Elizabeth May goes 'off the rails' in awkward press gallery dinner speech

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she is "very apologetic" about remarks she made on the weekend that included profanity and insulted the federal cabinet about how it has treated Omar Khadr.

Speech included Welcome Back, Kotter theme song and barb at Conservative cabinet

Green party leader, Elizabeth May's awkward press gallery dinner speech 9:13

Delivering funny speeches in front of a room full of politicians and journalists at the annual press gallery dinner is a tough thing for any party leader, but it was especially tough for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on Saturday night.

After a longwinded and meandering speech, which included a few funny jabs, May ended with a shout-out to Omar Khadr, who was freed on bail in Edmonton last week.

"Omar Khadr, you've got more class than the whole f-----g cabinet," May said, referring to the Conservative party, as Conservative MP and Transport Minister Lisa Raitt tried to usher her off the stage. 

Usually, party leaders deliver light-hearted, mainly self-deprecating speeches that include the odd barb thrown at the media. But May went on at length about being the only female leader and having to claw her way into televised leaders' debates.

Raitt intervened multiple times and attempted to persuade May to end her speech, but instead, May played a recording of Welcome Back, Kotter, a theme song from a 1970s sitcom.

My funny speech wasn't funny. That's not the first time a politician has done that.- Green Party Leader Elizabeth May

Here's how the Ottawa Citizen's national affairs reporter, Glen McGregor, summed up the moment on the CBC's Sunday Scrum.

"Lisa Raitt ... is basically shooing [May] off the stage because at that point it had gone on so long and had become so uncomfortable, and completely contrary to the tone that these things are supposed to have," he said.

"Leaders come out at these dinners and they're supposed to be self-deprecating and funny, and they'll rib the other leaders but it's all kind of in a good-humoured way. She didn't do that. ... It just went off the rails really quickly."

'Funny and edgy'

Sunday night, May said she was "very apologetic" about her remarks during the speech. In a phone interview, a hoarse May expressed her regrets for her taste in jokes, her lack of respect for her parliamentary colleagues and her choice of language.

"I wouldn't want anyone to think I was less than respectful for the people with whom I work," May said.

"I apologize that I made an attempt to be funny and edgy....and it didn't work."

May said she was just getting over the flu, had put in a 21-hour work day on Friday, and then had to rise early in
B.C. on Saturday morning to make it to the press gallery event in Gatineau, Que.

"My funny speech wasn't funny. That's not the first time a politician has done that."

In the Khadr section of her speech, May said she meant to make the point that Canada is a country that gives people second chances, and that she hopes Canadians welcome him into their midst.

With files from The Canadian Press

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