Part 1-Elizabeth May: Green Party candidate for Saanich–Gulf Islands? July 2, 2009
Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, stepped off the plane in Vancouver with a pack of special buns and icing for her grandchildren, given to her enroute by an man in Thunder Bay. She was in Vancouver to attend a Chan Centre memorial for Jim Fulton, legend of the coast and larger-than-life executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation. In the hour available, I interviewed Elizabeth at the airport’s Milestones Restaurant, amid the lunchtime buzz.
Christa Grace-Warrick: Rumour has it that you were recently asked, on Salt Spring Island, whether you would stand as federal Green Party of Canada candidate for Saanich-Gulf Islands in the next election? How did you respond?
Elizabeth May: It was a marvellous moment. I was signing books, suddenly someone in the line-up said, ‘You should run here.’ I said, ‘Well, actually, I’m thinking about it.’ Then the one voice turned into a chorus. I am thinking about it quite seriously—weighing options. In politics things change dramatically and you never really know when an election is going to happen. Or would a by-election come up first?—that would change everything.
Christa G-W: How would you answer any criticism regarding ‘parachuting’ into Saanich-Gulf Islands?
Elizabeth M: Well, of course, I have been very reluctant to run anywhere that wasn’t a home-base, like Nova Scotia is. Now, when I ran last time in Central Nova, I staged a high-profile campaign against Peter MacKay and, I promise you, I had every intention of getting elected. Every single day people come up to me and say, ‘We need you in the House of Commons, please run where you can get elected. It’s an extraordinary thing. Apart from the buns in Thunder Bay, it happened again this morning, changing planes in Toronto. Someone came up to me and said, ‘You’ve got to run where you can win.’ And I’d have to share with everyone involved, regardless if it’s Saanich-Gulf Islands or another riding that becomes the choice of the party, that there’s has been an evolution in my thinking—that I really owe it to the million people who voted Green in 2008 to be their voice in the House of Commons. I’m not going to be immune from the criticism of being a parachute candidate. It’s a fair point. I think it’s much better to run in a place where you have lived for a long time. The issue is how do we get a Green voice in the house of Commons?
Not to split hairs, as leader of a national party, I’m in a slightly different category. I do need to be in the House of Commons. There is a history—where national leaders without a seat seek out a place where there is a good prospect and get elected—on Vancouver Island, Sir John A MacDonald and Tommy Douglas. I’m going to have to be upfront about it and say, ‘This riding is where I believe voters are prepared to make history; voters are prepared to break some of the old moulds; to say to the country, ‘We did it here first’’—that kind of spirit and momentum. That should explain for people the new-found attachment. That said, if I am lucky enough to represent Saanich–Gulf Islands, there’s barely a more beautiful place in the world. You could never call it a sacrifice—it’s just distance from my Dad, who’s 84, that sort of thing. But distance can be overcome and lots of people are not lucky enough to be living next door to their parents, so that’s just how it is. In the last election the Green Party’s focus was to do better everywhere. In the party—it’s not a bunch of backroom boys, it’s a grass roots party, it’s a federally elected council and campaign committee— the decision has been made that in the next election campaign our top priority is to target, focus, and win a seat for the Leader in the House of Commons and then, from there, other changes can come in other years.
The party wants to find the greenest riding. Not that it has the highest number of Green Party members—but the riding that has the highest commitment overall to the values of the Greens. It wouldn’t be just based in previous voting results because, based on previous voting results, my riding in Central Nova was the best result for Greens in any first-past-the post country anywhere in the world; we had 32% of the vote. That’s why we have been polling certain ridings. In the next election we need a parliamentary breakthrough. There’s likely be another minority government regardless of whether it’s a minority with Michael Ignatieff as prime minister or a minority with Stephen Harper as prime minister. Greens would represent: a better way to handle the recession, a quicker path to more jobs, responsibility to future generations through action on the climate crisis—all of those things. And not only that, the way in which we raise the issues would be different; more respectful and focussed on the issues. My role in the House of Commons, among others, will be to improve decorum, to tone down the aggressive partisanship, the bellicose blustering, and be respectful and get people on all sides of the house to work together. And, of course, the climate change crisis looms large in my mind. We can’t afford to keep going along as though decisions about whether our children survive can be put off to another day.
Christa G-W: Central Nova has a suburban-rural split. Saanich-Gulf Islands has a suburban-rural split plus a split between a high development area and one under a ‘preserve and protect’ mandate? How do you feel you could unite the riding?
Elizabeth M: Central Nova is actually quite similar to Saanich–Gulf Islands communities: dependence on fisheries, a lot of seasonal employment, very little heavy industry. What I look at in uniting an area and what appeals to me—and there are a couple of the other ridings we are looking at that are also primarily rural—is that the perspective of people outside major urban areas is getting lost in some of the other parties. Other party leaders are all from urban centres: Stephen Harper is from Calgary, Michael Ignatieff is Toronto, Jack Layton is Toronto, Gilles Duceppe, of course, is Montreal. That said, there are common values that unite all of Canada. There’s not that much difference between downtown Toronto and Cape Breton Island—to me there’s some common values that transcend the cultural differences which are obvious. We don’t pay enough attention to that. We have allowed the politics of division to triumph too long in this country. We have got to maintain that we are one Canada and as Canadian we have more in common than our differences. That said, in a microcosm like Saanich Gulf-Islands, suburban issues are going to be different—Saanich faces different local concerns than Saturna. But if you are looking at what kind of policies will be of assistance to people, it doesn’t matter if you’re on an island or in a suburb. If you happen to be a married couple and you happen to be paying too much tax, because Canada insists on this foolish policy of overtaxing married couples, you see, ‘Well gee, the Green Party actually wants to allow us to just pay taxes on what we’re earning.’ Right now the Harper government is allowing certain kinds of pension income splitting for retirees. That’s not good enough. There are solutions that one might pursue at the federal level that reflect the values that Canadians hold, regardless of where they are. These values I see as concern for community and concern for the health and well-being of the whole. We are losing it bit-by-bit but we have not yet been completely absorbed by the mantra of ‘every man for himself’—that is not the Canadian ethic or identity. We are much more focussed on: ‘We need to do the best we can for all of us, all the time.’ What I’d like to do as an MP is what I did in Central Nova: hold community townhall meetings, talk about local issues, and what people would like governmentto do for them. You’d better be responsive to people who vote for you and elected you or you have abandoned the basic tenets of democracy.
Christa: Voting patterns in Saanich-Gulf Islands are not as entrenched as in Central Nova. How could you use that to advantage?
Elizabeth: One of the things that defines a community where you have people come in from ‘away’ is that people are not necessarily as entrenched. They are more fluid in their voting. The fact that people are open-minded in Saanich–Gulf Islands is certainly an advantage. Obviously to win in any riding across Canada I have to convince a lot more voters than have ever voted Green before that this is the sensible thing to do, that this will advance their interests as a community, advance the interests of the planet, give them better representation in Ottawa because they have someone who has a voice that can be used rather than stifled. Having the leader of a party as your MP is a liberating thing, especially if you have someone who is responsive and wants to take your voice forward. Christa: We currently have two ministers (federal and provincial) representing us—at least in North Saanich and the southern Gulf Islands. Many feel that the riding needs someone who can represent it, rather than representing government to us. As a party leader would you be able to do that? Elizabeth: That’s very well put. Yes, entirely. That is my role in public life. Of course, I came into public life because of my deep concern particularly around the climate crisis but I am not, neither is the Green Party, one-dimensional or one issue. There are a lot of things to care about. I’d stack up our policies on social justice and eliminating poverty, our policies of advocacy for seniors and pensions, with any other party—and we’re better. But beyond that, it’s being able to say, ‘What issues do you want to raise in the House of Commons?’ In my new book, Losing Confidence, I talk about the dangerous process of partisanship overtaking policy and principle and that partisanship is entrenched due to the increasing powers of political masters. So regardless, whether we are talking about Gary Lunn or someone else representing a different party, someone who’s in one of the larger political parties, other than the leader, never gets to say what they think, just never! And I’m not constrained by that, not just because I’m the leader of the Greens but because the Green Party believes that MPs should represent the people from their constituency.
Christa: Typically in voting, Saanich–Gulf Islands has a split vote between Liberal, NDP and Green Party which allows a Tory minority to carry the day. Given that voters are prepared to shift their party vote for a strong candidate (Briony Penn’s Liberal candidacy in the last election), what would you do?
Elizabeth: The interesting thing about the Greens is that we really aren’t a left-wing or right-wing party. Our solutions are so common sense that we appeal to people across the old line parties. I’m jumping into it, but just let’s talk hypothetically about Saanich–Gulf Islands. I would need to convince voters that I was the best possible candidate. It matters; a lot of politics these days has lost track of the fact that our parliamentary system is about electing a member of parliament, we don’t directly vote for the prime minister. But in any case, voting for the leader of a political party other than the one that has been holding the seat for a while will take a leap of faith on the part of the voting public and I need to persuade people that I’ll be the best MP they have ever had. Beyond that, for those who would like to see a replacement in Ottawa, I need to persuade people, who were drawn to Briony’s campaign for instance, that this is actually the unique opportunity that leads to defeating the incumbent. And that takes a lot of people prepared to say, ‘Alright I’ll switch my usual voting patterns, just this once to see how it works out.’ And if I can get that kind of commitment from people, I don’t need people ripping up their membership cards in other parties. That’s what happened in Central Nova. In 2006, the Greens had about 2% of the vote there and we went to 32%. Not all those people joined the Green Party, they just decided that I was the best choice for their MP. We got support from NDP, Liberals and traditional Conservatives.
Christa: Will you be seeking endorsements from locals? If so, who? Elizabeth: Yes … and… everybody! I need to appeal to people outside the ‘usual suspects’—as we say in Casablanca—and the more that they are publicly willing to say so and call on their friends and neighbours, well, that makes the case. That is what we did quite successfully in the London by-election, which I almost won. I will absolutely be asking lots of people for help—as I’m asking them now for advice in this process of deciding where I should run.
Christa: We have spent a good deal of time talking about your candidacy and I’d like to finish with a few briefer comments on policy. The Green Party platform includes several items to strengthen small communities and their economies: farmers’ markets, local venture capital initiatives, family farms and their transition to organic, and local fisheries management. Which of these would you push for as an MP?
Elizabeth: All of them! Local solutions are linked. Community wellbeing is not confined to one issue. A federal food policy increases the ability to create a local food policy such as community processing plants, locally adapted food safety in what I call ‘foodcrafting’, and things like mandating shelf space in supermarkets for local foods. In the same way, water security and mass transit (ferries) are federal policy issues as well. And we can bring them down to ground as local quality of life issues.
Christa: Two big federally-controlled issues on the coast are the introduction of tanker traffic and the management of fish farms. As someone who has witnessed the disasters of pollution and the collapse of a fishery, what are your thoughts and what could you do?
Elizabeth: The tanker moratorium must be maintained, the risks of an oil spill on the coast are off the charts. With fish farms, what we’ve allowed to happen is the privatization of a common property resource which has multiple ecological services. The federal government needs to take a stronger role. The risks to the wild fisheries and the ecosystem are just too high. Make aquaculture more like agriculture and do it on land and do it further inland—it’s still profitable.
Christa: Canadians are concerned about the militarization of our international role. What would you say about this in Parliament?
Elizabeth: The search for peace and a culture of non-violence is one of our core values. In our foundation document Vision Green, on our website, we detail how Canada—the country that developed peacekeeping, where Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for the resolution of the Suez Crisis—is now one of the least participatory nations on Earth in UN peacekeeping missions. In fact just about a year ago now we were asked to send four people from our military to assist the Congo Republic and we declined, we didn’t have four people to spare with the skills they wanted. It’s devastating! There is a genocide in progress, they need our help in Congo, in Darfur. Many people confuse our role in NATO with peacekeeping. Our mission in Afghanistan is not a UN mission. The UN has not ruled it is illegal but it is not a UN mission by any means. We are seen increasingly as an aggressive force as opposed to peacekeeping. The proper role of our military needs to be decided through the body politic and through democracy.
Christa: The Green Party of Canada has played a major role in setting out policy for Canada and having it adopted by other parties. If you are the first Green MP elected in Canada, what further advances would you be able to achieve in a what is likely to be another minority government?
Elizabeth: We are turning old-style politics on its head. The real power lies in those who are outside the mainstream, who can raise different issues, work with everyone, and help find cooperative solutions. So, being a Green in a minority government, there will be tremendous scope to influence decisions, to be of assistance, to raise issues that others aren’t raising, and—going back to your point—we’re happy when others take our ideas. There’s are a lot of serious problems that the country faces for which the solutions exist and, in some ways, the politics get in the way.
Christa: How did the Green Party get to be so imaginative?
Elizabeth: Well you see, imagination and innovation are what happens when you let people put forward the best idea they can think of without worrying about a package of propaganda. I think the reason we are creative is that we’re not blinded by ideological strictures, and generations of notions of what belongs in ‘our party,’ or not. It’s a very exciting time to be in the Green Party; we are able to put forward the very best ideas and hold on to our values and listen to people and be grassroots.
Christa: In your latest book, ‘Losing Confidence: Power, Politics, And The Crises In Canadian Democracy,’ you talk about the level of incivility and the lack of thoughtful debate in the House. You favour discussion, debate and negotiation. In Parliament, what would you do to improve this sad situation?
Elizabeth: I do have a plan. I’m a close observer of Question Period and house committees. I’m lucky, I worked in government from 1986 to 1988, so I know how it used to be. I worked in an era when there was a lot of cooperation. Even in the Mulroney years, working for the Environment Minister in a majority government, there was a lot of cooperation. We made sure that people in the NDP and the Liberals would agree with what we were going to propose before we proposed it. An ethic of cooperation is fundamental to the Westminster tradition and parliamentary success, especially in forming solutions in a minority government. The House of Commons is absolutely beautiful—it’s meant to inspire, it’s meant to quicken the heart. There are vaulted ceilings; it’s layered with carved imagery of Canada. All this iconography is our map of ourselves—a combination of mythic and historical. In this place of physical beauty designed to exemplify democracy, we have behaviour that would not be acceptable on a schoolground. I watch the Conservative members; their heckling is orchestrated. They test messages that they will later use in attack ads. The heckling of Michael Ignatieff was scripted before the attack ads with the messages we heard later in the ads. So it’s not random, it’s appalling and we don’t have to tolerate it. As to my personal plan: suppose that I’m the only Green in the House of Commons and I’m surrounded with bullying and abuse. My strategy is to make sure the rules of the House are followed. It is not permitted to interrupt a MP when he or she is speaking, so the hurling of abuse, the booing violates the rules of House of Commons. My approach would be to have zero-tolerance for heckling. So, when it’s my turn to ask a question, if any MPs are yelling or interrupting, I plan to sit down. The Speaker of the House will probably realize that I am having trouble with the amount of noise round me and he’ll stand up and call for order. If he doesn’t I’ll miss my chance to ask a question. If I miss a couple of times, the media is bound to notice that I am practising something called zero-tolerance for heckling. It’s like set of strings, when the Speaker stands up members sit down but that works in reverse, if the member sits down the Speaker will rise—and I think we can bring decorum back to the House.
Note: Within two years Elizabeth May was elected MP for Saanich Gulf Islands, ousting the 17-year incumbent Conservative minister by a landslide on May 2, 2011. I interviewed her again after her election. That interview is below, after the editorial Island Tides published following the election.
Island Tides editorial following the 2011 federal election, May 19, 2011
Canada’s May 2 national election, and the campaigns that preceded it, demonstrated the destruction of democracy from within. A pre-game flurry of attack ads insulted both the voters and the politicians. The opportunity to embrace a Canadian vision was lost to a political hockey game, complete with winners, losers, high sticking, head shots, concussions, and numerous pollsters keeping score. Only four party leaders were allowed to play. Canada’s media oligopoly set the rules and provided the referees. It was a contest of fear, the real stuff of all political games. Issues, the real stuff of government, were never on the ice. The winners, as usual, were the team with the most players left standing at the end of the night: a false majority, supported by a minority of voters. First-past-the-post won again; the fans lost. They expressed their disgust by not supporting the Liberals, and in Quebec, by destroying the Bloc Quebecois and backing the NDP. The Ray of Sunshine There was one exception: largely barred from the national electoral game, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May won Saanich-Gulf Islands decisively with an old-fashioned campaign—meet the voters!—and two thousand volunteers. Much is now expected of her, not only by her constituents, but by the nation. Singlehandedly, she has pledged to bring civility to question period. It’s about time, and it will be symbolic of a new respect for the democratic process. But in a polarized Parliament, her real task will be to restore the political centre to a house with strong ideological differences. Her avowed modus operandi will be to construct alliances around specific issues, recruiting independent thinkers from all parties to support reasonable and practical ideas, policies, and initiatives. The Ideas To identify Canada’s political centre, Canadians should refer to the Green Party platform, which was totally ignored by the national media during the election. The Green platform is not single-issue thinking. It covers the complete spectrum of national concerns under three main headings: Smart Economy, Strong Communities, and True Democracy. It also includes a complete federal government budget proposing changes in revenues and spending reflecting proposed Green Party initiatives, and reducing the deficit. This platform is not an amateur effort. It has been created by a talented group of informed, concerned Canadians. It reconciles economic and environmental concerns. It covers a broad spectrum of government policies. It describes a historic vision of Canada as an independent, responsible nation in a complicated world.
Not Just An‘OTH’er MP
On election night as the results were coming in, the CBC disingenuously labelled Elizabeth May as ‘OTH’, rather than Green Party. In fact, she is actually ‘something else’! May will not be ‘a lone voice crying in the wilderness’. She will be outspoken, constructive, always well–informed and thoughtful, and tremendously influential. She is not a leader without a party. Her real constituency is not just Saanich-Gulf Islands, but throughout Canada. Island Tides will publish an in-depth interview with Elizabeth May about her plans as MP in our next edition.
Part 2-The greening of Parliament: talking to Elizabeth May, MP, May 4, 2011
As a ‘bookend’ interview, I spoke with Elizabeth May on May 4, following her election as MP. I first met and interviewed her at Vancouver International Airport in July 2009, when she came to throw her hat into the ring for the Saanich-Gulf Islands nomination and to attend the Jim Fulton Memorial at the Chan Centre (Jim is mentioned in this interview). It has been a momentous 21 months and I have come to admire this extraordinary woman more each day. Elizabeth May’s campaign for election began 18 months ago as soon as she was elected Green Party candidate for Saanich–Gulf Islands. She threw herself into Saanich–Gulf Islands life with gusto, participating in countless events and meeting her neighbours across the riding.
For the key component in her phenomenal election campaign, in which she ousted a 17-year Conservative Minister incumbent, she points to house parties. ‘Let’s face it,’ she says, ‘most people won’t cross the threshhold to a political party meeting but they will have coffee or wine and cheese with their friends and meet and talk to the candidate who is also a guest.’ House party meetings, she said, resulted in 100% support. The morning wave to motorists on the Pat Bay highway was also a winner. Getting back so many hoots, waves and cheers, volunteers were enthused and motivated at the support and good feeling for May. The campaign did not start out with 2,500 volunteers (700 from Salt Spring); at first it was just a handful. House parties also resulted in building the huge team that knocked on doors and performed many other tasks throughout the writ period. May comments, ‘Our volunteers were enthusiastic, committed, positive and so energetic. The power of volunteers is what won the election. I can never thank everyone enough!’
Now that her focus has changed—literally overnight—from working for election to representing her riding, May is motivated by gratitude to those that elected her and, she reminds, a desire to represent everyone in the riding, not only those who voted for her. As an MP, May’s ‘number one priority is being the best member of parliament that the citizens of Saanich–Gulf Islands have ever had. Which means a really good constituency presence.
I want to augment my parliamentary budget for the constituency with some party funding but clearly the party is going to have a lot less funding than in the past because of the electoral results, so I need to figure out how to make that work. ‘I’d like to have an second constituency office on the Gulf Islands somewhere.’ Her Sidney campaign office has closed. The constituency office will open soon at 9711-4th Avenue. May plans to hold ‘town hall’ meetings in Saanich–Gulf Islands every six weeks to give a ‘report back’ session and ask what’s on people’s minds. She says that face-to-face meetings allow her to be as candid as she would like to be. She wants to be constantly in touch with her constituents and will use electronic media and social networking to do so. She will also be writing an Ottawa Report for Island Tides. She hopes that constituents can help develop policy. An antidote to the corruption of power is to share your problems with your constituents, she declares.
‘I’m devastated by the fact that I’m not in a minority Parliament. I thought there was no way that there could be a Conservative majority. And it will really be tougher to do the things I want to do. I also think it is bad news for the country. This is the most anti-democratic of outcomes and only made possible by the first-past-the-post voting system; in which a party could win 39.6% of a 61% voter turn-out and have such a big majority.’ May will work for proportional representation (pro-rep). She is emphatic that she will do everything in her power to prevent another ‘false majority’. ‘Sixty percent of Canadians did not vote for the Harper government and they wake up to find they have a majority Conservative government.’ The Liberals, whose numbers were decimated in Parliament even though their share of the popular vote did not drop much, are now likely to lend a sympathetic ear to pro-rep. This, she explains, was exactly the process in New Zealand, when pro-rep followed the similar destruction of a major party. The NDP, she says, has already declared for pro-rep, although they have done nothing about it. She thinks it may be possible to get pro-rep on the agenda by the next election. ‘What’s needed (and the missing step in the Ontario and BC initiatives) is a really good public process, to engage voters in why first-past-the-post is not a good system. You can’t propose a change in the voting system to MMP or STV in a vacuum, you first need to establish that we’re scuppered in our current system. Once you’ve got people saying first-past-the-post is bad, then move on to alternatives.’ What’s needed, she says, is an accessible Royal Commission that travels the land with its high level of citizen engagement, education and mobilization.
Going To Ottawa:
May talked about her role in Parliament, ‘I don’t want to be known as the valiant voice in the wilderness that speaks the truth but doesn’t accomplish anything.’ For starters: ‘You’ve heard me say many times that I want to end heckling in the House and I don’t make promises that I don’t keep.’ Achieving this goal depends partly, she says, on who becomes the Speaker of the House, since the Speaker could simply end heckling him/herself—it’s against the rules of Parliament. However, her ‘sit down at once if heckled’ strategy triggers the Speaker to enforce the rules. ‘Even in a majority government, even as a single MP—I know the rules and my strategy should work. I will lead the demand for the enforcement of the rules.’
She sees the conflict between speaking truth and building bridges but is determined to make it work. ‘What’s the most important issue that requires attention? The climate crisis. Will I make the climate crisis my top, immediate priority? Probably not; because I know I can’t get anywhere till I lay the groundwork with greater cooperation between MPs—and I’m going to need to get some Conservatives onside.’ This, she says, is going to be delicate because Harper-style government allows no party member dissent. Working for cooperative solutions in the House is hugely important, she emphasizes, ‘I can network among kindred spirits. Where I have success, I probably won’t be able to tell you about it because it will be with an MP from another party, where confidentiality really matters.’ Messages of congratulation and welcome from Conservative backbenchers were coming in on her Blackberry during our conversation. Lending A Hand ‘What I want to be able to do is get better research and support and make it available to backbenchers who don’t get much help from their own parties. ‘There are lots of MPs in a parliamentary committee hearing, with an expert witness giving evidence, who have their chance to ask a question but they basically tread water. They’ve got nothing useful to say; the reason for that is they don’t have the resources to know the issue very well, they don’t want to look like buffoons but their party isn’t supporting them to be effective. So, our party can support them to be effective, but I can never take credit for that because that would ‘out’ somebody. ‘I will be working four times as hard as the average MP and I will be hoping that accolades will go to others because that will mean I am succeeding in getting change. ‘I’m only one person. If there is a parliamentary committee looking at legislation to gut the Fisheries Act and one looking at pay equity for women, I need to cultivate my relationships with people in other parties and offer them help.’ To aid in this, she says, she will make full use of the excellent research capabilities of a network of many NGOs, such as the eastcoast Genuine Progress Indicator. Such NGOs’ advice is free and open to all political parties but is virtually ignored by other parties. ‘I need research’, says May. ‘I need tons of it.’ She is also going to need interns or volunteers. She says she won’t have a big enough budget for all the work she wants to have done, but she wants to attract bright young people. If she can find a way for them to keep body and soul together, she wants to build this team of politically-savvy interns to work alongside friendly MPs. These young people can turn up at a committee about which they know ‘tons’ with MPs whose party isn’t interested in taking the time to make them look good. It’s perfectly normal, May says, for non-committee members to hand briefing notes to committee members, giving instant information on the point at hand. ‘That’s how I can plan to do more than one person can do by themselves. And if I’m doing a a good job, you won’t know! But that’s what voters in Saanich-Gulf Islands have elected me to do, to make Parliament work.’
She says in that Ottawa she has to be watchful for moves by the Harper majority government to destroy what’s left of environmental legislation. Currently, she is very concerned about proposed changes to the Fisheries Act, which might remove protection of fish habitat.
Getting Legislation Through:
‘It would be wonderful to say that I am going to get this legislation or that legislation passed through private member’s bills, but the reality is that I’ve got to be playing defense rather than offense in the first little bit. I am going to look for any opportunity to network with friends in the Conservative caucus. ‘When I get my chance at a Private Member’s Bill, I will have been working in advance from day one to get support from the Conservatives. It’s more important to have a success than the perfect bill that doesn’t pass. So it won’t be the Private Member’s Bill that enforces climate action. It might be the Private Member’s Bill that extends pension benefits to superannunates who married after age 60, and whose spouses currently don’t get benefits. That is an issue where Conservatives should have helped out pensioners.’
Being On The Hill:
Asked what she looks forward to most as an MP, May says it is being in the foyer of the House for the press scrum. She also looks forward to access to resources, and an office on Parliament Hill. The model for her office will be the office of Jim Fulton (MP for Skeena from 1978–1993), whose office was ‘a hubbub, a beehive of activity—it was a combination of parliament office, MP office, and NGO.’
Global Green Connections:
May says that congratulations are flooding in from around the world. She thinks that her global connections will be the way to be effective in climate change initiatives and says that she will continue to attend global Green meetings. In December, she goes to Durban for COP 17, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 2011 meeting. She could go with the Canadian delegation but thinks it may not be the best delegation within which to work. As a representative of Papua-New Guinea or the Maldives she would have greater access to decision-making and strategy. Her connections with elected Greens worldwide, who are often ministers of environment, will make her work in Durban more effective.
The Media & The Green Election Result:
May is not happy with many news outlets. She says that the 4 or 5 vertically integrated big media owners in Canada like the status quo. She says she challenges the status quo, hence little media coverage. She says it’s time to pull the plug on The Consortium; it should not be allowed to organize the National Leadership Debate. She has no illusions that, with continued Consortium control, she could be locked out of the next debate, despite her seat in the House. Her exclusion from the multi-outlet debate, she claims, caused the drop in Green Party vote percentage across the country in the 304 ridings in which the Green Party ran candidates. In polling, Green support sank dramatically the morning after a debate in which she had no voice. She also points to the effect of lack of media coverage for the Green Leader’s cross-country whistlestop train tour, and points to the effect of not publishing anything about the Green Party’s platform ‘Vision Green’ (available online at http://www.greenparty.ca). However, though country-wide the Green vote dropped from 6.8 to 3.9% of the popular vote, Greens still ran third in 18 ridings.
On the other hand, she praises westcoast CHEK and CHCH for giving her a television voice in Saanich-Gulf Islands, where she garnered 46% of a 75% voter turn-out.
In the next four years, she says that Canadian Greens will either build the party, or not, based on whether her conduct and achievement prove the value of a single Green Party seat in the House. ‘And I hope that I will prove that value and that more Canadians in more ridings will say, ‘That’s what we need, we need more people with the leader of the Green Party because she is consistently telling us the truth, she is consistently working well with others, and we never hear her attacking other people’s personalities or foibles, she sticks to the point, and she’s ended heckling in question period, so let’s support her with more MPs.’ ‘So that’s what will build the Green Party,’ she declares. ‘I’m very non-partisan; if the Green Party ceased to exist but we got another party to adopt all our policies, I’d be quite happy. But I think we are going to need the Green Party to be much stronger to get our policies adopted.’
May spoke of a disabled woman who, upon reading the Green Party policy on eliminating poverty among the disabled, insisted on paying for a $10 Green Party membership out of her tiny income. Green policies, May says, are informed by the outstanding research done by experts in public policy, working through NGOs. In regards to electing more Green representatives in the short term, May says that with a bunch of provincial elections coming up in the fall, she will be available to help elect provincial MLAs. Canadians now know that Greens are electable even in a first-past-the-post system. Also she says that by 2015 there is a 90% chance of a federal by-election which is winnable by the Green Party. She expects not to be the only Green MP in the House when the next election comes round.
Go Girl, Go!
Asked about her phenomenal energy level, May says that she is blessed by sleeping well, prayer helps her, and that she is by nature an optimist. ‘I can’t take much credit for it,’ she adds. ‘My mother was tireless; compared to my Mom, I’m a slacker.’ She pauses to show me a photo of her mother speaking in the Trafalgar Square rally following the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s Aldermaston March in 1059. Elizabeth is the little girl beside her at the microphone.