Green Party Leader Elizabeth May apologizes for her off-colour speech

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has apologized for use of partisan putdowns and the “f-bomb” during a speech at a parliamentary press gallery dinner. She said her apology is especially directed to constituents in her Saanich-Gulf Islands riding.

“The people I care about the most in this world are my constituents and their opinion matters the most to me,” May told the Times Colonist on Monday. “I hold myself to a very high standard of respectful discourse and standard of behaviour in Parliament.”

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At an annual press gallery dinner where politicians perform tongue-in-cheek speeches and outrageous skits, May took the stage at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on Saturday and lobbed self-authored jokes that fell flat.

While being led off stage by her friend, Transport Minister Linda Raitt, May hurried through a final punchline.

May said she tried to link the similar sounding last names in the 1970s TV show Welcome Back, Kotter — about a teacher and his high school class — and Omar Khadr, the former Guantanamo Bay inmate released on bail from an Alberta prison last week.

“Omar Khadr, you’ve got more class than the whole f---ing cabinet, thank you,” shouted May.

May said she was not drunk, though she had wine at dinner. She said she was exhausted after two days of travel between Ottawa and B.C., a busy work schedule and a flu from which she was trying to recover.

“I’m not using that as an excuse, not at all,” May said. “I fully apologize. I should have realized I was too tired to try comedy.

“I want my constituents to know that I haven’t changed and I will still, in Parliament, continue, always, to be the most respectful person in the room working my best, across party lines.”

Dave Charles, president of the Green Party’s Saanich-Gulf Islands electoral district association, said its offices were closed Monday and the membership has not been polled, so he doesn’t have reaction from constituents. As for his views, Charles said: “I think anyone would be concerned in the way it’s being portrayed in the media and we’re trying to resolve the issues and understand fully what took place.”

Janni Aragon, a University of Victoria political science professor, said May showed poor judgment. Rather than employing self-deprecating, cheeky and intelligent jokes, she missed the mark with unscripted remarks.

“The problem with what May said was that it was highly partisan and then she dropped the f-bomb,” Aragon said. The controversy won’t last, but May’s remarks will be regurgitated during the upcoming federal election campaign, Aragon said.

May said she got up at 5 a.m in Ottawa on Friday, flew west and worked 21 hours straight — attending four meetings and giving two speeches on Salt Spring Island. After, she took a water taxi back to Sidney and on Saturday, rose at 4:15 a.m. to fly back to Ottawa.

“I thought the press gallery would find it hysterical if they heard me use language I never use,” May said.

May also used the phrase “what the f----” in the opening of her speech.

In another joke, May noted she is the only woman leader of a federal party and mentioned Freud’s theory that young girls have “penis envy” to suggest the male leaders assume she has “debate envy” — because she fought and won the right to be part of a leaders’ debate during the election campaign.

She avoided using the word “penis” but in setting up the joke, used the words “oral,” “anal” and “genital.”

May said her attempt to go “against type” failed. “It was an attempt at humour, one time.

“It is not a change of my principled belief. If I did that in Parliament, you could wonder if I had lost all context of my principles. A parliamentary press gallery dinner is to do things outrageously that you would never do otherwise.”

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