| Apr 05, 2007

Feature Article - April 5, 2007

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Feature Article - April 5, 2007

Elizabeth May:a brighter shade ofGreenby Jeff Green

The Green Party of Canada has been making headlines in recent months as its polling numbers have increased with the selection of Elizabeth May as leader, and with “the environment” emerging as a dominant political issue nationally.

The party is still small enough, however that a rural riding association like the one in Lanark Frontenac Lennox and Addington, where the party polled 7% in last year’s election, can attract the party leader to a fundraising event.

A crowd of about 80 enjoyed an array of homemade desserts as they waited for Elizabeth May to arrive at the Perth Lions Hall.

Local candidate Chris Walker spoke first. He set the stage for May by talking about how all the other parties have been “putting on a coat of green paint of late. In the conservative case the paint just doesn’t take, but there are people in the Liberal party leadership that seem to have gotten the message.”

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Walker does not advocate voting Liberal, however. Drawing on his experience as a home renovator, which is his day job, he made some pointed comments about the Liberal record on the environment during their recent three terms in power.

“If you pay me to fix your roof 3 times in 10 years,” he said, “and each time the leak got worse, I’d be ashamed to come back to you again and ask for the job. Yet that’s what the Liberals are doing.”

Elizabeth May described her role with the Green Party as a bit of “an experiment in democracy, I have no notes, no handlers, I’ll just go ahead and say what I think as I go around the country.” While this might be a recipe for disaster for many other politicians, Elizabeth May has been able to pull it off thus far.

One of the reasons for this success is her significant knowledge of the federal political scene. She worked as a senior policy advisor under the Mulroney government in the late 1980’s, and as the Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada for 17 years. Another is her ability to think on her feet. She comes across as a very natural politician, particularly when compared to the public stiffness exhibited by all of the other federal leaders, with the exception of Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe.

In discussing the Green Party platform, which has recently been developed and is being vetted by an independent economist before being released in the coming month or so, it was clear that shifting the tax burden towards pollution-causing endeavours and away from income is a central plank.

In simple terms, it would mean that energy costs will go up, and income taxes and payroll taxes will go down. The argument is that this will be something close to a zero-sum game for most people. The tax system will be used to push industry into a different direction, to create new profit incentives from activities that are less harmful to the environment and generate new costs for activities that are more harmful.

“We must live within our ecological limits, within our fiscal limits, and also eradicate poverty. And we certainly shouldn’t be subsidising the oil and gas industry. I am so excited about the platform we’ve put together. It is a comprehensive platform, and it includes policies for rural communities and family farms” May said.

Also included in the Green Party platform is a proposal that municipalities be enabled, and encouraged, to sell municipal bonds.

“Canadians invest billions of dollars each year towards their retirements. What could be better than investing that money in our own communities? If there is somebody that is going to take care of us when we’re old, it’s not global capitalism; it’s our friends and neighbours.”

As a party, the Greens are always concerned with their own status, and being included in the leaders’ debate during elections, getting a seat in the house, and the related question of democratic reform are always at the forefront.

Elizabeth May does not seem to have time to wait for democratic reform. “Even under this stupid electoral system, we will win seats in the next election,” she said. The decision she has made to run in the Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova, is based on strategic as well as personal considerations.

She said that running against Peter McKay, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, will give a national profile to the time she spends contesting her own seat as well as the time she spends travelling across the country. Peter McKay received just over 40% of the vote in 2006. NDP candidate Alexis MacDonald finished second with just under 33%, some 3,300 votes behind. The Liberal candidate finished a distant third and the Green Party candidate received under 2% of the votes, 671 to be exact.

“Sixty percent of the voters in Central Nova did not vote for Peter McKay,” May said, pointing out as well that Alexis McDonald will not be running for the NDP in the next election. May also said that she has many friends among Liberal and NDP members in the riding, which is located adjacent to the town where she grew up, intimating that the two parties may not put up too much of a fight in Central Nova.

“It is a riding I can take,” she said. “I intend to win, wherever I run, and by running in Central Nova I can become the first ever Green candidate to win a seat, because the votes will be counted early in the evening. As much as I like Peter McKay, I have to beat him.”

On the matter of the leaders’ debate, Elizabeth May said she has met with the “infamous consortium” that decides who is invited to the debates. It turns out the consortium is made up of the news directors of the major television networks, who use their own discretion in deciding who is invited.

“Stephane Dion has said that he thinks I should be able to attend, but Jack Layton said, ‘there are rules that must be followed’.”

While it’s still up in the air, May thinks there is a reasonable chance that she will be included in the leaders’ debate the next time there is an election. “I think the networks will want me there just to make the debate less boring, she said.

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