Elizabeth May says sleep deprivation behind failed attempt to be 'edgy' on Khadr

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she should have realized she was "too sleep deprived" to pull off what she says she intended to be an "edgy" attempt at humour during her speech at the annual parliamentary dinner in Ottawa on Saturday night.

'I would rather that I had Saturday night to do over,' Green leader admits

Elizabeth May's gallery dinner speech

8 years ago
Duration 12:02
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May discusses her awkward remarks at the press gallery dinner

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she should have realized she was "too sleep deprived" to pull off what she says she intended to be an "edgy" attempt at humour during her speech at the annual parliamentary dinner in Ottawa on Saturday night.

May sparked controversy when she wrapped up a rambling and overly partisan speech to the crowd of Parliament Hill journalists and politicians with a shout-out to Omar Khadr, who was freed on bail last week pending an appeal of his U.S. conviction on terrorism charges.

"Omar Khadr, you've got more class than the whole f--king cabinet," May said, referring to the Conservative Party, as Conservative MP and Transport Minister Lisa Raitt tried to usher her off the stage.

Raitt intervened multiple times and attempted to persuade May to end her speech, but instead, May played a recording of Welcome Back, Kotter, the theme song from a 1970s sitcom.

"I'm not going to deny for a moment that I would rather that I had Saturday night to do over," May told CBC News Network host Heather Hiscox on Monday morning.

Speech 'did not work at all,' May admits

Usually, party leaders deliver lighthearted, mainly self-deprecating speeches that include the odd barb thrown at the media. But May went on at length Saturday about being the only female leader and having to claw her way into televised leaders' debates.

Elizabeth May press gallery dinner speech WARNING: GRAPHIC LANGUAGE

8 years ago
Duration 9:14
Green party leader, Elizabeth May's awkward press gallery dinner speech

"What I was attempting to do … as you do at press gallery dinners … is an attempt at humour, and often playing against oneself in ways that are self-deprecating, and doing things that you normally wouldn't do, like [former governor general] Adrienne Clarkson appearing in a bathrobe once, or various shticks," May said Monday.

"Sometimes, they fail, and mine did not work at all."

May said she takes "full responsibility" for her performance.

"It was never my intention ever to suggest to Canadians that I was making a speech," she noted.

"I was trying — and obviously failing, badly — at delivering something a bit edgy, and in hindsight, should have realized that I had travelled so much in the previous 48 hours that I was probably too sleep deprived to pull it off properly."

'Politics has a lot of frightening moments'

She said it was never her intent to offend anyone.

"Politics has a lot of frightening moments, and the annual press gallery dinner is among the most frightening, and I guess all of us know that sometimes, someone is going to give a speech that doesn't go well. and people will remember that one. So I've done my 'Oh, God, That One,' and I hope I don't have to do it ever again."

May told Hiscox that she was attempting to play off her image as a "goody-goody two-shoes" in Parliament.

"I never heckle, I never swear, I'm respectful to everyone, so I'd gotten the idea that as skit material, it would be funny if I were different from how I actually am," she said.

"That obviously doesn't work … especially in a clip out of context from the whole event."

May denies alcohol to blame

She also denied that alcohol may have played a role.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt tried to convince Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to wrap it up when it was obvious May's weekend dinner speech was going wrong. (CBC News)

"I don't think so, but I think I was very sleep deprived, because I left home … in B.C. that morning at [4 a.m.], but I had left Ottawa the previous morning at [5 a.m.], and I had worked a 21-hour day. I'm not making excuses for myself — I should not have thought I was capable of pulling off an edgy, parliamentary press gallery speech with as little sleep as I had."

There was, however, wine served at dinner, she acknowledged.

"I am not denying that … but primarily, it was just whatever wine the waiters serve at our table. I hadn't had drinks before or after, so I don't think that was a factor, but obviously that is what people are saying online."

The next morning, she got up and went to church, she pointed out.

"I had no problems with my day, so I think it was just the general problem of sleep deprivation, and attempts at humour that… didn't work. What can I say — I'm a politician, not a comedian, and that went very badly."

Later Monday, comedian Rick Mercer, who was seated at the same table as May on Saturday, tweeted that she wasn't drunk, but was "tired and falling asleep in her soup."

MPs react

Speaking outside the House, Conservative whip John Duncan said an apology was "certainly in order," and he seemed unmoved by May's explanation that it was an attempt at humour that flopped.

"It's still a public place, there were cameras there … at one point, I know that was a very private function, but it's not a private function anymore, and hasn't been for a number of years," he told CBC News on Monday.

Green Party leader apology

8 years ago
Duration 7:32
Elizabeth May pleads guilty to a bad comedy routine and throws herself on the mercy of the court of public opinion in this CBC interview

"It was more than using the F word that was the problem … I wasn't there, but there was a reason why … the crowd didn't even know how to respond. It was very bizarre behaviour."

His caucus colleague Tom Lukiwski agreed that it was "over the top."

"But since I wasn't there, I'm not sure if she was tired, or was drinking, or she was just mad," he added.

"I guess she was a bad girl, but you'll have to talk to her," Conservative MP David Tilson told reporters.

Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner, who was in the crowd for May's performance, pointed out that "everyone lets out a little bit more leash than usual" at the annual dinner, but said that May's "seemed to be a little bit long that night."

"Not everyone does humour well," he noted.

"Whatever she was trying to do, it didn't work, and it was pretty awkward for everyone in the room … people were just sort of scratching their heads, wondering where it was going."

Even so, he said he wasn't sure if the speech any worse than Jack Layton's press gallery dinner debut as NDP leader — "That was a tough one that night," Cuzner recalled — or that of former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe, who, he recalled, "sort of exploded on stage as well."

Meanwhile, New Democrat MP Irene Mathyssen seemed ready to accept May's apology.

"There are none of us who don't err from time to time," she said.

"We're all entitled to those moments."

And although Conservative MP John Weston conceded that it was "a very unstateswoman-like thing to say," he praised May as a hard-working parliamentarian who often "says great things" about her political opponents.

"I'm sure every Canadian can imagine a day when they said something irreverent and out of place that they regret, I certainly forgive her for that, and I admire her immediate apology," he said.

"I'm sure she's mortified."

With files from The Canadian Press


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