National Green Party on a roll as it chooses May to lead it
Cape Breton Post Editorial
Tues., Aug. 29, 2006

The Green Party of Canada has chosen well in electing Elizabeth May as the leader with the best chance of maintaining the party's momentum. The 52-year-old May, the country's best known environmentalist after scientist and broadcaster David Suzuki, whom she hopes to recruit as a federal candidate, won a lopsided victory with 65 per cent of vote last weekend over deputy leader David Chernushenko, an Ottawa environmental consultant, and a third candidate who was not a factor.

May's strong national profile, which began with grassroots environmental advocacy back in the 1970s in Cape Breton, coupled with her formidable communication skills, media savvy and knowledge of Ottawa's inner workings made her the irresistible choice for a party looking to burst out on the national scene.

The Greens have run full candidate slates nationally the last two elections (and provincially in June) though that in itself doesn't make them a serious player. Nationally, filling up the slate has helped the Greens garner 4.5 per cent of the vote as of January, worth more than a million dollars in public funding thanks to former prime minister Jean Chretien's political finance reforms.

However, the party has yet to come close to electing anyone to Parliament and it's unlikely that May herself will be among the first. She says she'll run in a byelection anywhere in the country if one comes up, but otherwise intends to run in the next general election in Cape Breton-Canso, held by affable Liberal Rodger Cuzner, who's rung up more than 50 per cent of the vote in each of his three elections.

Her history in Cape Breton, to where she emigrated from Connecticut with her family when she was in her late teens, would be mixed baggage in an election. May, who recently stepped down after 13 years as executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, is a heroic figure to some, an alarmist to others. May's and Sierra Club's years of voluble criticism of the Sydney cleanup process climaxed with a largely ineffectual presence at the recent environmental assessment hearings into the cleanup plan.

May has evidently given a lot of thought to how to make the Greens a force without holding seats, offering up intriguing hints about creating a "parliamentary presence" this fall and even a "green caucus" made up of current parliamentarians.

This is an exciting time for the Greens with their new money, growth to 9,000 members during the leadership race, formation of a youth wing, serious attention from the news media, talk of proportional representation (their share of the vote would entitle them proportionally to 13 of the 308 seats in the Commons), and environmental concerns in the ascendancy among Canadians. Translating those positives into a stable, growing national party, with political respectability comparable to that of the European Greens, is still a tall order, however.

May brings unique credentials of a bona fide activist who's fought in the trenches and gone on hunger strike (to demand action on the Sydney cleanup) but also has worked on the inside as a senior policy adviser to the environment minister in the 1980s.

There is much discussion about whether May can transform the Greens beyond a one-issue party, and she intends a series of policy forums across the country to flesh out a platform. But if dire prognostications about the environmental plight of the planet and the consequences of unbridled growth are even half right, the trick is not to amass a checklist of policy detail on every current issue but to show how the core Green concerns of environment and sustainability underlie everything—from melting ice sheets to social justice and the price of gasoline.

Chances are the only agenda that really matters for this century is the green agenda. But whether that translates into success for the Green Party of Canada remains to be seen.