Green Leader Elizabeth May needles Harper on niqab, economy, anti-terror bill


OTTAWA — Elizabeth May repeatedly scolded Conservative Leader Stephen Harper in the French-language debate on Thursday — blaming him for a “decade of destruction” — as she touted the Green party’s vision for a more co-operative federation.

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May dismissed concern over face coverings at citizenship ceremonies as a “false debate,” stressed revitalizing the economy with municipal infrastructure spending and denounced the concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office.

“What is the impact of the niqab on the economy?” May asked. “What is the impact of the niqab on climate change? What is the impact of the niqab on the jobless? It is a false debate meant as distraction from the real challenges for Canada.”

The Green leader chided Harper for not working with his provincial counterparts and she had the prime minister shaking his head as she attacked the federal record on environmental stewardship.

At another point in the debate, Harper rolled his eyes over one of May’s barbs.

May stumbled slightly at times in her second language, but got her message across — appearing most confident, not surprisingly, when discussing the environment.

“I think the points I made were important,” she said afterwards. “There were moments where I felt as though I landed a blow — we shall see.”

The Greens held just two seats in the last Parliament — neither in Quebec. But May is enthusiastic about her candidates in the province, including environmental scientist Daniel Green in Montreal and long-time eco-activist Andre Belisle in the riding of Conservative cabinet minister Steven Blaney.

May said while the Bloc Quebecois’ Gilles Duceppe agrees with her opposition to Enbridge’s Energy East oil pipeline, “a national energy strategy needs a national party.”

“And so I do believe that Quebecers are going to be electing Green party MPs in this election.”

The debate might have been in French, but May clearly saw the exchange in Montreal as a chance to reach a broad sweep of Canadians with the Green message.

She made good on her promise to go after Harper almost exclusively, leaving Duceppe, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau relatively unscathed.

She condemned the Conservatives’ marquee anti-terrorism bill as “the most dangerous law in the history of Canada” — one that has made the country less safe.

The evening was especially important to the party since it could be May’s last opportunity to stand alongside the other leaders before the Oct. 19 election.

May took part in a debate sponsored by Maclean’s magazine early last month. But she was excluded from the recent Globe and Mail debate on the economy — though she did light up Twitter with video retorts — and she isn’t invited to one sponsored by the Munk Debates on foreign policy.

In addition, it looks like the sort of widely broadcast English debate seen in previous campaigns may not happen this time since Harper has refused to take part and Mulcair has said he won’t participate if Harper doesn’t.

May believes her presence in the 2008 televised English debate was a factor in holding Harper’s Conservatives to a minority. She wasn’t invited to the 2011 exchange.

“The real dynamic is that when Greens are in the debates, Conservatives don’t do as well,” she said this week in an interview.

May has expressed a desire to support a minority NDP or Liberal government, but she would not prop up a Harper administration.

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