For Elizabeth May, being the leader is a ‘blessing and curse’

If Elizabeth May loses her seat in this election, it won’t be down to her national profile as Green Party leader overshadowing her local responsibilities, according to University of Victoria professor Kim Speers.

Speers, a self-confessed election junkie, said national party leadership can be a blessing and a curse for politicians during a campaign. While it affords the leader a high profile, they also have to split their time, focus and energy between the national campaign trail and their own riding.

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After all, re-election as a party leader isn’t a given: Both former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and the Bloc Quebecois’ Gilles Duceppe lost their ridings in the 2011 election.

Ignatieff, in particular, had “some very unhappy people in his riding because he simply wasn’t there,” said Speers, who teaches in UVic’s school of public administration. “The individual’s riding is their personal fan club, and they have to keep that fan club happy or they will turn on them.”

The Green Party leader, however, seems to be balancing her need to be on the campaign trail with Green candidates around the country with her need to take care of her own patch of earth in Saanich-Gulf Islands, Speers said.

“May is everywhere,” she said. “It’s not like she’s been away in Ottawa since she was elected and is just back now for the campaign. She’s been here the whole time, and people recognize that, they see her around town and at events.”

May also believes she has found the right balance, though she admits it can mean some tight scheduling.

“In an election, being leader is both a blessing and a curse,” May said, noting candidates are in competitive races in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario.

“I must do everything possible to elect more Green MPs across Canada, so that means I’m leaving home much more than I did in 2011.”

After spending most of August in her own riding, May spent much of September in ridings across Canada, and she will continue to make those trips as the campaign winds down.

But she said she made it clear to her schedulers that she wanted to be in her riding for every candidates meeting (there are 15 scheduled so far): “I don’t take Saanich-Gulf Islands for granted and I don’t take my re-election for granted.”

Speers expects May’s campaign team to schedule the two weeks leading up to the Oct. 19 election strategically — making sure the leader pops into ridings where they believe they have a chance of winning while ensuring she remains visible in her own.

“She needs to get elected first and foremost, that should be her priority,” Speers said.

“She needs to pay attention to this seat.”

Speers suggests the four candidates running against May — Conservative Robert Boyd, the NDP’s Alicia Cormier, Liberal Tim Kane and Libertarian Meghan Porter — make the most of the time the Green Party leader is out of the riding.

And they should not miss an opportunity to make their names and views heard, which can be difficult against a high-profile candidate.

“The challenge for them is [May is] extremely well known and has done her homework in this riding — it’s not like she’s just showing up at the party; she’s been at the party the last four years,” she said.

“And some of the [other candidates] aren’t showing up to all-candidates meetings. so it’s kind of a lost opportunity. They should be showing up as much as they can.”

Kane admits it’s hard to take on a national leader who has a high profile, but said his focus is on the prime minister.

“I’ve set my sights on [Stephen] Harper,” he said.

“Elizabeth May is a competitive person, but I think people are coming around to understand that if we want real change, every vote is important and every riding is crucial in the goal of getting rid of Mr. Harper.”

Cormier, on the other hand, intends to play up the fact she will be working solely on serving the constituency if elected.

“There’s an advantage to the riding because I can focus 100 per cent of my time as a MP to connect this riding to a platform the NDP is offering,” she said.

“I’m up for it and I have the time in my schedule because I’m not worried about anything beyond Saanich-Gulf Islands. That’s a benefit to me and the people of this community.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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