Happy May Day +1
And for me a day of memories of our big win ten years ago today. I was sorting through photos of election night. My favourite is from the celebration I couldn’t join – from the front page of the Driftwood with the joyful faces of our Salt Spring Island team at Moby’s. It is such a gorgeous photo.
Election night was so filled with mixed emotions. I was over the moon to be elected as the first Green MP, but I was beyond despair that Stephen Harper had finally achieved his majority government. I knew what that would mean. I managed to keep smiling through the celebratory evening at the airplane hangar, then I got home to my little place on Resthaven and sobbed until I fell asleep. I hate being right when I saw it coming. Even in a minority government, Harper had cancelled our Kyoto pledge and the solid plan put in place under former PM Paul Martin, plus canceled the national childcare commitments (secured with agreements with every province) and repudiated the Kelowna Accord. A prime minister in a minority parliament has a lot of power in reversing policy, so long as you don’t need to get the changes through parliament.
I knew that Stephen Harper armed with a majority meant disaster for much of what I had worked for my whole life. In two omnibus budget bills in 2012, Harper would successfully destroy our environmental assessment laws, eviscerate the Fisheries Act, and remove protection of fresh water for more than 98% of Canada’s waterways. As well, the budget bills abolished the National Round Table on Environment and Economy, repealed the Kyoto Implementation Act, as well as undermining tourism, weakening oversight over our spy agencies, and so much more that is still not entirely repaired. Only the Fisheries Act was really restored. The Environmental Impact Assessment law (C-69) decried by the Alberta Conservatives is actually a triumph for Harper’s legacy. Most projects will never be reviewed. The law remains broken. The worst damage was to climate – not just climate policy – but in real terms – Harper sabotaged global action. If not for that fateful decision in 2005 Canada’s emissions would now be well below 1990 levels – instead of 22% above.
But on that election night I could only dread what was to come and grieve the bad timing it was to finally be elected, only to face a majority Conservative government. I marveled at the jubilation of the NDP that their 2005 gamble – to bring down Paul Martin’s government with the hope of one day, replacing the Liberal Party – had paid off. Winning Official Opposition with the massive “Orange Crush” in Quebec gave Harper the majority no one saw coming.
That next day, May 3rd, I had a really nice phone conversation with Jack Layton. We became friends when he was a Toronto City Councillor and did amazing fundraising auctions to help Sierra Club. Our relationship certainly had its rough patches. In an emotional telephone call in November 2005, I had literally begged him not to help Harper; not to bring down the minority Liberal government. In that moment, I began to understand that First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system was not just unfair, but actually dangerous. If not for FPTP, the NDP could have celebrated the progress they pushed the Liberals to make. But FPTP meant that for the NDP to grow, the Liberals had to be replaced by the Harper Conservatives. Over the next few months, I resolved to leave the Sierra Club and run for leader of the Green Party.
Given all that history, it is remarkable we had such a good conversation as I congratulated him for becoming the Leader of the Official Opposition. What he said then I found very touching. He said (and this is from memory so I may have a word wrong here or there), “You know Elizabeth, at our big victory party in Toronto, when it flashed on the screen that you were elected, defeating Gary Lunn, a huge cheer went up. And I can tell you, there were no other cheers for any other party winning a seat!”
The last ten years have been remarkable. I can hardly believe that I have represented Saanich-Gulf Islands for a full decade. Contrary to expectations from journalists who said, “Greens may be happy they won a seat, but no one will ever hear from Elizabeth May again. One MP cannot accomplish anything,” we have passed two Green pieces of legislation- the Federal Lyme Disease Strategy and the law prohibiting keeping whales and dolphins in captivity, and we have held two governments to account. And now we are a caucus of three MPs, Greens have been elected in four provinces and are the Official Opposition in PEI, with a strong new leader poised to win our first Ontario seat.
I sure hope to be able to continue this work. By the way, the Saanich-Gulf Islands Green volunteers are planning a big 10 Year Anniversary Party (by zoom of course) for Friday night May 14th, with lots of fun guest speakers. (details next week, but save the date!)
It is amazing how my memories of political events are not shared. Other people seem so good at forgetting. I spoke to that in my response to the federal budget last Monday, April 26. Elizabeth May responds to the 2021 federal budget
I also wrote this analysis of the federal budget’s climate commitment for the National Observer: https://www.
I am including two other speeches I gave this week – one on climate and the other on the dreadful back to work legislation for the Port of Montreal. It was a busy week. And this week coming, on May 5th, we can celebrate Paul Manly’s second anniversary as an amazing MP!
Stay safe and have a great week!
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