizabeth May will make history this week.

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The mother, lawyer, environmental activist, and native of Connecticut will be the first Green Party member to participate in national televised debates on equal footing with Canada’s mainstream party leaders.

The debates – in French on Wednesday and in English on Thursday night – are “make or break” events for a party long relegated to the fringes of Canadian politics. Despite Green Party success in Europe, Canadians have yet to elect a single Green member to Parliament.

Voter concern over high oil prices and climate change have thrust the environment into the center of Canadian politics. But political analysts attribute the party’s rise in the polls to Ms. May’s scrappy, off-the-cuff campaign style. She has a giftfor rhetorical thunder that seems to resonate with voters.

“She’s got lots of natural charisma,” says Karen Bird, who teaches Canadian politics at Hamilton’s McMaster University. “She seems to be a person of integrity who is down to earth. She’s not obsequious. She tells you what she really thinks and where she stands and I think a lot of people respond to that.”

Earlier this week, May said she planned to employ that “spontaneous, from-the-heart” approach to disarm her political foes in two debates (Wednesday night in French, Thursday in English) in which five party leaders will compete.

The debates give May a shot at establishing herself as a serious contender in the eyes of the Canadian electorate. Recent polls put the ruling Conservative Party within striking distance of forming a majority government. The once mighty Liberal Party, currently the official opposition, is sinking like a stone. The Liberal Party is polling last, for example, in British Columbia, behind the Tories, the left-leaning New Democratic Party, and the Greens. The most recent Press Harris-Decima poll has the Green Party polling at 10 percent.

At the heart of the May’s Green Party policy platform is a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by taxing polluters while doling out tax breaks to companies and individuals that reduce their carbon output. She campaigned this past week in a cross-Canada tour by train instead of by plane, a lower carbon-footprint form of transportation. She has not driven a car, according to media reports, in 20 years.

But May is also keen to stamp out the perception that the Green Party is a left-wing party full of treehuggers. Instead, she emphasizes a platform that is socially progressive with fiscally conservative ideas.

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