As It Happens

Elizabeth May is no longer the Green leader, but she says she's 'not going anywhere'

Elizabeth May may not be the leader of the Green Party of Canada anymore, but that doesn't mean she's done with politics. 

'I think being a parliamentarian is something that I want to do for a very long time'

Elizabeth May announces her resignation as Green Party leader in Ottawa on Monday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)


Elizabeth May may not be the leader of the Green Party of Canada anymore, but that doesn't mean she's done with politics. 

May announced Monday that she is stepping down as party leader, a post she's held since 2006, effective immediately. Former journalist Jo-Ann Roberts will serve as the party's interim leader, and Greens will vote on a new leader at a party convention on Oct. 4, 2020. 

The B.C. lawmaker will be staying on as the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, and will remain the party's parliamentary caucus leader. She is one of three Greens who were elected to Parliament in October.

May spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about why she's stepping down and what's next. Here is part of their conversation.

How long has this idea been incubating in your mind?

Oh, a very long time, actually.

I decided to run for leader of the Green Party right after Stephen Harper became prime minister in 2006. I thought, well, this must have happened by accident because Canadians want climate action and now we have a prime minister who doesn't. So I was persuaded to leave work in civil society environmental groups and go into work in politics with essentially a very utilitarian, short-term goal.

It became much more. It became clear that the Greens could be a viable political force, that we could be elected, and that we are elected across the country now.

After the 2015 elections, I had a lot of long conversations with family, and I promised my daughter in 2016 that the 2019 campaign would be my last one.

I'm very happy and confident with the future of the party, having done so well in our election just a few weeks ago.

Elizabeth May says she's not done yet

3 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.

You talk about 2006 and that decision, and I see lots of calendar pages falling like they do in the movies and time passes. But the party has changed a lot as it moves, as it becomes a national movement, as you had ... about a million people voted for you in this last election. Has it just reached a place for you that you think it's time for somebody else to take it to the next goal?

I think new leadership will be fantastic for the party, and I'm happy to go out on a high note having had the best results we've ever had.

But I'm not leaving the party. I really want to emphasize that. I'm sort of feeling like I'm in a Monty Python skit today. "Not dead yet!" 

I'm not going anywhere. I'm working in Parliament with with two wonderful Green MPs, Paul Manly and Jenica Atwin. 

We have talked to the head of the Quebec Green Party, who is now considering running to replace you, who disagreed with your platform. We've talked to people in other parts of the Green Party that have other ideas about where it should go. And sometimes we've seen that you're not all in step all the time, which is typical in parties, but did you feel that ... you couldn't handle that? That you wanted someone else to take control?

That wasn't really a factor at all. 

When I did mull of the idea of stepping down in 2016, I was overwhelmed by the messages of support. The party membership and my colleagues, elected Greens, right across the country, we are remarkably in sync. We support each other. We support each other's work.

There'll always be outliers, especially since the Greens believe in grassroots democracy and not toeing the party line.

But no, wait a second, because [Green Party of Quebec Leader] Alex Tyrrell has strenuously disagreed with you on...

He's one person and that's his view and that's fine. I'm not going to comment on him further because, at this point, he's declared an interest in becoming leader.  ... I will remain neutral.

Is it possible that this party might go in a direction over which you have no control and perhaps would rather see it go differently?

No, that's not possible. The party is grounded in six core Green values, and Green parties all around the world ascribe to those same core Green values.

Disagreeing on the occasional issue is all well and good, but the reality of Greens — whether I'm talking about my colleagues in Sweden or New Zealand or Lebanon or Uganda — Greens around the world commit to the same core values. And they're remarkably robust.

We're clearly the only party in this election that understands climate science well enough to have a plan and a target that's consistent with the advice from the [UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]. That's critical. We're not going to ever budge from that.

Green MP Paul Manly, left, John Kidder, and Green MP Jenica Atwin look on as May announces Jo-Ann Roberts as the interim party leader. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

You have pursued this as a movement. You have built it as a movement. It's been a cause for you. I just wonder if you like politics?

I've never liked politics. I do love Parliament. I've said for a long time when people describe me as a politician, I feel a little bit like I should go have a shower. The reality is that when people describe me as a parliamentarian, I feel ennobled, and I think being a parliamentarian is something that I want to do for a very long time.

As a politician — and you obviously are, you run as a politician, walks like a duck — but do you feel that you're not a politician? Do you could you hold your nose as you conduct yourself as a politician?

No, I hold my head up high. I believe that politics can be an expression of service, respect for democracy, respect for institutions and, ultimately, respect for Canadians.

I find aspects of politics, particularly hyper-partisanship — the idea that it's my team versus your team, and we can never talk to each other, we can't find the things we have in common — I think that's dispiriting, and I don't think Canadians like it very much either.

So I am someone in politics who wants to change the nature of politics to respect democracy as our foremost commitment as individuals.

I know you have spoken out, as many other women on the Hill have done, about what it's like to be a woman in politics. ... Do you think that there must be a woman who leads the Green Party?

As I said, I can't comment on what qualities or characteristics...

Would you like to see more women leading parties?

Yes. I'm astonished that I've been leader of the Green Party for 13 years and only occasionally on interim caretaker positions has any other party had a woman leader.

We need more women leaders. We need more women elected to Parliament. We need more women elected in provincial legislatures.

It reflects Canada better when the half of us who aren't men see ourselves reflected in the government we get.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Alison Masemann. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.



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