May Q&A

Green Party of Canada leader visits Fredericton

The Aquinian
Elizabeth May

Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May was in Fredericton last week, working with the Green Party of New Brunswick and celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. She took a few minutes to sit down and talk to the Aquinian about all things Green. Here’s a portion of that interview.

Aq: Do you think Canadians are ready to make changes in their daily lives to commit to environmental sustainability?

May: Canadians are prepared. But the difficulty is our government systems. It does matter what activities are supported and get subsidized, and which activities are not supported. Right now, at the Federal level, the Harper government is in support of the interest of the tar sands, and have cut support for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Canadians are prepared, but what’s wrong is with our government, because right now, we’re lagging behind the whole world (in terms of environmental sustainability).

Aq: Where can Canadians look around the world to find examples of some countries that are doing the right thing in terms of the environment?

May: Almost anywhere but Canada. South of the border, since Bush is gone and Barack Obama has become president, you have an administration that’s pursuing climate objectives, that has invested $150 billion of renewable energy in the economic stimulus package, with the goal of creating 1.5 million new jobs. Look at Germany, where the renewable strategy was brought in when the Green Party was in a coalition government. That’s created more than 300,000 new jobs in Germany. In Denmark, more than 20 per cent of its energy comes from renewables. Norway has offshore oil, but it also put in place a carbon tax, so when it was developing its oil revenues, it was ensuring it was a country that could meet targets to reduce greenhouse gasses. Sweden has reduced greenhouse gases to 20 per cent below the 1990 levels and at the same time grew its economy by 44 per cent and did it because of the carbon tax. You hear redirect and misinformation in the media about China right now, but China has invested more money in green technologies in the last 12 months than any nation on earth. China has invested $600 billion in green technologies. Unless Canada gets with the program, we’re going to be trying to buy the new, smart, green technology from everyone else around the world, while we’re settling with a form of energy that no one wants anymore.

Aq: As Canadians we boast that we’re so progressive, so what’s holding major change back? Is it politicians?

May: There’s no question it is. The majority of (Canadians’) votes were for parties, in 2006, that all favoured implementation of the Kyoto protocol. And in 2008, the majority of votes went to parties in favour of the Kyoto protocol. But because of the first-past-the post system, the party that had a minority of seats but the largest number in a minority parliament, took office. And there’s a profound lack of cooperation in our House of Commons these days, so the party that is ideologically opposed to Kyoto is in power. Our politicians are in the way, and as a friend of mine says, we don’t just need to change our light bulbs – we need to change our leaders.

Aq: You’ve spoke about civic engagement, and with young people traditionally not turning out to cast a ballot, is that part of your mandate? to the get young voters out, and do you believe those votes that aren’t being cast by young people are your votes?

May: In terms of polling young people between the ages of 18 and 25, their first choice is the Green Party. It’s a sickness within democracy when people aren’t voting. I think it reflects a sense that politics don’t matter, or it doesn’t matter who you vote for, because of the first past the post system. I know a lot of people feel discouraged (about politics), but it’s critical that everyone who has the right to vote, gets to the polls and votes for what they believe in. If you feel vaguely ill or hold your nose as you vote, it’s no surprise you won’t do it again. You’ve got to go out and vote for what you believe in, make a clear statement and express your will in a democracy. However you’re going to vote, it’s critical to see voter turnout go up.

Aq: You recently switched constituencies from your hometown in New Glasgow, Central Nova riding, to Saanich-Gulf Islands in B.C. Why do politicians switch ridings?

May: Traditionally leaders in Canada have sought out ridings where they don’t live. Brian Mulroney first ran in Central Nova, Jean Chrétien first went to the House of Commons, though he’s from Quebec, after running in New Brunswick. Joe Clark ran in Annapolis Valley Nova Scotia and Tommy Douglas was selected as an MP in Gulf Islands, and he’s from Saskatchewan. I can’t be selfish (about leaving my home town). It’s important for the one million people who voted Green in the last elected have a voice in the House of Commons. People asked me, “Please don’t run where you did again, we want you in the House.” It was a long process to realize I had an obligation to move to a new place, and I’ve moved there now. It’s going extremely well there. I didn’t want to move, but it’s something the party asked me to do. Complete strangers (in the Saanich riding) were coming up to me and asking me “we hear your going to move here, we want to have a Green MP, we want to be the first community in Canada to elect a green party member of parliament.” That message was very persuasive and heartening so I picked up and moved. It’s a big change in my life.

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