New Canadian party leader gets Greens noticed – Elizabeth May has doubled party enrollment by engaging Parliament Hill
by Mike Feinstein, Advisor to International Committee, Green Party of the United States
Drawing wild cheers from convention attendees during her acceptance speech, May called upon the Canadian government to give the United States a formal six months notice to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). ìThat threat,î said May, ìcould be used as a lever to bring needed improvements to NAFTA along lines of environment and workersí rights.î
Such bold statements and strategies are nothing new for May, a world-class environmentalist with 35 years of activism and 17 years as director of the Sierra Club Canada. She counts among her professional colleagues Kenyaís Green Nobel Prize Winner Wangari Maathai and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, among others. A grassroots activist at the same time, in 2001 she staged a 17-day hunger strike on Parliament Hill in support of people living near the Sydney Tar Ponds, and in 1996 even published an essay on
ìHow to be an Activist.î
Mayís victory gave Canadian Greens the high profile representative they hoped would finally put them into the Leadership debates and ultimately, the Canadian House of Commons. On the day after the convention alone, May did 28 interviews. Torontoís Globe and Mail ran a full-page article entitled the ìGreen Party is entering its Elizabethan age.î
Buoyed by Mayís notoriety and the excitement surrounding the partyís nationally broadcast leadership convention, early September polls had the Green Party at 10 percent, more than double the 4.5 percent the party received in the January 2006 federal election.
In late September, anticipating the release of the Conservative governmentís position on compliance with the Kyoto Climate Change Protocol, May unveiled the Green Party Green Plan (GP2). The plan called for a graduated carbon tax as part of a package of ecological fiscal reforms to reduce taxes on incomes while adding a graduated tax on fossil fuels.
The policy package also contained incentives for wind power and bio-fuels, regulations to improve fuel economy of cars, a shift to energy efficient residential and commercial building codes, and an emission cap and tradable permit system to help large polluting industries meet their emission reduction targets.
May said the government should be cutting subsidies to the oil and gas industries, not programs that affect aboriginals, women and youth. ìIt makes sense to end subsidies to the wealthiest companies on earth to make the worldís most profitable product ó a barrel of oil. … It makes sense to reduce taxes on things we want, like income and employment, while increasing taxes on things we donít want, like greenhouse gases and smog-causing pollution.íí
Unfortunately, the Conservative response was a bitter disappointment. Tory Environmental Minister, Rona Ambrose testified her party did not believe Kyotoís targets were achievable. In their place, she promised a new but vague ìclean air approachî, and ducked direct questions about the governmentís support for oil and gas, including whether it would continue the $1.5 billion per year it gives to tar sands.
In response, May blasted Ambrose across Canadian media. She said Ambroseís testimony ìwas an exercise in ëdouble speakí of the highest Orwellian form…. This mythical clean air act… is clearly going to be about delay and obfuscation, and would break Canadaís promise to the world and install our nation like a saboteur in the Kyoto process.î
Referring to Canadian Prime Minster, Stephen Harperís close relationship with the Bush Administration, May added, ìAny made-in-Houston scam masquerading as Canadian green policy will be strenuously opposed by the Green Party.íí
With just more than a month under her belt as party leader, May has been a constant presence on Parliament Hill. She has also approached a few MPs about switching to the Green Party, while planning on getting into the Commons herself, by considering running in the Nova Scotia electoral district of Cape Breton-Canso in the next Federal election.