Elizabeth May says she'll stay Green Party leader to focus on electoral reform

Elizabeth May will not leave her post as leader of the Green Party of Canada, despite her continuing unease with her party's vote to endorse the principles of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement.

Party will hold special meeting to review resolutions passed at August convention that 'lacked consensus'

Elizabeth May says she is staying on as Green Party leader after her party passed a controversial motion supporting the Boycott Divestment Sanction movement protesting Israeli policy. May said the party will hold a special meeting to reconsider the motion. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Elizabeth May will not leave her post as leader of the Green Party of Canada, despite her continuing unease with her party's vote to endorse the principles of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement.

"I see there's been lots of speculation from the Internet about whether I plan to join some other political party. That was never even a consideration. I love my friends in the other parties but I am Green," May told reporters at a press conference on Parliament Hill Monday.

The B.C. MP said she has received an outpouring of support from Canadians over the last week as she publicly wrestled with her position while on vacation in Cape Breton. "It appears I am much loved — it's surprising to find sometimes in politics," she said.

May said she was also motivated to stay on as party leader to focus her energies on electoral reform and to hold Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to his word that the 2015 election would be the last conducted under the first-past-the-post system.

May had said she was going to reflect on her position in the party after the Greens voted to endorse the controversial BDS movement to protest Israeli policy in the occupied territories at the party's biennial convention on Aug. 7. She said the endorsement of BDS could be misconstrued as anti-Semitic and lump the party in with a larger group of activists beyond its control, and was "heartbroken" the motion passed without consensus among members.

She added Monday that while there are many "well-meaning, well-intentioned groups" that have backed the movement, one of those shouldn't be a federal political party that's "serious" and wants to elect more MPs in the next election.

May said despite her opposition to the party's new stance on BDS, she wouldn't shy away from bringing a critical eye to Middle East policy. "I will equally condemn Hamas rockets into Israel as I will Israeli disproportionate reaction and killing children in the occupied territory."

May says she is staying on as leader of Green Party

7 years ago
Duration 3:23
Featured VideoElizabeth May says she will stay on as leader of the Green Party and focus on electoral reform.

Special meeting to review resolutions

The party's executive council decided Sunday to call a special meeting in the coming months, which will give members the opportunity to revisit the resolutions passed at the August convention after May's public protestations.

"​What I heard from the council was 'We're with you, we support you, and this is the best course for the party," May said later in an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics of the newly scheduled party congress.

May said some motions were rammed through at the recent convention without broad-based support from the the party's grassroots, adding that all policies should be enacted by consensus.

The Green leader is also pushing for a secondary confirmation vote by all members — online or by mail — of resolutions passed by delegates at a convention. She has previously mused that some people only joined the party to push for the enactment of the BDS motion.

May added that she is confident the membership will eventually be able to craft something that both she and supporters of BDS can endorse, but she didn't speculate about what would happen to her leadership if the current pro-BDS platform plank is left unchanged.

The BDS movement promotes economic sanctions against Israel over its policies on the occupied territories, but is characterized by some as anti-Semitic, despite having the support of some Jewish and Christian organizations.

May says Green Party is not anti-Semitic

7 years ago
Duration 1:50
Featured VideoGreen Party Leader Elizabeth May says her party is not anti-Semitic, but there are members who are trying to protect vulnerable citizens in the Gaza Strip.

From the debate stage to the Commons

In her decade as leader, May has been the highest-profile Green politician in the country, though her own popularity hasn't translated into growing electoral returns nationally.

The Greens' share of the overall popular vote decreased to 3.4 per cent in 2015 from 3.9 per cent in 2011. In fact, May's best result for her party was her first election as leader in 2008, when the party won 6.8 per cent of the national vote.

Despite those electoral results, May has been very popular with party rank and file. She received 93.6 per cent support from party members during a leadership review in April.

May's biggest success has been keeping the Greens on the national radar.

When she became leader in 2006, the party had not participated in the national televised leader debates and had no member of Parliament. It had only run its first slate of national candidates two years before.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, second from right, stands with then NDP leader Jack Layton, left, then Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, then Conservative leader Stephen Harper and then Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe prior to the English-language federal election debate in October 2008. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press )

In 2008, she participated in her first televised leaders' debate and fought her way back onto the debate stage in 2015 after being excluded in the 2011 campaign. Her determination to stay on the national stage led to her running parallel debates on social media when she was excluded from leaders' debates and a court challenge against a private debate organizer.

She became the first elected Green MP in 2011, representing Saanich-Gulf Islands after losing two previous attempts.

Occasional missteps

May raised eyebrows for a profanity-laced comedic speech at the parliamentary press gallery dinner in 2015 and was escorted off the stage by Conservative MP Lisa Raitt. May later said she was "too sleep deprived" for her attempt at "edgy" humour.

After the Fort McMurray wildfire, May appeared to draw a connection between forest fires and climate change. She later released a statement to reporters saying she was not directly tying the Fort McMurray wildfire to climate change, adding that no credible scientist would connect a single event to the larger phenomenon.

May has developed a reputation on Parliament Hill for hard work and knowing the details of parliamentary procedure.

She's also been leading the charge for proportional representation after securing a seat on the special parliamentary committee on electoral reform. May has said she didn't want the controversy about the BDS movement to distract from her advocacy for electoral reform or the rest of the Green platform.

May has said she would continue to represent her riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands and even run in the next federal election in 2019.