Green leader Elizabeth May is not having the best summer ever.
It would be hard to imagine a worse summer.
This spring, Elizabeth May was riding high. Buoyed by record results in several provincial elections, even level-headed pundits spoke about a Green Wave sweeping the country. If the expected close race between Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer played out, the Green Party could even hold the balance of power.
May deserves enormous credit for carving out a historic and mostly safe beachhead for her party, and has been a respected parliamentarian. Her place in Canadian political history is secure – and well deserved. But this has been a very bad year indeed.
First, it emerged that May had offered to step down as leader of her party to both Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, if only they would join – but they turned her down to run as independents, which they judged to be a more secure path back to Ottawa. (If you’re familiar with the track record of independents in Canadian politics: ouch.)
Then, her party’s energy and climate change platform was met with bafflement and ridicule – and not just from habitual critics, but figures like Andrew Leach, who helped former Alberta premier Rachel Notley design her climate plan. (Leach’s polite-but-firm critique is something to behold.)
It’s not just that it’s contradictory (phase out fossil fuels while investing in more capacity) and flat-out impossible (make EVERY BUILDING in Canada carbon-neutral by 2030, about as likely as an independent B.C. founding a colony on Alpha Centauri that same year.) It’s that May seemed surprised people took it seriously.
While this was happening, the Greens made waves by announcing the “Prince of Darkness” Warren Kinsella would be joining their election war room. It seemed an odd fit; whatever Kinsella’s considerable talents, his take-no-prisoners style wouldn’t necessarily mesh with the Greens’ image as a cleaner, nicer vision of politics. May reassured her supporters that Kinsella agreed to follow the Greens’ standards of conduct.
Whether or not it was intended to last through the election (May says no, but then why the hand-wringing over how Kinsella would conduct himself?) that arrangement is over. May took a hit for bringing aboard a political pitfighter, without the benefit of having him actually fight in one.
This week, May’s latest idea – an end-around the justice system, in which SNC-Lavalin would be compelled to build “infrastructure” for First Nations as a form of community service – was ridiculed as impractical, irresponsible, and illegal, not least by her suddenly very hostile NDP rivals.
Okay, it’s been a bad summer, but so what? Some supporters have said it’s to be expected; other parties are afraid of the coming Green Wave. But is one really coming? We don’t like to talk about this for some reason, but the Green national vote share has consistently declined, down to less then 4% in both 2011 and 2015. Past performance isn’t always the best predictor, but we’re still talking about building upon a vanishingly small slice of the public.
May is in no-man’s land. Really for the first time, she’s being taken as seriously as the other party leaders. This means no more shrugging off missteps, mistakes, or plain cockamamie platform ideas as “contributing to the national conversation.”
Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer may sympathize with that kind of unfriendly scrutiny – but as a tradeoff, they command vast armies of supporters, not just online, but at the ballot box.
Not only does May lack that kind of support, but the unpleasant fact is, she has less and less of it every year.
Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca