September 7, 2011
By Ken Krayeske • 8:00 AM EST
Elizabeth May, Canada's Green Party leader and first elected Green to the Canadian Parliament.
Hartford native Elizabeth May is now the first Green Party member of Parliament elected to the Canadian national Parliament.
This makes May the first Green Party legislator on a national scale in North America.
Canadian democracy supports multiple parties, so it is not uncommon that a third-party legislator would be elected. Were it only possible in America. May won her seat in Parliament on May 2, 2011, and on August 6, she addressed via Skype the United States’ Green Party national convention at Alfred College in Alfred, New York.
May acknowledged the difficult path that the U.S. Green Party and its affiliates face. May is familiar with the republican-style of democracy in America, as she was born in Hartford on June 9, 1954 to a British father and an American mother.
She attended the Renbrook School and Miss Porter’s School. Her family moved to Nova Scotia in 1972. May graduated law school in 1983, and her environmental activism during the ensuing two and a half decades propelled her to the election.
May was at one time the executive director of the Canadian Sierra Club. In the video call to the Green Party gathering, May described how she received $2.4 million in public financing for her campaign. Weeks prior to the election in her British Columbia riding (the term for district), May had more than 2,000 volunteers lined up, knocking doors.
May was not included in national debates, but her success from the previous election, in which she nearly won her seat, certainly helped her. In 2008, May only earned 12,620 votes. This year, May won with 31,900 votes, besting the incumbent Conservative by more than 5,500 votes.
The impact of not being in the leaders’ debates, though, was visible, as the Canadian Green Party’s overall showing decreased from 1 million votes in 2008 to 500,000 this past election. This effects the Greens there because the way public campaign financing works there, parties get $1 for every vote.
This meant the Greens got some $2 million in 2010 and 2011. Candidates cannot accept more than $1,100 from any individual. Additionally, the Canadian government reimburses the Greens for 60 percent of what they spend in any election. And being an elected Green makes a difference in Parliament, May said, even though she is the only Green in Parliament.
The Canadian Parliament has a number of parties, including the Liberal, New Democrats, the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois. As the lone Green, she has impact. She touted her example of forcing a debate on Canada’s involvement in the NATO invasion of Libya in North Africa. She alone voted against continuing the aerial bombardment because the protective mission had been aborted in favor of a continued aerial assault to unseat Moammar Gaddhafi.
May argued for a cease fire, like the African National Congress suggested. Her lone vote prevented Parliament from passing the measure unanimously.
“I refused to give unanimous consent,” May said, forcing a debate on the floor of Parliament. “I have far more clout than I imagined. I can stop all of Parliament.”
She employed the Canadian version of filibustering to help the postal workers in their strike against Canada Post management. The Canadian Parliament is on break right now and doesn’t resume session again until September 19, 2011.
May expects to be an MP for the next four years, as it doesn’t appear the conservative government will call an election until its term runs out. As she looks to the new session, May said she plans on focusing on Green policies that can help lower greenhouse gas emissions.
After talking for 35 minutes, May invited questions. I stepped up and invited her to return to her hometown of Hartford. We would love to host a visit of the first Green Party legislator elected to a national post in North America. May expressed an interest in coming, but campaign finance laws need to be examined before she can lend a hand towards raising money for American political campaigns.
That does not mean she is not acutely aware of political situations in the states, and that she communicates regularly with leaders of the American environmental movement. One questioner asked her about the Canadian tar sands.
Now that all the cheap oil is gone, there is economic incentive to drill for oil previously considered too expensive to obtain and process. The oil companies seeking to drill for heavy bitumen crude in the Canadian tar sands in Alberta and British Columbia obviously affect her.
A 1,660-mile pipeline is projected to be built from those western Canadian provinces down to the lower 48, through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, May opposes it.
But she also wants help from American environmental activists. She described a conversation with Bill McKibben in which she warned against American activists employing civil disobedience tactics to stop the pipeline’s construction.
“Any civil disobedience movement in the United States will be infiltrated by agents provocateur,” May said. Agents provocateur (French for inciting agents) are people employed by the police or another entity to act undercover to entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act.
Agents provocateur act up during peaceful protests and give police an excuse to go in and bust heads. To hear this statement from a Canadian MP should rightfully shock the American audience.
Nevertheless, May asked Americans to instead raise the issues of the upcoming climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa in November. The last climate talks in Copenhagen were a failure, May said, and only with the full participation of western democracies like the United States can the talks succeed.
“It matters what the U.S. does in South Africa in late November,” May said.