Q&A

Elizabeth May on Trump, Trudeau and climate change

Elizabeth May is in Charlottetown for the 5th Palmer Conference being held at UPEI's School of Sustainable Design Engineering.

May is in Charlottetown for the 5th Palmer Conference

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, was one of the panellists Wednesday at the 2017 Palmer Conference in Charlottetown focusing on U.S.-Canadian relations in the wake of the Donald Trump Presidency. (CBC)

Elizabeth May is in Charlottetown for the 5th Palmer Conference being held at UPEI's School of Sustainable Design Engineering.

The theme of the meeting is the changing nature of Canadian-American relations in the wake of the Donald Trump's presidency, and May was part of the environment panel on Wednesday.

May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, said that P.E.I. has a unique opportunity to shift towards renewable energy and a green economy more quickly than other jurisdictions because the economy is smaller.

She also said the discussions today at the conference were positive.

"I'm enjoying the conversation," said May. 

"This is a conference built around having a conversation, breaking into smaller groups and really debating these issues."

May joined CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin to answer a few questions. Here is a condensed version of what she said.

May says the panel discussions at the Palmer Conference were positive. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

How was today's panel?

"It was a terrific panel ... The challenge was how to assess how much trouble are we in because Donald Trump is the president of the United States. And from my point of view how it doesn't change anything really because we have to do more on climate and we know we do. I put forward a controversial view that he didn't really exit the Paris Agreement and he could have done much worse so maybe he's still reachable, I know that's a long-shot but I don't like to give up."

So you're hopeful?

"Well hopeful's too much a stretch, but I haven't abandoned all hope which is different."

Was that your message today?

"He [Donald Trump] is often all about the bravado and all about the tweets but so far the United States has not legally exited the Paris Accord ... The first date on which Trump could follow through on his pledge to exit the Paris Agreement is the day after the November election in 2020. November 4, 2020 is the earliest exit date, the next U.S. [presidential] election is November 3.

"Our prime minister should do everything possible to pressure and reach the president and I think actually that Prime Minister Trudeau has done a very good job in managing a very fraught relationship. But at the same time we need to do more as a country because we are still operating under the weak climate target set under our former Prime Minister Stephen Harper."

In light of the Trump presidency what should Canada be doing?

"In some ways, in foreign policy we've realized we had to pick up the slack. For instance the minister for international development has put more money into helping women's reproductive health around the world because the Trump Presidency has removed that money. On the case of climate we're holding the line to where we were before … in my view we need to step up, do more, have the kinds of targets that drive innovation, create new jobs in Canada's green economy."

Hopes on federal front?

"We now see after my first win and being the only Green MP, and then Andrew Weaver … in British Columbia he was the next elected Green as an MLA ... then we had David Coon, terrific leader for the New Brunswick Greens, and the magnificent Peter Bevan-Baker as leader of the P.E.I. Greens ... There's Green strength here and we know that we can work hard and make Islanders proud."

How do you break through traditional voting lines?

"What we do as Greens, that's different from what other parties do, we don't have this idea that there's a shrinking pool of voters and we have to fight over, somehow, some other party's vote. We have to prove to every voter every time, starting fresh, that there's a reason to go to the polls, that they can believe in the person who's standing there because in the Green Party no MLA has to do what the leader says, no MP has to do what the leader says."

But is it more of a challenge on P.E.I.?

"Right across the country first-past-the-post is challenging. And here we're in a situation where with the strong leadership of Peter Bevan-Baker it's entirely possible to elect more Greens, and again to say to the voters we work for you. New Green MLA's won't have to take top-down instructions from their leader the way every other party does it. We do it differently, we believe that our job as MP's and MLA's is to work for our constituents.

With files from Tom Steepe and Louise Martin