Politics - Federal

Elizabeth May Interview on The Agenda

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 24, 2009

TVO's The Agenda has just published a great interview with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on democracy in Canada: the parliamentary system, centralization of power under the PMO, hyper-partisanship, and first-past-the-post versus proportional representation.

For me, the following statement by May gets to the heart of the issue:

I think the problem lies not so much in the personality of [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper - although that's a particular problem - but in the rise and the power of organized political parties. We've allowed partisanship, which was always quite evident during elections, to take over all the time. So it's never about governing; it's always about electioneering.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

20 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Frank (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 10:18:55

While her statement might be true, how is she going to be any different? She'd make a great lobbyist, not a good leader. Elizabeth May will complain about anything that she doesn't like ESPECIALLY when she feels that doing so will help her own electoral position.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Frank (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 10:22:08

What I'm trying to say is...Right issue, wrong person raising the issue. She lost my respect after watching the leadership debate.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By arienc (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 11:26:19

Frank...what is it about Elizabeth May's performance in the debate that caused you to lose respect and feel she is the wrong person to be discussing confidence in our political system? She was consistent with everything she said here in her actions throughout the campaign.

To me she raised some very good points in the debate, was respectful but assertive in doing so. To her detriment, she positioned herself as part of a 4 on 1 against Harper, and didn't really convince anyone why they should vote Green over the other 3 parties sitting opposite Harper.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 24, 2009 at 11:34:06

arienc wrote:

To her detriment, she positioned herself as part of a 4 on 1 against Harper, and didn't really convince anyone why they should vote Green over the other 3 parties sitting opposite Harper.

I'm not sure of that. The four big parties all went down in votes cast during the last election (though the Liberals fell the most as Liberal voters stayed home in droves), while the Green Party was the only party whose voter turnout actually increased.

The problem is that support for the Greens is distributed thinly across all 308 constituencies, instead of tightly concentrated in one region (i.e. the BQ) or at least clustered in particular ridings (i.e the NDP).

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Koby1Kanoby (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 11:40:55

Hey Frank, did you bother to watch the interview or did you just see her name a spit out a knee-jerk reaction?

She addressed your concerns with very credible answers, and she has a history of action to back it that far outweighs the hypocrisy of democratic reform from the NDP, Liberals, and Conservatives (old Reform & Alliance who's foundation was built on democratic reform).

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JonC (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 11:41:56

I'm not a huge May fan either, although I am curious enough to find some reviews of her book now, but she hit on some key issues in the interview.

For FPtP vs MMP voting, we had a vote in Ontario, which kept the status quo, but upon reading the wording of the question, I immediately wrote a letter to Elections Ontario. The wording of the referendum question was:

Which electoral system should Ontario use to elect members to the provincial legislature? * The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post) * The alternative electoral system proposed by the Citizens' Assembly (Mixed Member Proportional)

My issue with it being framing the existing versus the unknown, which is a huge problem when 47% of people surveyed have no idea what you are talking about and only 12% know what you mean. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/archives/...

Elizabeth May states that 84% of Canadians have no interest in affiliating themselves with a party (myself included), but I wonder if that would change under MMP.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By arienc (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 12:11:54

Ryan...that's true, the Greens WERE successful in growing votes, which none of the other parties did. However relative to expectations, this outcome couldn't really be considered all that successful.

I do think that to be more successful, Greens need to do two things...

  1. Convince voters on both sides to move over their camp, not just those who might vote Liberal or NDP. Considering that their strongest support is in rural Ontario ridings that typically lean Conservative, that means highlighting the parts of their platform that appeal to the "right wing" i.e. fiscal sustainability, farm policy, firearms registry, income splitting, etc. Make it absolutely clear to Canadians that this is not a left-wing party. A difficult thing to do when an uninformed media continually reinforces that assumption.

  2. Get people more involved in and participating in politics, especially young people whose future these leaders are deciding on. The fact that more than 40% of us are too apathetic to even cast a ballot once every few years is a national disgrace.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 24, 2009 at 12:41:02

The fact that more than 40% of us are too apathetic to even cast a ballot once every few years is a national disgrace.

Is it apathy or resignation? Any vote not cast for the winning candidate in a given riding is thrown overboard. The just-under-a-million votes for Green in the last election, for example, were all pretty much wasted, since they translated into zero parliamentary seats.

(That's not the whole story, of course, given that under federal law each party receives public financing proportionate to how many votes it received in the last election. The coalition firestorm of last December was triggered, in part, because the Harper government wanted to eliminate this funding.)

Given both the steadily increasing hyper-partisanship of the House of Commons and the increasing centralization of power under the PMO, it is becoming steadily less relevant which individuals sit in the parliamentary seats (a group to which we refer dismissively as "backbenchers"). They mostly have no choice but to regurgitate the official party position in response to constituents and to vote along party lines in the Commons.

It may once have made sense to vote for a candidate based on that candidate's own qualifications and not based on their party affiliation (the essence of parliamentary democracy), but the capacity of an individual member to do anything worthwhile in a democratic capacity as the representative of a given constituency is eroding steadily.

In the face of that erosion, the value of each vote for an individual MP is also eroding; and that is reflected in turn through steadily falling voter participation rates.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Frank (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 13:27:41

@Koby, yes I watched the interview. I don't recall her raising the fact that what she says is usually spun to make herself look better and put her party in a better position. She's doing exactly what she accuses the others of doing - politicking. Like I said, she'd make a great lobbyist (maybe I should've used the word activist) but not a leader in any way shape or form - activism does not equal leadership.

@arienc, during the debate she never shut up! Sure she raised great points but she would rarely let others finish their comments or responses without interjecting with either a scoff or muttering under her breath. In general, the others acted as adults, she acted like a kid. A leader should be able to recognize that other people bring good things to the table and must be able to listen to them. Her performance was incredibly distracting.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 14:49:13

@Frank she explained in the interview that if she was elected prime minister it would be through FPTP and that changing the system to PR would therefore hurt her parties interest by ... mandating that her party gets a number of commons seats that is proportional to their share of the popular vote (sinister I know).

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JonC (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 14:51:36

I didn't think May was any worse than Harper or Layton in the debates. Dion was slightly more animated than usual, which was still about a tenth of anyone else. What always kills me is that I always like Duceppe the most after the debates. It's funny that my one major objection to the Bloc's platform is one of their biggest issues (sovereignty) although it hasn't come up in who knows how long.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Koby1Kanoby (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 15:09:12

Speaking of "a proliferation of unmitigated garbage that isn't vetted by anyone for accuracy... the Most salacious gossip and outrageous slander can appear on internet sites" (2:20)

Frank wrote: "I don't recall her raising the fact that what she says is usually spun to make herself look better and put her party in a better position".

You must have missed the part where she describes a political leader's job: "I think your job must be to protect you parties interest, but the country and the planet have to come first"(18:12) Again, a history of her actions prove this true.

IMHO, your comments hold no credibility, and your desire to have her "shut up!" are hypocritical to the topic.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted June 24, 2009 at 15:36:54

the only guy I enjoy watching in these debates is Duceppe. He clearly isn't trying to persuade anyone to do anything. He knows he's going to lose and just relaxes and let's it fly. Too bad he's a separatist who wants to ruin our country.

I just wish they could all be real people and stop with the party line nonsense and quit being so power hungry and corrupt.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 00:36:51

While I did not watch the big federal debate, I did go to public forums around the city for the provincial and federal elections. I find both the liberals and conservatives very much the same, empty words and empty promises.

I was impressed with the platform of the greens as they do recognize issues related to poverty, the environment and the economy.

The liberals and conservatives are losing ground, I think people are tired of the same old crap from them.

There are many other voices in the mix that do not got airtime and to me that is a shame because in a democratic society, all would be given the same opportunity to voice their platforms. We need to get more third party people into government to break that suffocating party hold.

Maybe when there is no more corporate donations fueling things, we will see other voices be given the opportunity to speak to the public.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Frank (registered) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 09:40:19

Nobrainer.... I don't think you're understanding what I'm saying. Elizabeth May has the appearance of a child in a temper tantrum. She's mad cuz she doesn't have seats and will do what it takes to get them. At this point, it's political pandering - and she's good at it. While FPTP system might be beneficial for our country (and I voted yes for it), the only reason she's so loudspoken about it is because it'd give her people in parliament. You can bet that if it was something that would damage her ability to get or retain seats in parliament she'd never raise the issue.

and Koby, because someone disagrees with you it's unmitigated garbage? Your idiocy is surprising. When you wake up in the morning is your first word "baaa" cuz you're definitely a sheep. Step back a bit and forumalate an opinion based on something other than blind support for a leader that skuttles the green party ambitions. Elizabeth May is protecting her own interest at the same time as her party's interest. It's easy to sit in the cheap seats and say "I'd do things differently if I were in power" because you don't have to prove it and judging from the polls being released, won't have to prove it for a while. Layton's exactly the same albeit a bit more sinister in my opinion.

The problem we have is that while in opposition (or in the Green's case not present) our political parties spew stuff that sounds great. Then when they get into power, they don't stand by what they say or believe and blame it on past administrations.

I have never said I don't like some of the green party platform or that they don't have some great ideas... What I've said is that Elizabeth May is NOT the leader the green party needs if they plan on getting a marked improvement in support.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Frank (registered) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 09:44:23

I echo JonC and jason... Giles Duceppe shows himself as a composed individual at debates... To bad he's not a leader of some other party.

In the debate, Layton was his typical bulldog self and Dion got mad but looked like he was going to cry. Harper was kind of hard to read and while they all interrupted each other, most did it in a manner that wasn't ignorant... May did so by muttering under her breath and snickering or scoffing at others comments. She must have missed debate class in high school.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JonC (registered) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 10:43:32

grassroots, I hate to break your bubble, but only individuals are allowed to contribute to federal campaigns. http://www.faa-lfi.gc.ca/faa-lfi/faa-lfi...

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 10:51:17

Jon C: Thanks for the info, now if only they could get that past into both provincial and municipal elections.

There is hope for reform yet!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 13:07:18

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By JonC (registered) | Posted June 25, 2009 at 16:22:06

Too bad he's a separatist who wants to ruin our apple.

Why would Quebec's separation ruin the orange of non Quebecers?

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds