If there is a federal election this fall — and like the outlook for snow and below-freezing temperatures, the probability is high — one of the most interesting races will be in one of Canada’s warmest, if not hottest, spots.
The federal riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands is in Canada’s banana belt: The average January temperatures in Sidney, on Vancouver Island, 26 kilometres from downtown Victoria, both highs and lows, are above freezing. It’s a nice place to come in from the cold, so you can see the attraction for Elizabeth May, the Green party leader who has struck out cold in two previous attempts to get elected to Parliament.
“Three strikes and you’re out” usually holds in politics as well as baseball, but May has read the organic, herbal tea leaves and argues that a Green party candidate is more likely to get elected in Saanich-Gulf Islands than anywhere else.
At first blush, it makes sense. The riding includes that ultimate eco-hippie enclave, Saltspring Island, not to mention the?Gulf Islands of Pender, Saturna, and Galiano, that have an exotic, almost mystical resonance to people living in Ajax or North Battleford.
Yet does May really understand what’s she getting into? She recently rented a house in Sidney, so the evidence indicates she’s been there, but as she walks down the main street, she can be forgiven for having misgivings.
For right in the middle of the “downtown” strip is planted the very permanent constituency office of Gary Lunn, the federal minister of state for sport. Conservative Lunn has been electable money in the bank since 1997, while the Liberals, the Greens and the NDP have split the centre, left and the environment vote into various fragments. As in the last election, the Liberals have recruited an environmentalist, University of Victoria climate change researcher Renée Hetherington, to muddy, if not foul, the waters.
And Sidney is the retirement capital of the retirement capital of Canada. Of the 11,000 people who live there, more than 35 per cent of them are older than 65 — 63 per cent are 45-plus.
Sidney boasts six retirement homes, five cemeteries … and one rec centre. These people aren’t big on change and that nice Gary Lunn will do just fine. One point in May’s favour — they’re all from somewhere else, too, so the charge that she’s a democracy-busting parachute candidate won’t work against her the way it did in Central Nova, N.S., scene of her last defeat.
I just hope she knows how to pour tea, lots of tea.