1st Green Party Candidate Elected to Parliament in Canada (US-born Elizabeth May)

I saw the news that the Green Party might win its first seat in Canadian Parliament last week on our sister site, Red, Green, and Blue. I thought, “That’s good news!” but, to be honest, I didn’t think it would happen (call me pessimistic). Turns out it did, though.

While U.S.-born Elizabeth May — an environmentalist, lawyer, writer, activism, leader of the Green Party of Canada, and 17-year executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada — will have more political power than ever, she won’t have a ton of practical influence. She will have to influence through here personality and excellent communication skills, though, Barbara Yaffe of the Vancouver Sun writes:

To translate her historic Green party win into real influence in Ottawa, Elizabeth May will have to rely more on the force of her personality than an enhanced political status.

That’s because the Greens, with one seat -11 shy of what’s needed for official party status – won’t be sitting on Commons committees or getting regular face time in question period.

Further, May in the past has been scathingly critical of a now-all-powerful Stephen Harper, known for holding grudges.

And, environmental issues aren’t as prominent as before the 2008 recession.

Lucky for May, she has a big personality.

Felix von Geyer of the Guardian backs up the claim that May is a great communicator: “Toby Heaps, the editor of Toronto-based Corporate Knights magazine, who campaigned with May, told the Guardian: ‘She is arguably the best communicator in the house now and will be a powerful force for for a more civilised parliament.'”

Of course, this is a historic political win for a political party that views the threats of global warming seriously and has bold visions for how to address them. And, as von Geyer writes, this is something sorely needed in Canadian government these days:

Now May will present the voice for the environment, in contrast to other parties who have played political lip service to environmental issues ever since the Liberal party ratified the Kyoto protocol in late 2003.

Canada’s international agreement commits it to reduce its soaring greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, but Harper in 2007 abandoned reducing its carbon emissions ahead of the first Kyoto period coming into force.

May will help ensure that climate change and clean energy issues are a prominent part of the national conversation over the next four years….

Uplifting news, with, of course, the obvious feeling that we still need so much more. But it is definitely something to celebrate.

What Will May & the Greens Push For?

Wondering what, specifically, May and the Green Party of Canada are going to be advocating, and how it compares to others in Canadian politics? Here’s a taster of that from Yaffe:

In terms of policy, May has said she’ll push for federal funding for light transit for Vancouver Island. And she’ll join the NDP-Liberal fight for an oil tanker ban on B.C.’s north coast.

Other policies espoused by May aren’t quite as mainstream.

The Greens want a $50 per tonne carbon-pricing scheme on all CO2 emissions, which the party says would deliver 14 per cent of all federal revenue. And they’d eliminate subsidies for the Alberta oilsands.

May favours addressing poverty by introducing a “Guaranteed Liveable Income.”

The party, like the Liberals and the NDP, would roll back the Conservatives’ corporate tax cuts, to 19 per cent.

The Greens want marijuana legalized and taxed, with a revenue yield to government of about $6.5 billion a year.

Under May’s leadership, the Greens appear to be trying to blend utopianism with a dose of practicality.

“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment,” May said at a press conference at McGill University last Fall.

It’s nice to see someone in politics gets that.

Does the Green Party of Canada Have a Future?

It’s hard to know what the future holds, but this could be the first of several wins for the Canadian Green Party. According to von Geyer, there are a number of factors leaning in its favor.

The Green party’s future could be bright. The NDP’s orange revolution – particularly in Québec, where the separatist Bloc party was all but wiped out — could signal a change in voter intentions, including a move to the Greens.

Disenchanted by traditional Liberal-Conservative choices, voter turnout also increased nearly three points to over 61% from the 2008 election. While short of the 70% turnouts seen before the 1990s, it reflects in part that younger voters who are more inclined to vote Green left apathy at home and headed for the polling stations.

The victory is also significant for the party’s organisation. Heaps said: “The almost 1 million Canadians who vote Green now have a hook to hang their hat on. It is a tangible election result that will bolster fundraising and now the Greens have a core election team that now knows how to win.”

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Photo via Karen Fox

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