Ten ridings to watch: Will Elizabeth May and the Greens take Saanich-Gulf Islands?

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Election 2011: rabble.ca has chosen 10 key ridings across Canada for progressives to watch in the run-up to the May 2 vote, and asked local writers to assess them. The profiles highlight why the riding profiled is important and issues local campaigns are focused upon.

Will Elizabeth May pull off one of the most heartening upsets in the 2011 federal election campaign?

The 56-year-old Green Party leader and candidate for Saanich-Gulf Islands on Vancouver Island has been running against Conservative Gary Lunn, the minister of state for sport (and the 2010 Winter Olympics), an old-school Alliance/Reform Party stalwart with five successful terms of office behind him.

Lunn was the minister of natural resources when he fired Linda Keen, the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in 2008, the day before she was due to appear in front of a parliamentary committee to discuss her shutting down of the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at Chalk River, Ontario. The reason for shutting it down? The Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.'s failure to perform safety upgrades -- an issue of relevance and concern around the world of late, especially in Japan.

Instead, Lunn himself appeared in front of the committee and stated Keen had lost the government's confidence. The ensuing stink in the media, the minister's relative ineptitude in handling it, plus the outrage from those interested in nuclear energy safety, may have led to the minister being bumped into the softer and fuzzier portfolio for sport in a Harper cabinet shuffle.

With an incumbent's track record like this, May, a lawyer, author and former head of the Sierra Club, is a strong opponent. Her exclusion from the recent campaign debates for party leaders, despite leading a party which garnered a million votes in the 2008 election, has also outraged voters.

The Greens know this and have been concentrating a great deal of effort in getting a real live MP of their own into the House of Commons after years of disappointment thanks to the first-past-the-post system.

Interestingly for me as a reporter, and at the risk of disclosing the limitations of my journalistic research habits, a Google search of "Gary Lunn" turns up thegreenparty.ca as the first item in the list -- a paid-for Google ad. That's outside-the-box thinking for limited Green Party campaign dollars in this riding, assuming this targeting isn't happening across the country -- whether it works is likely to be discussed in the post-mortem stage of the campaign.

A poll last week, commissioned by the Greens and carried out by Oraclepoll Research Ltd., has been seized on by them. It states 44.5 per cent of voters in the riding are "most likely" to vote for May, 37.8 per cent for Lunn, and in the distant back end of the race -- 9.1 per cent for NDP candidate Edith Loring-Kuhanga and 8.5 per cent for Liberal candidate Renée Hetherington.

Loring-Kuhanga is not impressed, understandable given the long-standing tensions between the Green Party and the NDP in British Columbia, and she describes the poll as a case of the Green Party "clutching at straws."

Norman Ruff, a political science professor at the University of Victoria, says the outcome is "too close to call."

On Monday night there will be much to see nationally: the intriguing shifts of political fortunes for the NDP and Bloc in Quebec; the possible melting away of Michael Ignatieff from Canadian political life like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz; and the tallying of national percentages, which will determine how big Stephen Harper's migraine will be for the next few years -- unless another minority win means he is ousted as CPC leader by his own party.

Once the results from the east are in, political junkies should look west to Saanich-Gulf Islands. Make a fresh bowl of popcorn and enjoy the last great race of this extraordinary 2011 campaign.


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