Elizabeth May takes top honours as my pick as Canada’s worst federal politician in 2008. Ms. May wins by a country mile, topping NDP Leader Jack Layton and Tory Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in all categories, including level of incompetence, leadership skill, puffery and unrealistic and unearned sense of self-importance. All three would have been in a dead heat were “hypocrisy” the only criterion.
As party leader, Ms. May had the opportunity to become a strategists and organizer and to build her Green Party into a strong political machine capable of delivering seats, but chose instead to continue merely to be a political activist and self-promoter. Moreover, her stubborn refusal to run in a more winnable riding spoke volumes about her lack of appreciation for the big picture. Her quixotic battle to defeat Peter MacKay in Central Nova, N.S. did nothing for the party as a whole, but drain precious financial resources.
At the end of voting day, her party was left without a single voice in parliament. David Cotter, president of the Kitchener-Conestoga Green riding association, said:
[Former Green leader] Jim Harris ran a $60,000 campaign in 2006 and got 4.5 per cent of the national vote; we ran a $4 million campaign and won 6.8 per cent. You have to have 12 seats to be an official party: we have none. You need one seat for the leader; she chose to run against someone who can’t be beaten.
Sort of sums it all up, doesn’t it?
It’s curious that the Green Party’s share of the popular vote, at 6.8 per cent, fell so far below the 11 per cent that polls had been predicting a week earlier. Ms. May owns much of the blame for this, with her muddled message supporting strategic voting. Because of her ill advised public statements, the “Vote Green” message was not clear. Green messaging also lacked focus. Ms. May spent too much of her time indulging her obvious personal dislike of Stephen Harper and not enough on getting Green candidates elected.
Partway through the 2008 campaign, it became obvious that it was more important to Ms. May that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives be defeated than for Green candidates to be elected. A flawed strategy and a costly and reprehensible one for the leader of any political party to employ.
Her muddled messaging cost the Greens several hundred thousand dollars: each vote earns a party $1.95; candidates who achieve more than 10 per cent recoup 60 per cent of their campaign expenses. There were 19 ridings in which Green candidates got between nine and 10 per cent. Clearer, more focused messaging would probably have pushed many of these 19 ridings over the 10 per cent minimum and yielded final national vote results closer to the 11 per cent predicted by the polls.
For all her supposed charisma and intellect, in 2008 Ms. May demonstrated that she clearly lacks the leadership ability to inspire and the political acumen to get the “green” message across to voters.