May an MP, but it may not be easy being Green

Ten seconds changed parliamentary history on Monday. That's how long it took for Elizabeth May to be officially sworn in as Canada's first Green Party MP.
Interview with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May 10:46

Ten seconds changed parliamentary history on Monday.

That's how long it took for Elizabeth May to be officially sworn in as Canada's first Green Party MP.

May invited family, friends and some environmental colleagues from across the country to the brief ceremony held in the Speaker's dining room in Centre Block on Parliament Hill.

A lot of media were also there to witness the event and give May her first scrum as an MP.

"It is wonderful to achieve something," May told reporters, "and I really haven't felt like this since the ceremony in Rideau Hall when I was made Officer of the Order of Canada."

May also brought a letter for Parliament clerk Audrey O'Brien. 

"Here's my letter telling you I'm not running as Speaker," she said, handing it to O'Brien. "I thought I'd get that out of the way." MPs are required to take themselves off the list of candidates for Speaker.

"Alrighty then," joked O'Brien, "that's one mystery solved."

Leader of a party of one

But there's a lot of other parliamentary business that won't be quite so easy to deal with. May is in an unusual circumstance. She is the leader of a federal party of one.

The question is: does the Speaker treat her like an independent MP with limited privileges or as the leader of a party with more rights? May is pushing to be able to ask daily questions like the other party leaders, instead of just once every week or two like an independent MP.

"I already have my first question for question period, we'll see if I'm allowed to ask it," May said.

Daily questions give party leaders a profile in the House and puts them on the agenda in front of the cameras. May and some of her staff members have already met with the deputy clerk to try to sort this out.

May already knows she'll be able to raise a point of order of every day at the end of question period. She will be able to a introduce private members bill like any other MP. She can sit in on committees but not vote or ask questions unless one of the other parties lets her take their seat at the table.

And as a single MP, she also knows she doesn't qualify for extra money for research and staff that would come with official party status.

"I'm not trying to say we're a party with 12 seats, give us the resources," May said Monday on CBC's Power & Politics.   "I don't think that's a fight we can win, so I'm sticking to what we can win. I'm going to achieve decorum in the House of Commons. I"m going to end heckling as a single MP," she told host Evan Solomon.   "I want an official question in the rotation, which makes sense, which is at least one or two a week."

The issue of daily question period will have to be negotiated with the new Speaker, who will be elected on Thursday.

In the meantime, May, who ran in two previous elections before she was elected in the B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, already knows the role she'll play.

"I imagine I will be the den mother," she said to knowing chuckles from her family and friends. "I have in mind an approach that is distinctly non-partisan. You can make more progress with that than elbows out."   

As for her role as Canada's first Green MP, May takes the longer view that only comes after decades of fighting  eco battles.

"It was in this very room in 1987 the former speaker John Fraser said to visiting environmentalists.. 'we're here as part of the conspiracy to save the planet' — in this very room!" she said. "Over the next four years we will see the difference that one Green MP will really make."