Elizabeth May is frequently recognized as one of the hardest working MPs on Parliament Hill; she not only works hard, she is effective often having an impact for her party far beyond their numbers in the House or the polls.
Yet despite all that hard work and the generally high opinion that many Canadians hold for her, she has had little success growing her party’s presence past a few small victories. At the end of the current Parliament, there were two Green MPs, herself and Bruce Hyer, a former New Democrat who either left or was expelled from the NDP caucus, depending on who you ask. It looks unlikely that he will win back his own seat. Other Green candidates don’t look to have any better chance. In provincial legislatures there are two Green MLAs, one in BC and one in New Brunswick.
Part of the problem for May is that while people have a positive view of her, they have little sense of the party she represents. In some respects, while May is by no means an autocrat like Mr. Harper, the Green party largely is a reflection of her views and values.
It is worth noting that under the previous leader, Jim Harris, a former Progressive Conservative, the Green party had a decided right wing approach – strong on the environment, yes, but fiscal conservatives with a mixed record on social or identity issues. Under May’s leadership the party has moved decidedly to the left and may now be the most left-wing party on offer – or at least the most left wing with a chance of winning seats.
May herself has been a steady hand for the most part. She has made occasional gaffes and had a few notable meltdowns but usually presents as both calm and well-reasoned. It is for this reason more than any other that many Canadians would like to see her participate in leaders’ debates. She is always strong in those situations while remaining civil and rational.
May, herself, is highly principled but has a strong pragmatic streak. The long-time environmentalist worked as Chief of Staff to Tom Siddon in the Mulroney government because she was persuaded – for a while – that she could accomplish something within the system. And certainly she had an impact – there are many that say on purely environmental issues (those that weren’t linked to economic ones) the Mulroney government was one of the greenest we’ve ever seen. The Ozone reduction agreement and the creation of many national parks and protected areas were particular highlights.
But eventually May became disillusioned with other aspects of the government and returned to, first, environmental activism and then to the leadership of the Green party. While it is likely she will remain a lonely warrior in the next Parliament, all that could change if the first past the post system is replaced. Then all bets are off.
And that’s ten minutes.