Elizabeth May is surprisingly cheerful for an environmental crusader worried that the civilization may be on the brink of collapse by the time her 43-year-old daughter reaches May’s own age of 65.
It’s because after being a party of one for eight years in Parliament and only graduating to a party of two earlier this year, the Green party leader says this federal election — her fourth — feels different.
Support is coming in unexpected places, she says forcing her to run something closer to a truly national campaign and visit ridings that weren’t previously on her itinerary.
The polls reflect some of that. May has the highest approval rating of the leaders on the CBC’s Leader Meter.
Her party’s support has nearly doubled in the past year to close to 10 per cent, which would translate into anywhere from one to eight seats with four seats being the consensus prediction.
But the Greens have been here before. They polled at close to 10 per cent in 2010 long before the prospect of a dystopian future drove tens of thousands of Canadians into the streets last month.
Many of those marchers, like the climate strike’s founder Greta Thunberg, are too young to vote and are too young to be surveyed about voting intentions in Canada’s upcoming federal election.
As a politician, May laughingly told The Vancouver Sun’s editorial board that she should be talking about measuring for new curtains in the prime minister’s resident in anticipation of moving in.
But she’s a pragmatist and what is within reach in 2019 is holding the balance of power — or the balance of responsibility, as she describes it — in a minority government.
Unlike the B.C. Green party, May would make no deals to support either the Conservatives or the Liberals.
She’d use her few seats as a club to force the prime minister to either bend policies — especially on the environment — to something closer to the Greens’ platform or she’d bring down the government.
For many, the Greens’ plan is scary, requiring radical and fundamental changes to retool the Canadian economy, its social programs and even individuals’ expectations and habits.
May admits that.
By 2030, her plan would cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent from the 2005 levels, limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above global pre-industrial averages. Within a decade, a Green Canada would be fully powered by renewable energy.
Quoting an October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, May says it’s all do-able and that the needed technology already exists to avoid going above 1.5 degrees C.
Citing a National Research Council projection, the Greens’ platform says four million jobs would be created in energy efficiency retrofits compared with the 62,000 Canadians working in oil and gas in 2018.
But May admits some will disappear and talks about a “just transition” for workers that would include more education spending, bridging of some workers to early retirement and a guaranteed livable income, which would replace and build on disability payments, social assistance and income supplements.
“It’s a tough choice and I’m not saying that people will never sacrifice,” May said. “But we’re talking about whether our children are able to have anything above a deteriorating human civilization all around them …
“A functioning human civilization is at risk within the lifetime of my daughter to be able to have basic elements of a functioning human society.”
But if the Greens hold the balance of power in a post-Oct. 21 Parliament, it’s not just the environmental agenda that may influence new legislation.
May frequently references the 1960s minority government of Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson that with support of the NDP (then named the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation), which resulted in universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, unemployment insurance and the flag (which, bizarrely, was the most controversial).
So beyond an improved climate plan, what do the Greens want? Proportional representation rather than a first-past-the-post voting system has always been high on its list both federally and provincially. The Liberals promised it in 2015 and reneged. A Liberal minority government might be willing to rethink that.
The Greens’ platform calls for decriminalization of drug possession and access to “a safe, screened supply.” The Conservatives have resolutely said no, while the Liberals have said no for now.
May is actively supporting Wilson-Raybould’s bid to win re-election as an Independent in Vancouver-Granville. Wilson-Raybould was forced out of the Liberal Party after she publicly accused Justin Trudeau and his staff of inappropriately pressuring her to stop the prosecution of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
The only reason there is a Green candidate in that riding is because running the party’s constitution requires one in every federal riding.
But would May be willing to bring down the new government — Liberal or Conservative — if it agreed to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement?
May could play a pivotal role in forging a better response to the climate emergency and even help return Canada to a leadership role if she can muster the kind of patience, diplomacy and intelligence that NDP leader Tommy Douglas exercised in the 1960s.
And if she can’t? Well, we’ll have another election sooner rather than later and by then, at least some of those climate-striking kids will have reached voting age.
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