Elizabeth May insists the Greens are not a protest party but says she doesn't have illusions of becoming the next prime minister like her NDP counterpart does.

"I'm not going to pretend at the end of the next election I'll be prime minister," the Green party leader told CBC's Peter Mansbridge on The National Monday evening. "I'll let Jack [Layton] do the pretending."

May aims to win at least 12 seats in the House of Commons, the number necessary to secure official party status. She admits it will be a challenge — even in her own Central Nova riding in Nova Scotia, where she faces incumbent Conservative candidate Peter MacKay — but not impossible.

"We're not for people who want to write 'none of the above' [on the ballot]," said May.

The Greens secured their first coup a week before the Sept. 7 election call when Liberal-turned-Independent MP Blair Wilson joined the party, giving the Greens their first seat in the House. He is running for re-election in the riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country.

But with scant hope of forming a government, May admitted her party of choice to win the Oct. 14 federal election would be Stéphane Dion's Liberals.

Dion a 'second option'

Earlier in the campaign, Layton and Conservative leader Stephen Harper used May's support for the Liberals as an argument for keeping her out of the televised leaders' debates, which are to air this Wednesday and Thursday.

Her participation would be tantamount to allowing a second Liberal candidate in the debate, they said. Following a public campaign opposing her exclusion, however, the two agreed to let her participate and the broadcast consortium invited her to join the debates.

At the time, Harper also said May would endorse the Liberal party before the five-week-long campaign wraps up.

May stressed that she's not endorsing Dion but rather sees him as a "second option."

"I think a minority government with Greens in the House of Commons, with parties we can work with, would make a real difference for this country," she said.

With even a few Green representatives in the House, May said, the party would try to increase the respectful level of debate, which she says has fallen during Harper's nearly three years in power.  

"My goodness, it's declined into a cesspool of partisanship," she said.

Wants debates to be 'riveting'

May said she can't wait to participate in the leaders' debates.

She was "heartened and inspired that so many people across the country were offended by the unfairness" of the other leaders' initial demand that the Greens be kept out of the debates.

With the U.S. vice-presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin debating the same night as the English-language federal leaders' debate on Thursday, May said she hopes Canadians tune in and find their own democracy "riveting."