A personal promise led Elizabeth May to resign from Green Party

Elisabetta Bianchini

For the first time in 13 years, Elizabeth May will no longer be the leader of the Green Party of Canada.

May will continue to be the party’s parliamentary caucus leader but Jo-Anne Roberts will be the party’s interim leader.

“I want to choose my own time of going, I want to choose a time when we’ve done better than we’ve ever done before,” May said in her announcement on Monday.

The former Green leader said this is not a new decision, but something she promised her daughter.

“I promised Cate in about 2016 when I decided I was going to have to stay on through the 2019 election, I absolutely swore to her, last time I promise,” May said.

The Green Party plans to hold a leadership convention in October 2020 in Charlottetown.

Just before last month’s federal election, May revealed to Yahoo Canada that she hopes Canadians get to see electoral reform in the next four years, a campaign promise from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that never materialized after his 2015 victory. She also stressed the importance of Canada’s commitment to reconciliation and Indigenous issues, in addition to addressing the “climate crisis.”

A brief history of Elizabeth May

May, currently 65 years old, was actually born in Connecticut but moved to Nova Scotia in 1973. She went to Dalhousie Law School and graduated in 1983.

The former Green Party leader first became known publicly in the 1970s, strongly supporting movements against proposed aerial insecticide spraying on forests on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

May’s legal career included her position as the Associate General Counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and in 1986, becoming the Senior Policy Advisor to federal Environment Minister Tom McMillan.

Two years later, May resigned from her position after the minister granted permits for the Rafferty-Alameda Dams in Saskatchewan.

She was then the Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada for 17 years, a grassroots organization focused on environmental issues, including climate change, sustainability and wildlife preservation.

She became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005, with recognition for her environmental initiatives in Canada. Later, in 2011, she became the first Green Party candidate elected to the House of Commons.

Legacy as Green Party Leader

May stood up for the environmental interests of Canadians from the very beginning of her career as the Green Party leader. Even in 2007, criticizing then Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his climate change policies, going so far to say his environmental plan was a "grievance worse than Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of the Nazis."

She is the longest-serving major federal party leader in Canada and the only Green candidate holding a seat from 2011 until the election in 2019, when the party won three seats.

May was chosen by her fellow MPs as Parliamentarian of the Year in 2012, Hardest Working MP in 2013 and Best Orator in 2014.

She is also known for being adamantly against heckling and “disrespectful” behaviour in the House of Commons.

Throughout the 2019 election campaign, May and the Green Party have stressed how the Canadian government needed to act quickly and aggressively to tackle climate change. The party proposed to hold to no more than 1.5 C global average temperature increase and pass into law a Climate Change Act requiring a 60 per cent cut in climate-changing emissions by 2030, reaching net zero in 2050.

The Greens, under May, also wanted to expand the single-payer medicare model to include pharmacare for everyone as well as free dental care for low-income Canadians. The party also promised to define the term “environmental refugee,” advocating for its inclusion as a refugee category in Canada.

Also in her Monday announcement, May addressed speculation that she is interested in running for the Speaker of the House.

“I’d like to run for Speaker, after the next election,” May said. “For now, I’ll be in my spot, wherever that is, working with Paul Manly and Jenica Atwin to prove what three hardworking Green MPs can do.”