For eight years, Elizabeth May had been a party of one. Elected to the House of Commons in 2011, May’s Greens had never returned a second member until Paul Manly joined her this spring after winning a by-election. Today, her party is enjoying unprecedented support — and scrutiny.
The Greens have typically been associated with environmental politics. But a major federal party — who could hold the balance of power after the election in October — will be expected to have much more to say and will be held to a higher standard than in the past. Can the Green Party meet their moment? I sat down with May in her office on Parliament Hill to ask; I left thinking that the Greens are indeed on their way to their best election showing yet, though Canada is likely to fall short of a Green revolution. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Green Party is often associated with environmental politics. But I’d like to talk about other policy areas, too. So, let’s start with this: Assuming the environment is your first priority, what are your second and third priorities?
This makes me a difficult interview because I no longer put the climate crisis in the environment frame. When we think of it as an environmental issue, it tends to go down the totem pole of priorities. It’s been seen for so long as what you do when you have time or what you do if the economy’s good. So, I frame it differently.
My top priorities going into this election are climate crisis, democracy and reconciliation. But there's a lot of key social justice policies that we're pushing as well.
You mentioned reconciliation. In Vision Green, your party outlines a series of policies for indigenous peoples. Robert Jago argued in the Tyee that these policies require improvement: They’re dated, incomplete or implausible — for instance, scrapping the Indian Act in 10 years. What would a revitalized, self-reflective indigenous policy look like?
I found his critique entirely unconvincing. He said that it was inconsistent to go back to the Royal Commission [on Aboriginal Peoples]. It isn’t. If you go back to the Royal Commission, they say we make no comment on the Indian Act. So, I’m afraid, I think he went into that with a quite pronounced bias, which was reflected in earlier comments he posted that said, “I just don’t like the Green Party.” So, he made some assumptions. He was right about some typos and misuse of accents. But it’s not implausible to say we’re going to get rid of the Indian Act. You have to set a date. It obviously has to include a lot of indigenous consultation, but we have a racist piece of legislation, which is part of the structural violence that the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women [and Girls] just described as genocide. We cannot have the Indian Act as the foundational piece of public policy by way of legislation that we now have and not see this as the policy of colonial oppressors and land grabbers.
The New Democratic Party recently released its climate plan, which includes CAD $15 billion in new spending and a promise to create at least 300,000 jobs. What sets your plan apart from theirs or from what you might expect from the Liberals or Conservatives? What makes it the only comprehensive plan?
I was surprised to find there’s no target in their plan … there’s no target like ours, which is 60 percent [emissions reduction] below 2005 levels by 2030.
The NDP plan, as an example, says we will retrofit residential buildings. We have to retrofit all buildings. Institutional, commercial, residential. I’ve talked to building trade folks about that. The Red Seal plumbers and the electricians and the carpenters. That’s millions of jobs.
[The Green Party] wants to ensure that the [United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] is also built into how we approach Mission: Possible [the Green Party’s climate change plan] and so is achieving the 17 [Sustainable Development Goals], which means Mission: Possible is hugely ambitious on ending poverty, eliminating homelessness, gender equity and all of those pieces. But the 20 steps focus on how we get off fossil fuels … and the two big things every country needs to do, if you want to make it easy, is get rid of coal-fired electricity and get rid of the internal combustion engine.
How do you tackle the climate crisis in a way that's aggressive, effective, plausible, but also equitable?
One thing is that you won’t get climate action without equity, and Greens around the world have always understood this. This has been the dividing point between the green party of France and Emmanuel Macron: You can’t get climate policy without equity. So, you don’t decide, as Macron did, to cut taxes on billionaires while bringing in fuel taxes.
The most important thing is guaranteed livable income, which will take a while to bring in because it means all the provinces have to participate. And municipalities as well. We save money by wrapping and eliminating the poverty industry, Band-Aid programs like welfare payments, and we’re able to say, “Look, everybody gets a check.” It’s administered easily because it doesn’t require a needs test. You just have to negotiate with each province … and pick an income that works as a livable income depending on where you are across Canada, because a livable income in rural Cape Breton is entirely different from a livable income in downtown Vancouver.
So, the equity piece, guaranteed global income, is central to our policies. The other piece is that we need to tax the rich more and we need to tax multinational corporations more.
Recently, the federal Green Party has enjoyed a boost in support. What accounts for the growing support of the Green Party?
The ground is shifting up beneath our feet. I think it’s the climate crisis. I mean, cottage country in Muskoka in April was flooded. People’s homes in New Brunswick were flooded two years in a row now. Ten thousand Quebecers’ homes were flooded this spring. We’re already under drought warnings for Vancouver Island. We already have fires in Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia, and we’ve had tornadoes in Ottawa. This is finally so clear that you don’t have to rely on “Is there science to suggest that climate is going into some kind of breakdown, scary phase?” You’d have to be, I don’t know, in some kind of deeply ideological, fossil-fuel-worshiping cult to deny that this is something that’s happening that’s a threat to security.
Polling suggests the election will be close and could result in a hung Parliament. If you held the balance of power, what would you expect from the Liberals or Conservatives for the price of your support?
I really think a minority Parliament delivers better democracy in Canada when parties are prepared to cooperate. The Lester B. Pearson era is what I hope to replicate. We’ll talk to everybody who has any seats to say, “What kind of stable government that delivers results for Canadians can be put in place?” We want to see the equivalent of a war cabinet that’s a survival cabinet. We all ought to be prepared to work together in this minority Parliament to ensure that the plan from here to 2050 is fixed, certain and not subject to the kind of policy lurches that happen past the post all the time.
We need more consensus-based decision-making in Parliament. We can do that. There’s no rules that say we can’t; we can also find which other parties are prepared to say yes, that the trajectory of Mission: Possible is where we need to go. And then beyond that we can talk about everything else.