OTTAWA — The leaders' debate might be in French, but Elizabeth May clearly sees tonight's exchange in Montreal as a chance to reach a broad sweep of Canadians with the Green message.
The evening is especially important to the party since it could be May's last opportunity to stand alongside the other leaders before the Oct. 19 election.
May was excluded from the recent Globe and Mail debate on the economy — though she did light up Twitter with video retorts — and she isn't invited to one sponsored by the Munk Debates on foreign policy.
In addition, it looks like the sort of widely broadcast English debate seen in previous campaigns may not happen this time since Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has refused to take part and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has said he won't participate if Harper doesn't.
May, Harper and Mulcair will be joined tonight by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe.
"The French-language debate will give Canadians the chance to see all party leaders debate important issues and is a crucial part of the democratic process," May said in a statement.
She plans to talk about the Green party's vision for abolishing tuition fees, halting bitumen-laden pipelines and making the federation work better through a proposed Council of Canadian Governments.
"It is essential that the federal leaders discuss critical issues including democracy, climate change, and health care for elderly Canadians."
The Greens held just two seats in the last Parliament — neither in Quebec. But May is enthusiastic about her candidates in the province, including environmental scientist Daniel Green in Montreal and long-time eco-activist Andre Belisle in the riding held by Conservative cabinet minister Steven Blaney.
When it comes to going on the offensive, May plans to set her sights on Harper.
"I have a really good memory, and I know what he's done for nine years," May said in an interview.
"I don't waste my time attacking Trudeau or Mulcair because I want to work with both of them after the election.
"There's a lot I'd like to be able to talk about with relation to Stephen Harper, particularly why is he afraid to debate in English?"
May believes her presence in the 2008 televised English debate was a factor in holding Harper's Conservatives to a minority. She wasn't invited to the 2011 exchange.
"The real dynamic is that when Greens are in the debates, Conservatives don't do as well."
May says she does not expect to prod Harper or Duceppe over their support for banning women from wearing a niqab during a citizenship ceremony — a policy she considers "cynical manipulation" of the electorate.
But the Green leader does say she is disappointed with Duceppe over his stance.
"I've always liked him. Over the years I've known him, I regard him as a colleague. And I think this is something of which he's not worthy."
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