Elizabeth May steps down as Green Party leader

Elizabeth May announced today she's stepping down as leader of the federal Green Party, saying she's calling it quits at a high point for the party.

New Green Party leader to be chosen Oct. 4, 2020 at party convention in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May addresses candidates and supporters during a rally in Vancouver, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. May announced today she's stepping aside as leader. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Elizabeth May announced today she's stepping down as leader of the federal Green Party, saying she's calling it quits at a high point for the party.

May told reporters in Ottawa today that she's leaving the job she has held since 2006 effective today.

The B.C. MP said she felt comfortable stepping aside from the role now because the party is in a good position after a solid performance in the recent election campaign.

"We achieved more than one million votes for the first time ever," May said. "As I look around the world ... there is no other country with first-past-the-post that has achieved what we've achieved."

May said she will continue to sit as a member of Parliament and will be the party's parliamentary caucus leader. She said she promised her daughter that the 2019 election would be her last at the party's helm.

"Unlike politicians that say they want to spend more time with their family, and then go off sadly, I'm very excited to know that I'll have time with my husband and time with my daughter and my extended family, and that I keep my promises, especially to my daughter Cate," she said.

After suggesting last week in an interview with CBC News that she would consider running to be Speaker of the House of Commons, May said today she would not run and will remain on the opposition benches.

May said she talked with her fellow Green MPs and they told her that they would rather have her sitting with them instead of occupying the Speaker's chair.

"I'd like to run for Speaker after the next election. For now I'll be in my spot, wherever that is, working with Paul Manly and Jenica Atwin to prove what three hardworking Green MPs can do."

Manly has held the riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith since a May, 2019 byelection. Atwin was elected in Fredericton in the general election campaign, making her the first Green MP elected outside of British Columbia.

Elizabeth May says she's not done yet

4 years ago
Duration 1:03
Elizabeth May, who stepped down as Green Party Leader, is asked about how she would like to be remembered. And newly elected Green MP Jenica Atwin shares her thoughts about May.

May said she'd push the Liberal government to make "massive" and "transformative" changes to climate policy in the coming Parliament. She also said instituting a national pharmacare plan should be another top priority.

May said she would like to be remembered as a leader who was honest with Canadians.

"I've always kept my word and I've never lied, and I think that's important," she said.

Atwin ruled out taking a run at the leadership herself, telling reporters today that, as a new MP, she's focused on getting up to speed and representing her constituents.

"[May's] an incredible inspiration and she's given so much," she said. "Her leadership and the role that's she's played should not be downplayed in any sense of the word, and I'm very happy for her on this next part of her journey.

"We're prepared to work as a team with her as our parliamentary leader, but I will see who the new leader will be."

Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Greens and the MPP for Guelph, ruled himself out of the running as well. He praised May for working to elevate decorum and diminish partisanship in the House of Commons.

"I'm not in the running," he said. "I am very happy and love being the leader of the Green Party of Ontario and I'm really excited about leading our party in the next provincial election."

Abortion and the election

While the party achieved the best electoral result in its history last month, some observers had predicted the Greens would pick up even more seats, given how many voters were saying climate change was a major issue for them.

Asked if she should have stepped aside sooner, May said she remains a "popular leader" and claimed the party faced head winds in the last election because of unspecified "dirty tricks." May has accused the NDP of spreading misinformation in fliers handed out across Vancouver Island.

May triggered a small controversy during the run-up to the general election when, in an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics, she said that she would not block her MPs from bringing forward anti-abortion legislation through a whipped vote. The party subsequently released a statement saying "there is zero chance an elected representative of our party will ever reopen the abortion debate."

May said today she has always been pro-choice but the Green Party's rules prevent the leader from whipping votes, something she said is a bad practice that leads to poor parliamentary decisions.

"I don't think that anyone can fairly or honestly say that there was confusion," she said. "That doesn't mean that people didn't use parts of phrases to distort what we'd said to create the impression, but ... in any honest assessment of where we stand as a party, or where I stand as an individual, there was no room for doubt."

May later told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that she was disappointed with the campaign the NDP ran. 

"When somebody repeats things that they know not to be true, it's hard to have the same level of respect you had for them before, especially since we had extended the hand of cooperation in not running against him in Burnaby South in the byelection. We helped the NDP secure the seat for Jagmeet Singh," May told guest host David Cochrane. 

"This was American style, really dishonest, and really unfortunate," she added.

The 2019 election was the party's second-best showing under May's leadership. The party achieved 6.5 per cent of the national vote, marginally less than the 6.78 per cent the Greens won in the 2008 campaign.

Former journalist Jo-Ann Roberts will serve as the party's interim leader. May said the party will hold a leadership vote in the fall of 2020 at a convention in Charlottetown, P.E.I. with the new leader being chosen in a vote on Oct. 4


John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.