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Thoughts on meeting Elizabeth May

On Monday, I joined fellow members of the Guelph Mercury's Community Editorial Board in an hour-long interview with Green Party leader Elizabeth May, her predecessor Jim Harris, and local Green candidate Mike Nagy.

With 12 people in the room, 7 of which were asking questions, no single one of us had a lot of time to ask much. Elizabeth May proved herself very adept at answering questions in sufficient detail to keep follow-ups to a minimum, while making the questioner feel like their question was being taken seriously.

The purpose of her trip to Guelph, she said in her opening remarks, is two-fold. One reason is to get Mike Nagy elected as the MP in Guelph when our by-election shows up. The other is to get Elizabeth May a spot in the federal election debates during the next election. I agree with one of these two goals.

She took several jabs at our electoral system, advocating for proportional representation, during her opening remarks and in answers to several questions. When I got my chance to ask my questions, I went after this issue. First, I asked, does she believe that our politics work because of, or in spite of, political parties? Without reservation, she said that our politics indeed work in spite of political parties. So I asked, why, then, do you support proportional representation, which enhances the role of the party? She said that proportional representation reduces partisanship because everyone can vote the way they want. I asked her why she wouldn't support a compromise position like preferential balloting? To this, she did not disagree, but said what she would like to see is a nation-wide Citizens Assembly with the result being a two-part ballot. One: do we want to change our electoral system, and two: if so, which of these systems would you prefer? She said the MMP proposal in Ontario failed because people were getting caught up in the details of the proposal, rather than the concept.

I had more questions on other matters, but the time did not allow for much else. She did assure the room that about half of her travel around the country is by train, with all internal Ontario travel being that way, and said that the Green Party plans to lease a train from Via Rail in the next election to do the first rail-based campaign in Canada in generations. This is a concept I support and would like to see all parties do. Support for our rail system needs to be a non-partisan issue.

Another interesting bit of the meeting was when Mike Nagy, in explaining why the Green Party should be taken seriously for the leadership debate, commented that the Green Party is "not accountable" for the federal funding they receive because they don't have a seat. I don't think it was entirely what he meant, but it's an interesting point. The Green Party does receive $1.82 of federal funding per year per vote they received in the last election, which gives them about a million tax-dollars per year to operate their party.

More interesting to me was when friend and fellow community editorial board member and blogger Cam Guthrie, a local Conservative, asked Are you ticked that Stephane Dion stole your Carbon Tax platform? Her answer was as unequivocal as it was enlightening. No, she said, she is thrilled. More parties and more people should steal the Green Party's platform. She said that after their last policy convention, the Green Party distributed their policies to all the other parties with a cover letter inviting them and encouraging them to adopt the policies as their own. It is this role as a party of ideas and not one of power that makes the Green party relevant in Canada. But I wonder if their idealism will remain once they have seats in the House, or if partisanship will prevail as it has so completely for the Green's predecessor protest party, the New Democratic Party. If their push for a back-door into the House of Commons is anything to go by, partisanship will indeed prevail.

She took a lot of swipes at Stephen Harper for his made-in-Washington policies and at Jack Layton for putting partisanship before principle while defending Stephane Dion, during the interview. She said that in Dion's one year as environment minister, he did more than anyone else on that file. She worked with him in her days at the Sierra Club and seemed to have a lot of respect for him. She commented that she told Dion that he was her second choice for Prime Minister, to which she said he responded, "oh, who is your first?" "Me, of course". "Oh, ok then." She also expressed surprise that Dion was willing to go along with her suggestion of following the long tradition of leader's courtesy in not running someone against her in Central Nova.

Not surprisingly, Mike Nagy answered the question about what the important local issues will be by discussing environmental issues. He noted, for example, that Guelph has one of the highest concentrations of ground-level ozone in the country, and that Asthma has risen to a rate of 1 in 4 children locally. Indeed.

May also stirred a little post-interview controversy by commenting that she was ready to slit her wrists by the end of the last leaders' debate, something that others clearly found more offensive than I did. Politicians and hyperbole are virtually synonymous, and it did get her point across about how bland and pre-packaged leaders' debates have become.

I'm hoping the video, audio, or transcript of the whole meeting is posted soon. In the meantime, coverage of this meeting is here:
- Guelph 'vibrant green' (Guelph Mercury article)
- Green leader ready for prime time (Guelph Mercury editorial)
- . . . then again, maybe not (Guelph Mercury editorial)
- Greens hope for by-election success (Guelph Mercury video)
- Demanding fairness (Guelph Mercury video)
- Too colourful for prime time? (Guelph Mercury blog)
- Interview with Green Party Leader - Elizabeth May! (Cam Guthrie - Green Guelph)
- Elizabeth May "out of bounds" (Christian Conservative, based on second-hand accounts)

Posted at 08:28 on May 28, 2008

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