Elizabeth May is here to stay

May on her plans for the Greens and accusations of anti-semitism in the party

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May gestures as she makes an announcement at the National Press Theatre, in Ottawa on Monday, August 22, 2016. (Justin Tang/CP)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May at the National Press Theatre, in Ottawa on Monday, August 22, 2016. (Justin Tang/CP)

What could the Green leader possibly have to say that was important enough to call a press conference on Monday morning? Would she resign as leader, leave the Green party, and sit as an Independent? Cross the floor to the Liberals? Would she resign as leader, and force a leadership convention that would put the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel issue back on the table?

It was more speculation after two weeks of speculating. May was upset (“pretty devastated,” she had told Maclean’s) over the party voting to include support for a boycott against Israel in its policy at the Green convention in early August. It was a move May opposed wholeheartedly.

But few people had speculated that May would hold a press conference to announce she’d be staying on as leader of the party. After a 10-day trip to her family’s home in Cape Breton, N.S., May told reporters she returned this weekend unsure of whether she would stay on as leader, or step down. But after a meeting with Federal Council on Sunday night, and after reading through emails of support from Green party members and other politicians, May decided to stay.

More: Elizabeth May to remain as Green Party leader

Here’s what else she had to say about her decision.

She’ll remain as leader—at least for now

“I see there’s been lots of speculation in my absence from Internet about whether I plan to join some other political party,” May said. “That was never even a consideration.” She joked that reading the media commentary in her absence made her feel like Tom Sawyer, attending her own funeral.

In an interview earlier this month, May told the Globe and Mail she doesn’t love the job, but on Monday, she said she loved the Green party’s grassroots engagement, and that “the leader of the party is not the boss.”

Though tempted to step down as leader and remain with the party in order to trigger another convention, May ultimately decided to stay on largely because remaining as leader adds weight to her position on a parliamentary Special Committee on Electoral Reform. “I don’t know that I could do anything else to be more effective on the issues that matter than by staying on as leader of the Green party.”

May said her party’s federal council “overwhelmingly” wants her to remain leader, not to mention the people she ran into at the airport on her way back to Ottawa and the campers at her brother’s campground in Cape Breton. Not to say stepping down is completely off the table. “I think the greater likelihood is that I will lead the Green Party of Canada in the 2019 election,” she said. “But I’m more than comfortable with the idea that I might not.”

The Green Party will hold a “special meeting”

May said federal council passed a series of motions that not only give her its full support, but maps a path to improve the party’s policy-making process. Over the next few months, the Green party will hold a special meeting to address issues that arose following the convention.

Related: Here’s what happened at the Green convention

Before this year’s convention, the party decided it no longer needed to send policy proposals back to members across Canada for an online ratification vote. This was problematic, May said, because that meant only members who could afford the plane ticket and hotel room voted on resolutions.

Also, for the first time, the Green party followed Robert’s Rules of Order at the convention—a process for conducting meetings in an organized and deliberate way. However, those rules leave little room or time for consensus-based decision making. “Like first-past-the-post, in my experience Robert’s Rules of Order is fast, efficient, and leads to bad decisions,” she said.

For these reasons, the special meeting will review any decisions made at the convention that lacked consensus—not only the contentious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions motion—and subject them to some sort of consensus process.

She’s focusing all of her energy on electoral reform

But May’s attention will not be focused on this special meeting. From now until Dec. 1, she said 100 per cent of her energy will be dedicated to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. (“And of course,” she added, “whenever I can, pushing the Trudeau administration to get rid of Stephen Harper’s old, dated carbon target and have a plan that actually gets us to what we committed to in Paris.”)

Related: On electoral reform, what are Canada’s options?

Over the next three months, May and 11 other MPs will be touring every province and territory, hearing testimony from voters on electoral reform. They’ll then present recommendations to the Liberal government on how it can keep its campaign promise that 2015 would be the last election in Canada under the first-past-the-post system.

While May is confident the committee and the five parties involved will come to a consensus on what that change looks like, she said she will hold Trudeau to his promise, even if the committee can’t come to an agreement. She said three or four parties agreeing would be substantial consensus—but she suggested even two parties agreeing might be enough.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions supporters aren’t anti-semitic

May said it’s “absolutely not the case” that there is an anti-Semitic faction within the Green party. “I will never demonize the people in that movement,” she said, adding there are well-meaning groups that support it. “But it shouldn’t include a federal political party that’s serious and wants to elect more MPs in the next election.”

May said she was heartbroken, not because the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions motion itself had passed, but because the Green party had abandoned its usual consensus-based approach and allowed division on the convention floor. She said she was confident, that given the time, those who supported the motion and those who opposed it would have come to a consensus.


Elizabeth May is here to stay

  1. “She said three or four parties agreeing would be substantial consensus—but she suggested even two parties agreeing might be enough.”

    Interesting point of view. So, extrapolating from this, if the Greens and NDP agree on PR, then that might be enough of a consensus to change the electoral system to PR.

    Sorry, disagree. Regardless of how many parties agree, hold a referendum and let the citizenry decide.

    • Sorta like Brexit you mean (dumbest decision ever)?

      There are few, if any, examples of a full public referendum that produced sensible results. The public, y’see’ is generally uninformed and not terribly bright.

      • Agreed….no referendum

        Leadership is supposed to lead…..not throw their hands in the air and leave it to others.

      • Just because you don’t agree with a referendum’s result, doesn’t mean it wasn’t valid.

        One can extrapolate this condescending PoV to say that we shouldn’t have elections because the public “is generally uninformed and not terribly bright”. After all, if the public can’t handle a single issue referendum, then it stands to reason it would be unable to handle a general election in which numerous issues and numerous actors are at play.

        At any rate, here (again) is why I think a referendum is needed for electoral reform:


        1) A specific voting system was not part of the Liberal platform. So there was no way for people to vote LPC in an informed manner w.r.t. electoral reform.

        2) Electoral reform was not a prominent aspect of the Liberal campaign. Many people could have voted LPC without even realizing electoral reform was part of the platform.

        3) Nobody that votes for a party agrees with every single aspect of the platform, especially a platform with 200+ promises. Indeed, many people could have voted LPC while disagreeing with the need for electoral reform, while agreeing with the vast majority of the rest of the platform.

        4) History has shown that the LPC considers campaign promises to be “fluid” – consider the LPC’s pre-election stance with its post-election governing action on wage and price controls in 1974 election, gas tax in 1980 election, FTA (precursor to NAFTA) in 1993 election, and GST in 1993 election. So, anyone with a memory would know that just because the LPC promises something, it doesn’t mean the LOC will deliver, and that really one should vote LPC because one thinks the LPC will govern intelligently, and not because of any particular promise. (Same can likely also be said for other parties)

        5) Precedents have been set by Ontario, BC, and PEI holding referendums on electoral reform. If referendums were good enough for the largest and 3rd largest province, then a referendum is good enough for the nation.

        6) Winning government does not mean a mandate to implement a particular policy unless the election was for all intents and purposes a single issue election – and the only one of those that I can think of was the election of 1984 w.r.t. Free Trade. If there was one prominent issue in the 2015 election, it was the need for a change of government – electoral reform didn’t even register.

        So, yes, I think a referendum is absolutely needed.
        AFAICT, the only people that don’t want a referendum are the ones that don’t think they can make a convincing argument for electoral reform.

        Having said all of that, I think FPTP is a moronic voting system when applied in a more-than-2 party system. My preferred system is the preferential ballot (AKA Alternate Vote). It’s an evolutionary, not revolutionary, change to how we vote. It is easily understood. It eliminates the need for strategic voting. It means votes aren’t “wasted”. And it retains direct representation for ridings with no changes in riding boundaries. STV almost (but not quite) does this, and I did indeed vote for BC-STV (both times). I intensely dislike pure proportional representation due to the loss of direct representation, and MMP isn’t much better if it retains FPTP for the directly elected members. A potential compromise system is what the UK Jenkins Commission came up with – alternative vote top-up or AV+. Unfortunately, that may be too complicated to win appeal.

        Getting back to the referendum, here’s a compromise approach that I would be perfectly happy with:
        – government implements electoral commission’s recommendation
        – 2019 election is held under the new system
        – 2 or so years later a referendum is held on whether to retain the new system or revert to FPTP. More than 50%+1 is required to revert – exact number TBD (55? 60?).

        • Democracy only works when there is an informed electorate.

          No referendums

          • So you think the electorate is capable of handling general elections in which there are any number of issues to be considered, but is incapable of handlng a single issue referendum?

          • Jim R

            The electorate is incapable…..yes

          • @Emilyone

            Incapable of what? Incapable of handling general elections? Kindly clarify.

          • What Emily means of course (and you know very well she does) is that she is afraid people would make a decision that is not in line with her own views.

            god forbid you actually want to know what people think.

            As for an “informed electorate”….we haven’t had one of those for generations. how else do you explain Trudeau winning?

            Nothing “INFORMED” about his supporters.

        • Jim R

          I prefer a technocracy to an uninformed democracy….on ANY question.

  2. There is every reason for a strong representation by the Green Party in Canada … with an Israeli boycott or not. I hope that Elizabeth stays, because she is a very useful M.P.

    • Most of the Green Party folks I’ve ever talked to……..are completely off their rocker. A mixture of Earth worshippers, Wiccans, stoned hippies, anti-capitalists, communists, and pretty much every other sort of kook you can imagine. And oh yes…….Anti-semites that are so outspoken even the NDP won’t touch them.

  3. The article notes:
    “But after a meeting with Federal Council on Sunday night, and after reading through emails of support from Green Party members and other politicians, May decided to stay.”

    I suspect her decision to stay has more to do with maintaining her paycheque than her morals. After all, who is going to hire a hysterical shrill harpie lik Lizzie?

Sign in to comment.