Green campaign 'about winning seats,' May says

A fiery Elizabeth May, left out of the leaders debates taking place later this week, took to the national airwaves Sunday as the lone federal major party boss to face questions from a panel of journalists.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, seen launching her election campaign in B.C. in March, was snubbed by the other party chiefs and appeared alone in front of a panel of journalists Sunday night. (Deddeda Stemler/Canadian Press)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, left out of the leaders debates that will be televised later this week, took to the airwaves in a national telecast Sunday evening that saw a panel of journalists grill her on her party's platform and electoral aspirations.

"We're serious. We're pragmatic on the issues that matter to Canadians," May said in her remarks. "And they won't find a better platform from any of the other political parties."

Several TV stations, including CHCH in Ontario and CHEK in British Columbia, invited May and the four other major party heads to a debate, but only the Green leader agreed.

She was questioned by journalists from the Toronto Sun, Toronto Star and Hamilton Spectator in a half-hour program called Elizabeth May, For the Record.

After May affirmed that "this is election is about winning seats" for her party, the reporters asked her where she thought the Greens could make the elusive breakthrough they've sought and capture a riding in the House of Commons.

May replied that she thinks she is running neck-and-neck with Conservative candidate Gary Lunn in the B.C. riding of Saanich–Gulf Islands, and maintained Greens also have a fighting chance in Vancouver Centre, Yukon and the Ontario ridings of Guelph and Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound.

Pointed questions

She went on to swat away sharp inquiries from the journalists, who asked her to account for the $2 million a year her party receives as part of the public funding to all the major political parties, as well as to explain why voters should opt Green if they have virtually no chance of forming a government.

May, left, addresses supporters at a campaign rally in Halifax on Saturday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"The only way a citizen in Canada can waste their vote is to not vote," May said. "Canadians are so disillusioned frankly as a result of the existing political parties in Parliament.… It's a very strong message to vote Green."

She pointed out that the NDP under former leader Tommy Douglas never formed government but nevertheless compelled the creation of Canada's medicare system.

On the election financing issue, May said federal funding for political parties is "a fair public scheme" — and, at a total cost of less than $30 million a year, not out of line with the cost to taxpayers in allowing income-tax deductions for individuals' donations to political parties. 

The Conservatives have assailed the public-financing law and attempted without success to repeal it.

Excluded from debates

The consortium of broadcasters organizing the leaders debates opted to exclude May on the grounds that the Greens did not have an MP in the last Parliament. 

The Federal Court of Appeal then refused to hear May's court challenge of the consortium's decision ahead of the first debate, in English, on Tuesday.

The Greens failed to secure a seat in the 2008 federal election, but drew nearly one million votes. The Bloc Québécois's 1.4 million votes earned it 49 seats, by comparison.

May's bid for inclusion in the debates was supported by two former prime ministers — Joe Clark and Paul Martin — as well as CBC ombudsman Kirk LaPointe, former head of Elections Canada Jean-Pierre Kingsley and Fair Vote Canada.

"Our system allows you to elect a representative in a riding with as little as 35 to 40 per cent of the vote," May said Sunday, of the electoral structure underlying her party's predicament. "Sixty to 65 per cent of the voters in that riding have no representation, and that's undemocratic."

The four other national party leaders — Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, New Democrat Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe — will square off in an English-language debate in Ottawa on Tuesday and a French debate on Wednesday.