There should be no surprise that Elizabeth May has announced that she is stepping down as the leader of the federal Green Party; she has given many hints in the past couple of years that it might be time to turn the leadership over to someone else.
May will stay on as MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, which will at least bring some comfort to her thousands of strong supporters in the riding. Given the size of her enthusiastic base there, it would be hard to imagine what she would have to do, or not do, to fall out of favour. The seat is hers until she decides to leave it.
May’s record as party leader can be seen in several ways.
She made the party a credible force by winning a seat in the House of Commons, and holding it in the next two elections. She quite rightfully earned a spot in national leadership debates.
She has a reputation as one of the hardest-working MPs, which is a remarkable distinction given the time she has had to spend travelling between her riding and Ottawa. Why can’t MPs from Ontario and Quebec work as hard as May?
May will be one of three Greens in Parliament when the House resumes sitting. That is far short of where May would have wanted to be, but it is still the party’s best showing ever.
There was disappointment that the party did not do better in last month’s election, given that climate change — a Green issue if ever there was one — was at the top of mind for most Canadians. The realization that the Greens could not pick up more seats when it really mattered must have stung, although May put on a brave face after the votes were counted.
May has also had her share of questionable moments, making comments that were, frankly, beneath her. Blame it on fatigue; she often went 36 hours without sleep in her commitment to serve her constituents and her country.
What’s next for May? She has mused before about seeking the Speaker’s chair, given her knowledge of the parliamentary system, her knowledge of the issues, and her neutrality, more or less. That might be a good fit, assuming she does can scale back the rest of her workload.
What’s next for the Greens? That is a tougher question. May has turned the reins over to Jo-Ann Roberts, her deputy. Roberts failed to win a seat in Halifax in the October election, just as she failed to win in Victoria in 2015 despite being well-known here as a former CBC radio host.
Roberts is smart, well-spoken and passionate about the Green cause; whether she can herd all those Green cats remains to be seen. Many people with questionable views, from 9/11 truthers to anti-Semites, have found open arms among the Greens, and it will take strong leadership to keep everyone in check, or outside.
Roberts will not have a seat in Parliament, which might not help her; many will turn to May when a leader’s words are needed. But it should be noted that May worked hard to build the party before she won her seat in 2011; Roberts will have the same opportunity to put all of her energy into the party’s future.
A leadership vote will be held next October. Will Paul Manly or Jenica Atwin, the other two Green MPs, run? Or will Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Liberal cabinet minister who was elected as an independent, join the Greens and the leadership race? Will May’s departure help the Greens, or hurt them?
Right now, we should give credit to May for what she has done, and for her dedication to making this a better place for all of us.
Thank you, Elizabeth May.