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Elizabeth May a small-c conservative?

Since my post this week on the election of Green Party president Elizabeth May, a leftie friend has sent me more info about her, citing a 2008 article in Canadian Jewish News. Initially, I found some  of it disturbing, but it did not all pan out.

I have always considered Canada’s Green Party a progressive, leftist force; it certainly garners a lot of leftie support. Well, May’s political roots seem to come from the right. In the mid-1980s, she served as senior policy adviser to Tom McMillan, the Tory environment minister under then-prime minister Brian Mulroney. That’s distressing, yet I’d like to know: How  much have her views and policies changed since then?

In this year’s federal election,  she received an endorsement from Fraser Smith, who spent six years on the Reform party’s executive committee, according to a National Post article. (My friend said that Smith was May’s chief strategist, but I couldn’t find any online info to confirm that.) Smith called her “a good conservative” in her views about the economy.  I don’t have an issue with that. If she’s not going to spend us into humungous debt, that’s a good thing.

May has apparently said herself that her party is not of the left. And yet she’s got  Ken Wu, a former forestry activist with the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, as her communications manager. He doesn’t sound like somebody who would support a Tory.  (I dislike such limiting terms as “right” and “left” yet they make convenient labels. Unfortunately,  they usually lend themselves too easily to black-and-white thinking. Humans and their activity are a lot more complex than that.)

Back in 2008, May said that she would raise the GST back to six per cent and use this as a source of revenue for “community-level” needs such as public transit, sewer and water facilities, recreation areas and bike paths. That sounds good to me.

She’d also reduce corporate tax rates, supposedly tied to the incentive of reducing greenhouse gases. That sounds more dubious and more conservative. Yet she also said that she wanted to direct more money to low-income Canadians. And she claimed that the Green Party would scrap the Conservatives’ child-care tax benefit (a token $100 a month per child up to age six) in favour of fully accessible child-care spaces,  early learning educational experiences, and support for  families who want to raise a child at home. That all sounds great to me.

I’m not worried that May is a closet Tory in green clothing. I think that she’s got enough progressive thinkers and activists around her, and who voted for her, to keep her honest and to remind her that protecting the environment, indeed, is a prime mandate — not an impediment to jobs and corporate “progress.”
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Meanwhile, the thought of what prime minister Harper can do in Canada with a majority government is truly frightening. As someone said to me, the Canada that Tommy Douglas built might never be the same. Still, I’d rather put my energy into proactive responses and activism and hope rather than despair and alarmist rhetoric.

Yet, my friend points out that the first thing Harper plans to do is legislate away all funding to political parties. (Right now, they get a financial amount based on their number of popular votes.) As my friend wrote me in an email: “Since the Liberals are heavily in debt, this may be another nail in their coffin (which is Harper’s intent). Can you spell f-a-s-c-i-s-t? This guy is very, very dangerous.”


May 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm
  • January 4, 2015 at 11:36 pmMarjorie Stewart

    Given that the NDP has moved to the right, there is a vacuum on the left, where we anti-elitists have no one to vote for, it is imperative that the Greens grow up and decide whether they are for people or for corporate power.
    Tinkering with a fundamentally flawed political system and looking for technofixes to support our wasteful ways can be played at by any party.
    I want a party that stands for people and planet, not maximised profit.
    It is folly to stand against partisan politics because humans are a social animal and will create like-minded groups regardless of individualistic dreams.

  • May 8, 2011 at 5:49 pmDave

    I don’t view Ms. May’s “Red Tory” background as a liability at all. In fact it’s one of the reasons I am a Green Party member.

    When it comes to economic affairs things like monetary policy should be evidence based and just about the math. Some can call this “Right Wing”, I just call it common sense.

    However economic decisions have to not offend social justice. Pursuing profits at the expense of others suffering is not right. Business is granted the *privilege* to operate in our communities, as long as they abide by the rules of our communities be they local, regional or federal.

    For me that sums up a “Red Tory” or a “Progressive Conservative” of which Ms. May could have been, and if she is/was then she is the best part of.

    The “Conservative Party of Canada” bears no resemblance to Red Tories or the “Progressive Conservative Party”. They have no interest in social justice. They feel that business has a *right* to conduct their affairs in any way they choose without the assent of the communities they operate in. They are authoritarian and engage in the worst forms of dirty political tricks. They feel that you and I should sit down shut up and just be thankful that the trains run on time. Ms. May is NOT a member of this club, never has and never will.

  • May 8, 2011 at 4:59 pmFrank L. McElroy

    It’s true that the baggage we all have can define us. But it is equally true that we can move beyond it. Look at Bobby Kennedy who engaged in heinous behavior as US Attorney General and then, he changed fundamentally. Don’t judge May until you call her out and ask the hard questions. She owes the answers, and I’m confident she will respond. Frank McElroy

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