By: Heather Stephenson, Staff Writer
In 2019, MP Elizabeth May stepped down after 13 years as federal leader of the Green Party in Canada. On August 27, 2020, she joined the “Justice in Pieces” series, and discussed her career, how she became an advocate for the Green Party, as well as her thoughts on current political issues in Canada and why the Green Party is different than other political parties.
Background – Getting into Politics
MP May did not anticipate becoming a politician, but believes she has always been a champion for environmental issues. She believed that this was from birth and shared an anecdote of her mother telling her she announced her dislike for airplanes as a toddler because they “scratch the sky”.
MP May grew up in the countryside surrounded by animals, and says she always felt a strong connection to that. She knew by age 13 that she wanted to be an environmental lawyer and started her own environmental club in high school.
MP May went into practice as a lawyer and was the long-time executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada. She resisted going into politics, despite being approached by the leaders of various political parties, because she believed she could achieve more in civil society.
It was not until 2006 that she was propelled into politics, as a response to a realization that Stephen Harper’s government could cause the loss of many of the things she had spent so long fighting for. She decided to run for leadership of the Green Party of Canada.
One Issue Party?
MP May notes that it is possibly the name that causes the confusion, but that the Green Party has always stood for a range of issues. For example, they were the first party in Canada to call for same sex marriage, the legalization of cannabis, a national pharmacare plan, and a guaranteed livable income.
It only takes one look at the “Vision Green” on their website to see that there are policies dealing with a wide range of issues, from foreign affairs and disarmament, to support for workers’ rights. The Green Party has policies on, and has made a difference on, a vast range of issues. However, as MP May pointed out, if you are going to be known for one thing, given the climate emergency, if your only issue is survival, that’s not a bad issue to keep as your top priority.
The topic of climate change naturally comes up a fair bit in the discussion, and MP May mused that in the past, it was not a partisan issue. She believed it was not until the anti-science platform of Harper’s government that it crept into Canadian politics as a partisan issue.
Her solution? We need to get back to the science. Political leaders must be challenged on why they think climate science is different from COVID science, and why it is considered a debatable question and there is a belief that we can choose to say we don’t want to do what science demands.
When asked, MP May graded the current Liberal government with an “F” on addressing green initiatives. She emphasized that a government cannot be judged on their lofty goals or words; they must be judged on what they have achieved. The latest statistics we have on greenhouse gases, she says, shows that they rose in 2018. The Liberal government has kept Stephen Harper’s target for greenhouse gas emissions reductions but is not on track to meet them.
MP May describes herself as a cheerleader of stronger commitments and believes much higher targets, which must be based in science, are required.
COVID-19 & Climate Change
It is an economic issue and it is a green issue, but it must be firmly rooted in social justice. MP May believes the CERB allowed us to dip our toes in the waters of basic income talk, and now is the time to commit to a guaranteed liveable income.
Also, the concern that COVID–19 may be with us longer than anticipated must be considered. The healthcare system must be boosted, we must ensure long term care facilities don’t leave seniors as vulnerable as what we have learned earlier this year.
She argued there are a lot of priorities, but everything must be grounded in making sure the biosphere remains habitable for humanity. If we miss the opportunity in the next few years to set that course, we may miss it forever. Focusing on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and moving away from using fossil fuels are key.
According to MP May, it is time for people of privilege to acknowledge that that privilege exists, and to be prepared to fight for and defend indigenous rights. She spoke of rooting out anyone who aligns themselves with white supremacist groups from our police force and military. In addition, she brought up the importance of issues, such as the inquiry into missing indigenous women and girls, and the various instances that have come to light of late of wellness checks by police ending in disaster, which she believes must be investigated.
Why Did She Step Down?
MP May shared that she had decided prior to the 2019 federal election to step down before the next one, and wanted to ensure she did so early enough that the next leader would have time to make themselves well known to the public. She plans to contest her own seat and wants to continue as member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands and hopes to be able to support the new leader and help to build the Green Party’s presence.
She also revealed her goal of running for speaker of the house if she is re-elected, as she believes that she could contribute something substantial and long lasting to parliamentary democracy if she could demonstrate how a speaker of the house can get Parliament to work better by getting more people to respect each other and work better together.
Advice for the Next Leader of the Party
She calls on the next leader to remember one of the core tenets of the Green Party is grassroots democracy, and the job description for the leader is to be the chief spokesperson. The job is to inspire people, mobilize people, and take the message from the members of the Party to the people, rather than be “the boss” in the traditional sense.
MP May’s Words of Wisdom
MP May’s main message to anyone interested in politics is to get involved and jump in with both feet. She recommends looking at each of the different political parties’ platforms on their websites and figuring out which one resonates with you. She also stresses the importance of speaking up and speaking out if you see anything that you think is not right, because everything you do as a citizen can make a difference. Lastly, in her words – “shrink your ecological footprint but grow your political footprint”.