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As expected, environmental activist Elizabeth May took over the reins of the federal Green Party at their convention late last month. In normal circumstances, the election ofa new leader of a small party would not mean very much, especially in theanachronistic first-past-the-post electoral system. But these are not normalcircumstances, and the calculations that Ms. May makes as leader -- and the responses of the other parties to her -- could have huge consequences for the country.

The next election will be dominated by a single question: Can Stephen Harper eke out a majority? In the past two elections, the Greens inadvertently helped Conservatives get elected, and they could do so again.

Whatever the party's electoral strategy, Ms. May will be a force to bereckoned with. She is high energy, smart, quick on her feet and knows thenational press corps on a first-name basis. She is charismatic, and her enthusiasm for the issues, especially the environment, could be infectious.

Small parties, of course, can afford to be bold, and Ms. May is clearlyaware of the importance of the compelling phrase. “What we need to do,” shesaid in her acceptance speech, “is clearly build a method and aplatform so that [Canadians] are not voting for 'none of the above' but so that they are voting for 'all my dreams.'” She went on to declare: “We can reawaken democracy, we can turn this world around.”

But what will she actually do to stop what she has called “the most anti-environmental platform of any party in the history of the country”? Theanswer is not simply increasing the percentage of people voting Green. And here Ms. May has said contradictory things.

During the last election, she was critical of the Green Party under Jim Harris for being preoccupied with running in every riding. What was most important, she said, was forcing the other parties -- those with a chance of actually electing people -- to come clean on environmental issues. “I wouldn't take the risk of voting Green if I thought I might elect someonewho would help destroy Kyoto.”

In her acceptance speech and a scrum that followed, she seemed to deliver asimilar message. She is going to be talking to MPs from all parties who arestrong environmentalists with a view to putting together a “green caucus.”She said several times that she would “never engage in partisanship thatexceeds sense.” And, of course, the party supports proportionalrepresentation with its obvious imperative to work closely with otherlike-minded parties.

But Ms. May also spoke about winning “several” seats. And she has made it clear that she has every intention of running candidates in all 308 ridings.This commitment appears to exceed good sense. Both the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP have good environmental platforms, and presumably the Green leader will be trying to recruit MPs from those parties, as well as the Liberals, for her green caucus.

How will she then explain that she is running candidates against them? This is particularly important in Quebec and British Columbia, where the Greens could help Mr. Harper win seats. In the 2004 election, the NDP would have won seven more seats if just half the Green voters in those ridings had voted NDP. That would have given them a firm balance of power, and Mr.Harper would not be Prime Minister. Applying the same formula to the last B.C. provincial election, the NDP would have taken eight more seats from the Liberals and won the vote.

In any case, it takes two to tango. The Bloc doesn't know how to dance, and the NDP seems determined to dance by itself. But NDP strategy effectivelycements the party as old line -- allowing Elizabeth May exclusive use of Bold Ideas.

Yet, she is well-placed to approach the NDP and propose a deal -- the onlyway she can possibly win several seats and the best way to stop Mr. Harper. Such a deal might cause the Bloc to crunch some numbers and come to thetable. For the good of the country, Ms. May and Jack Layton should pick up their phones.

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