As It Happens

Elizabeth May on the oilsands, Quebec and benefiting from the NDP's decline

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May sits down with As It Happens host Carol Off to discuss her vision for Canada.

May says the Green Party is not compromising its values with plan to keep oilsands active for another decade

Green party leader Elizabeth May spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the upcoming federal election. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

As It Happens is requesting interviews with the leaders of all four major political parties with representation in the House of Commons ahead of the Oct. 21 federal election. 

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Elizabeth May has set herself some lofty goals in this election campaign.

The Green Party leader says her true ambition is nothing less than saving the world.

With the clock running down on climate change, she says she's the only leader with a plan to turn things around — and she spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off on Friday about how.

Here is part of their conversation. 

How did you feel about the debate [Thursday] night?

I feel very good about it, actually. I mean, it was disappointing that [Liberal Leader] Justin Trudeau decided not to come. But I felt that sticking to issues, talking about the platform, I have a lot of depth of knowledge on all the topic areas that were being debated last night.

I mean, I'm not the right person to ask, but I thought I won.

This moment when you went over to shake Justin Trudeau's non-hand where he wasn't. I remember, even in the 2015 election, you were full of praise for Justin Trudeau. It was an unusual thing, people pointed out, how you're not with elbows out against your opponent. You always admired him. Do you still have that admiration for Justin Trudeau?

I'd say I have fondness. I try to be friends with everyone. I think it helps. I think it helps achieve things in Parliament when we can work together. So I'm disappointed massively.

And the shaking of the hand of the person who wasn't there was really just a bit of teasing. I didn't mean it to be mean in any way. 

But I have to say, people say he's broken promises. That's too weak to express how I feel. These are massive betrayals. We were told 2015 will be the last election held under first past the post.

We were also promised we were going to be climate leaders. I never imagined in 2015 that in 2019, Canada's target for action would remain unchanged from that of [former Conservative prime minister] Stephen Harper. 

A empty podium stand where Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau turned down the invitation for the debate as May, left, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, centre, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh take part during the Maclean's/Citytv National Leaders Debate in Toronto on Thursday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Would you work with him and his party?

I will work with anyone who is prepared to deliver on the essential crisis right now. We have an existential crisis, which is the climate crisis. Canada is one of the laggards in the industrialized world. Our record is terrible.

If we got any collection of members of Parliament from any collection of parties to say this government will move our target to a plan that is consistent with holding to 1.5 C, and will take that campaign global to ensure that the world meets the language of the Paris Treaty ... I'll work with absolutely anyone. But not a blank cheque. 

You would work with [Conservative Leader] Andrew Scheer? It seems unlikely that he will come to the point where you're discussing.

The process of forming government in a minority is one where you talk to everyone and see: What do you have in common? And is there enough commonality? 

And if there's not a commitment to hold to 1.5 C global average temperature increase as the goal for Canada to transform our economy, well then we don't support anybody.

Talking to everybody and working within the parliamentary system means in order to get things done, [you have] compromises, tradeoffs. You have been criticized in the course of this. First of all, you declared that it would be on a war footing when it comes to climate change, but you've also said it's important to defend jobs, and that ... there are still more uses for the oilsands.

The Quebec Greens, for instance, are saying that this is, well, this contradiction is ....

There is no contradiction. The oilsands will be phased out by 2030 or 2035.

You can't have a single fossil fuel expansion. You can't have any new drilling. You have to ban fracking to make this happen. You have to cancel LNG plants. You don't build a pipeline. You don't have any new fossil fuel infrastructure.

But you do want to take care of workers. Of course you do, because the Green Party is committed to equity. And workers need time for that fair transition. 

Can you see how some people, especially young people, can see that as some kind of, well, even hypocrisy? That you can say on the one side that we're on a war footing, that the planet is facing extinction, but maybe we have to work with the oilsands?

When you're looking at how fast can we build up the key energy infrastructure that we need — which is a Canadian grid system that works from province to province, east to west and north — that takes some time.

We have to build up infrastructure to deliver 100 per cent renewable energy, 100 per cent renewable electricity. We have to stop having the internal combustion engine at all. These things take some time.

But if we start now, we can get to 60 per cent reductions against 2005 levels by 2030. Bear in mind that the Liberals are still on Harper's target of 30 per cent reduction. We're doubling that and we're going to meet those. And the NDP are only saying 38 per cent reductions.

These are inadequate targets. We're the only party with a plan that meets the requirements of science and wants to protect workers while we do it.

May says it would take at least a decade to phase out the oilsands. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

I want to ask you about Quebec and your candidate Pierre Nantel, who has declared himself a proud Quebec sovereigntist. Are you comfortable with that?

The only question I have about anyone from Quebec who's ever flirted with separatism is: Do you think it's on your agenda now? I don't want anyone in the Green Party caucus federally who doesn't understand that we have to hold Canada together.

A united Canada is necessary to deliver on climate action. And that's where Pierre stands now. 

Racism [is] already playing a role in this election campaign. And Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP, has been meeting that head on. There's been some ugly moments for him. There is no question the Green Party is benefiting from a reduction of support for the NDP in many parts of this country. Are you comfortable with the idea that the Greens may benefit from racism?

I don't think the decline in support for the NDP is about racism. There are other issues at play. Many of them.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been losing support to the Green Party in the federal election. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

We were told by [Jonathan Richardson], the NDP defecting member, a person in New Brunswick, that that was the case, that the NDP was losing support because of racism.

What he seemed to be saying was that there was some level of discomfort and he thought it would have been rectified if Mr. Singh had ever come to New Brunswick.

If you want to meet people, build your support on the ground, you have to visit. And I've gone to every province in this country in the last seven months.

He's hearing that Jagmeet Singh has been told that that is a factor.

I condemn that. It should not be a factor in anyone's level of support.

Absolutely, and I understand you're not exploiting that, but are you comfortable with the possibility that the Green Party will benefit from that racism?

I reject the premise. I would be very uncomfortable with us benefiting ever from racism, but the NDP is suffering from a large number of issues.

Jagmeet Singh can't answer a straight question on whether he supports the LNG Canada development that will drive up greenhouse gases and blow through our carbon budget.

There are a lot of things Mr. Singh doesn't have an easy time answering, and that contributes. I'd say that's the main reason for their decline.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produce dby Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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