Canadian Politics from Canada's Centre

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Green Leadership Candidate Elizabeth May Interview

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Our interview with Green Party of Canada leadership candidate Elizabeth May has just been completed.
The well-known environmental-lobby leader has given us a voluminous interview, in which she discusses issues as varied as Stephen Harper's "Alliance-takeover" (paraphrase) Conservatives; ethanol, nuclear and other alternative energies; Iran, and Canada's obesity epidemic. Revealing herself as a person with a breadth of knowledge certain encyclopedias might envy, May also comes off as harbouring a naive idealism unfamiliar with the realm of foreign affairs.

A fascinating personality quickly emerges from the responses. It rapidly becomes evident that this Green leadership candidate has a strong sense of duty ("My concept of leadership is service"), as well as a certain loyalty to many leftist dogmas ("What can justify foreign intervention? Only the UN"), though she doesn't consider such labels to be adequate anymore.

May breaks labels and shows she's more than a one-dimensional person that Greens are usually stereotyped as (sometimes with good reason). Her grasp of environmental affairs is firm and she rattles off citations of study after study - a grasp one ought to expect from a person vying to lead the Green Party. Her ideas for economic policy seem reasonable, if a bit vague and not as meticulously researched as her environmental policy. She wants to eliminate IMF influence in Canada by getting rid of IMF-linked debts; intelligent, precise policy. Elsewhere, May mentions "demand-side management" as a priority for reducing our oil dependency, without specifying what sort of legislative measures this would mean. Still in the realm of vagaries, I asked whether environmental treaties were affecting the economy, with specific regard to standard economic measures. "Not at all," was the answer.

In other areas, though, the Sierra Club of Canada's former Executive Director frankly dissapoints. Foreign affairs was not a strong suit. Queried about what Canada can do about Iran, the media-favourite May says we must first condemn proliferation of nuclear arms to India in order to have any credibility denouncing the Iranian regime's weapons, and leaves it at that. She considers that Canada should dissociate itself from the "bogus US war against terror," as though terrorism were only an American problem.

The impression I got was that of someone nostalgic for a quieter past where terrorism could be ignored and the Canadian military had no role other than peacekeeping... a naive worldview, to say the least.

May also displayed an interesting propensity to go off on tangents or to avoid answering directly. For instance, in response to a question about the legitimacy of expanding use of nuclear or hydro power, May quickly says that such expansion is illegitimate, then goes into a 400+ word digression against Ontario PM Dalton McGuinty. This spiced up the interview and revealed a passionate side that wasn't as evident in the Green Party's recent leadership debate.

Some of the best parts of the interview came in response to questions submitted in our interview contest. When May and her rival, David Chernushenko, agreed to grant Centrerion Canadian Politics interviews, a contest was held asking readers and friends to suggest questions to ask them. Thus a question on ethanol proved to be an eye-opener and earned a truly informative, remarkable answer that displays May's vast knowledge of environmental issues, as mentioned above.

Certain other reader-submitted questions, unfortunately, could not be classified within the general themes of the interview. Placement in the Miscellaneous section unfortunately resulted in their being largely ignored by May. This was something that really dissapointed me. Questions on social issues such as integration of immigrants with illiberal values, or custodial rights over children were really well-phrased and important to this country's political debate.
However, to be fair, the interview was incredibly long, and May must have been a little tired by the time the Miscellaneous section came up.

Overall, our interview with Elizabeth May is shocking, insightful, and an excellent way to get to personally know this candidate for the Green Party of Canada's leadership, and what she stands for. Though I obviously disagree with her on many fronts, she is evidently a strong leadership candidate with a powerful intellect and a subtle, pleasant sense of humour. As mentioned, the interview is rather long (it totals over 14 pages in Word), so we will be presenting over the course of the week, broken into sections .

Here is the interview's first section, a subsection of the leadership questions.

Questions for Green Leadership Candidates: Responses from Elizabeth May


1) During the last election, Stephen Harper made a point of promoting the five priorities that a Conservative government would pursue. What five priorities would a Green Party government under your leadership pursue?

I think the "five priorities" of Harper should not be aped by the Green Party team. The reality is that there are more than five important issues to be confronted. No government should put itself in the absurd position of insisting that leadership involves only the things that can be counted on the fingers of one hand. I have an even dozen major priorities. All are critical. It will be fine. Women have always had more than five important things to do at any one time.

Recognizing that the leader of the Green party is primarily a spokesperson and that policies and programmes are decided by the membership and the grassroots, I would offer the following as personal choices, pending membership approval and input.

My priorities are as follows:
  1. Reform the fiscal system. Get the economic signals aligned with social and environmental goals. Reduce (and where possible) eliminate taxes on the things we want (employment and profits) and increase the tax burden on things we do not want (toxic chemical releases, energy waste, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and soil contamination).
  2. Eliminate poverty in Canada. As part of the overhaul of the fiscal system, work with provinces to rationalize the multiple programmes for income support (employment insurance, disability insurance, child support, parental leave, old age pensions, welfare, etc) with a single negative income tax provision. This would create income support, reducing the need for provincial equalization payments, and creating an incentive to work, even part time, for families below the subsistence level. (I note having recently learned from a United Church minister in Calgary that children are sleeping in the basement of his church routinely. They are homeless. Both parents are working and still cannot afford a roof over their heads.) The rationalization will remove some civil servants from employment primarily directed at "snooping" on the poor. These jobs can be re-aligned with matching private sector employment opportunities with the unemployed.
  3. Create mechanisms to direct RRSPs to sustainable local investment. Why couldn't we direct RRSPs to the local mass transit system? To the upgrading of water treatment plants? To the school system? Why are Canadians given massive incentives to invest in non-sustainable resource extraction in developing countries via bank and federal tax policies?
  4. Address the health care system. Ensure the continued access to universality in publicly provided health care. Reduce waiting times by eliminating the backlog in patient treatment through better management. Build a health protection/disease prevention approach into health care in Canada through lifestyle changes and the elimination of chemicals with the proven capability of causing cancer, depressing the immune system, acting as xeno-estrogens, neurotoxins, mutagens, teratogens, as well as those substances linked to infertility.
  5. Re-establish Canadian foreign policy along Pearsonian values. Ensure that peacekeeping is undertaken only under the flag of the United Nations, with nations accepting peace-keeping always having the choice to determine the country of origin of the peacekeepers. Commit and realize the Pearson target of 0.7% GDP to Overseas Development Assistance. With specific regard to Afghanistan, reject any suggestion that Canada plays any role in the bogus "US war against terror." Help civil society achieve a complete disarmament of Taliban and anti-Taliban warlord armies.
  6. Reaffirm Canada's commitment to nuclear disarmament. Raise to a higher profile the report of the Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction, chaired by Hans Blix (report released June 1, 2006). Place Canada in the lead of nations acting on the report’s recommendations to end, once and for all time, the threat of the use of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
  7. Complete an inventory of the impacts on social, economic and environmental policy of current trade and investment agreements. Where the impact is negative, as in the case of NAFTA, begin diplomatic negotiated withdrawal from these agreements. Similarly, revisit any loans from the IMF and re-pay as soon as possible to remove IMF influence on Canadian domestic policy.
  8. Ensure compliance with all international legally binding environmental treaties. Ensure Kyoto targets for the first commitment period (6% below 1990 levels between 2008-2012) are met and that targets derived form scientific advice are set for the mid and long term. These targets are 30% below 1990 levels by 2020, 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. (Note that the 80% by 2050 target is that of the State of California). This will likely entail a moratorium on any new Tar Sands development and saying no to the Mackenzie Valley pipeline.
  9. Ensure that every Canadian can obtain a university education, without experiencing debt. Bring back bursaries and eliminate interest bearing loans for university students. Consider the "Irish Tiger" model as well as others to determine the best Canadian approach.
  10. Improve programmes for new Canadians. Work with professional societies to streamline approvals for qualified foreign doctors, engineers and other professionals to achieve Canadian certification where qualified.
  11. Pass legislation to ensure that Canada adopts democratic reform, in some form of proportional representation.
  12. Protect the global fisheries by banning bottom trawlers in Canada and advancing a global ban on draggers and drift nets. Protect Canadian agriculture with programmes to assist farmers in local organic agriculture. Increase opportunities for farmers to benefit from renewable energy and low carbon strategies.

2) Besides being included in the leaders' debates, how does the Green Party go about getting an MP elected next election?

The leaders' debate is crucial. If I am chosen as leader, many media commentators (from Susan Riley to Barbara Yaffe) [sic] to Dr. David Suzuki believe I will be in the debates. Beyond that we will recruit high profile and credible candidates who will benefit from the growing support for the Green Party in Canada. We will position the Green Party as content driven, not style conscious. Policy discussions and seminars across the country will help us build the best platform of down to earth policies for a brighter healthier Canadian future.

3) Are you familiar with the Green Party’s living platform?


4) Would platform contributors dictate the Green Party platform?

Any platform must have a democratic approval process. It should also have a mechanism for maximizing grassroots engagement.

5) From a reader who participated in our leadership interview contest: "The Green Party positions itself as a party of the grass roots. But over the past few years, the grass roots portions of organization (namely policy development and internal governence) have been withering due to neglect.
How do we correct that, and see that it doesn't happen again?"

Ensure adequate financial support to building the party at the grassroots. That should be the priority.

--End of Elizabeth May Interview, Leadership-subsection #1--

Tomorrow we'll be publishing the next part of the interview, considering more leadership issues and economic affairs.

If you want to follow our coverage of the Green Party and its leadership race, consider our free newsletter. It's sent out twice a month, and keeps you informed on issues in Canadian politics (i.e. it's not limited to Green Party's leadership race). Related articles are archived in the topical categories , , , , .


At 6:47 p.m., Canadian Politico Blogger James said:

Click on the following link to read about Dalton McGuinty's flip-flop on hydro electricity privatization in Ontario.

This is from the Ontario Tenants Rights website that has a lot of information about Ontario hydro electricity energy issues.


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