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EDITORIAL: May goes, but Greens here to stay

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks to supporters in Victoria, B.C. on election night (Oct. 21, 2019).
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks to supporters in Victoria, B.C., on election night. The disappointing results likely sped up her resignation timeline. - Reuters

It’s hard to know how long Elizabeth May would have stayed on as leader of Canada’s Green Party if the recent election results had delivered on the promise of the party’s early polls.

The party only won three seats after beginning the election campaign in third place in some polls, ahead of the rival NDP. Environmental issues were riding a wave of publicity and the Greens looked like they were poised to capitalize.

But it was not to be. The NDP surged back from the near-dead and May’s party was consigned once again to the nether reaches of the House of Commons.

At Monday’s press conference announcing her exit, May said she had intended the 2019 election to be her last as leader. The disappointing results likely sped up her resignation timeline.

She’ll stay on as MP for her B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, and deputy leader Jo-Ann Roberts will take over until the party can pick a permanent leader. Roberts ran for the Greens in Halifax, finishing third (the NDP was second) with 14 per cent of the vote.

Nationally, the Greens won 6.5 per cent of the vote, retaining two seats in B.C. and adding a third seat in Fredericton with Jenica Atwin. It’s an improvement over their dismal showing in 2015 (3.5 per cent) and returns them to roughly the same support they won in 2011 (6.8 per cent).

...the reality is that the Greens aren’t going away any more than global warming is.

With 13 years at the helm, May was the longest-serving party leader in Parliament. She is well-liked in Ottawa and, as journalists like to say, she is a good interview. That's because she is unfailingly polite and willing to actually answer questions, a rare quality among politicians. She was honoured by her Commons colleagues as Parliamentarian of the year in 2012. During debates in the recent campaign she did her best to steer conversations back to policy and kept her tone respectful.

Born in the U.S., her family moved to Canada when she was a teenager. She attended St. F.X., graduated from Dalhousie law school and practised environmental law in Halifax. She was a policy adviser in Brian Mulroney’s government and later led the Sierra Club of Canada.

In an editorial board interview with The Chronicle Herald during the campaign, May mused about ending up after the election with what she called the “balance of responsibility,” which she hoped would lead to a coalition of sorts with the Liberals.

The Liberals have other choices now. Only 13 seats shy of a majority, Justin Trudeau can turn to any one of three other parties for support on a given issue.

That situation, combined with May’s lengthy tenure as leader, signalled it was time to depart. She leaves the Greens in better shape than she found them, even if they’re still effectively on the political fringe. She must have hoped for better after 13 years as leader, but the reality is that the Greens aren’t going away any more than global warming is.

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