Real work begins for Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May wrapped her arms around a green-clad supporter and murmured in his ear: “Guess what? I’m an MP!”

The leader of the federal Green Party was celebrating Monday night after she beat out incumbent Conservative Gary Lunn to win a seat in Ottawa representing Saanich-Gulf Islands.

“We said we were going to make history – we made history,” she said in an interview with the News following her victory Tuesday night. The 56-year-old becomes the first Green – on a provincial or national level – elected in Canada. “This election has created real opportunity for the Greens for the first time to change the way the House of Commons is working.”

May received 46.3 per cent of the votes in the riding, beating out Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn (35.6 per cent), as well as NDP Edith Loring-Kuhanga (11.9) and Liberal Renée Hetherington (6.3).

The Saanich-Gulf Islands riding is no stranger to seeing Green support, a major reason May was parachuted into the riding in 2009. In the 2004 federal election, the party’s former deputy leader Andrew Lewis earned 16.7 per cent of the vote, but ultimately lost to Lunn. That same election marked the first time a Green candidate posted a polling station victory, as Lewis won 17 of 238 Saanich-Gulf Islands polls.

Prior to Monday’s election, UVic political science professor Dennis Pilon said May had a lot going for her in the riding, including the prestige of being party leader and the fact Lunn won by a slim margin in 2008.

“He’s already in the minority position, which is different from other Conservative ridings in the province. Most Conservative wins are huge majorities, but not here,” Pilon said.

While most of the Conservative Party’s 22 B.C. victories in 2008 were landslides, Lunn managed about 43 per cent of votes while his nearest competitor was favoured on almost 40 per cent of ballots.

Both May and Lunn helped draw huge numbers to the polls in Saanich-Gulf Islands, as 75.2 per cent of voters in the riding cast their ballot. Nationally, voter turnout was significantly lower, at 61.4 per cent, though still up from the abysmal 59.1 per cent that voted in 2008.

Despite the Green Party winning its first seat, support across the country actually dropped. The party earned 3.9 per cent of Canadians votes, down nearly three per cent from 2008.

Regardless, May sees a bright future for the Greens now that they have a voice in Ottawa.

The other two Green candidates on the South Islands, Jared Giesbrecht (Victoria) and Shaunna Salsman (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca), also saw strong support, despite runnings against high-profile candidates.

Giesbrecht earned 11.6 per cent of the votes in his riding, while Salsman earned 8.9 per cent. The three South Island ridings were the only ones in the province that saw support rise for the Greens.

“That was a real blow to our fortunes across the country, but this was absolutely a victory for the Green Party,” May said, blaming the party’s nationwide drop on her exclusion from televised leadership debates. “The biggest accomplishment is breaking through that psychological barrier that we’ve been dealing with since the party began: ‘It’s fine to vote Green, but you’re wasting your vote because they can’t get elected.’ Well now we’re past that psychological barrier, and I think that’ll help as we rebuild.”

Her priority, she says, is to keep her Saanich-Gulf Islands constituents at the front of her mind and create a dialogue with them.

“I’m looking forward to giving frequent reports back to the community,” she said, suggesting town hall meetings every six weeks as a way for her to “give a verbal report of what’s going on in Ottawa, and answer questions and listen to concerns.”

As she prepares to move to Ottawa, the new MP says she has a lot of mundane tasks to take care of before she heads out.

“It’s kind of odd. After all the excitement of an election, nobody calls to say there’s a handbook for you: this is where you go to find about opening a constituency office and budget to rent the space,” she said. “I’m really overwhelmed with the support I’ve had from Saanich-Gulf Islands since Day 1 … I’m very driven to get to work, to start working for them.”

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