The new leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May, says she has been an environmental activist since she was 13. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)
On Aug. 26, 2006, the Green Party of Canada selected a new leader — Elizabeth May, then 52, the longtime executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.
The Greens have garnered the support of more than half a million Canadian voters in each of the past two general elections but have never elected a member of Parliament.
They do, however, have an MP, after Blair Wilson, a Vancouver-area Independent who quit the Liberal party last year, joined the Greens in late August 2008.
With global warming becoming a more prominent issue, and now with an MP, the Greens are hoping for a breakthrough in this election — or at least a spot in the national TV debates. Recent polls have them hovering in the nine per cent range, which is up from the 6.6 per cent support they won in the 2006 election.
Before she became leader of the Green party, May had run for office only once, in 1980 for a start-up party called the Small party, a precursor of the Greens, but she has never been elected.
She came close, however, in a byelection in London, Ont., in November 2006, when she came in second to the incumbent Liberals with nearly 26 per cent of the votes cast.
- See the CBCNews.ca story.
A well-known environmental activist, May is also someone with friends in high places: former U.S. president Bill Clinton is a family friend and former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney is also someone with whom May has worked closely over the years.
Well-spoken and media savvy, she comes by her activism naturally. Her mother was a prominent nuclear opponent in Connecticut and a founder of the peace group SANE before the family moved to Cape Breton, N.S., when May was a teenager.
In Nova Scotia, May came to prominence in the early 1980s as a young activist and lawyer trying to stop the spraying of the controversial defoliant Agent Orange by timber concerns. The resulting court case, however, cost her family dearly, and they had to sell a large portion of their property to pay the legal bills.
In 1986, May was appointed senior policy adviser to federal environment minister Tom McMillan, a Conservative. She quit three years later, in 1989, when the Mulroney government exempted the Rafferty-Alameda dams in Saskatchewan from full environmental assessments.
That was when May became the founding executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, an offshoot of the venerable U.S. environmental group. Her most controversial action was a 17-day hunger strike on Parliament Hill in 2001 to protest government inaction on relocating families affected by their proximity to the Sydney tar ponds.
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- June 9, 1954, in Connecticut
- Lawyer, environmental activist, university professor. Graduated from Dalhousie Law School in 1983; assistant professor at Dalhousie University, women's studies; executive director of Sierra Club of Canada, 1989-2006.
- Personal stuff:
- May has a teenage daughter, Victoria Cate, who lives with her in Ottawa, where their home is always colder, in the winter months, than visitors tend to expect.
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