A Cannon Q&A With Elizabeth May

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Getting ten minutes with Elizabeth May at an environmental symposium is like trying to get five with Justin Timberlake at a Sweet 16 birthday party. Persistence pays off though, and The Cannon got their ten-minutes with the Federal Green Party leader to pick her brain on poll numbers, green Conservatives and the leaders’ debate.

Adam A. Donaldson: When I told a friend of mine that I was going to interview you, she said that you actually don’t like interviews, is that true?

Elizabeth May: That’s not true. I love interviews, but I hate personal profiles. I like talking about issues, but doing a personal profile, I feel, is just wasting time when we could be talking about issues.

AAD: Fair enough. My first real question is about the flurry of announcements from the federal government lately, about “new” spending initiatives on the environment. Could you proctor some of those for us?

EM: At this point we have not yet reached the level of programming and spending that existed before Harper came to power and we are completely lacking any commitment to meet the Kyoto targets; so there really hasn’t been a sufficient change. It is good that they’re bringing back the EnerGuide program, but they’re bringing it back without the Energy auditors, which are a key part of the program. What is good, but wasn’t actually in their last budget, was the idea of pursuing research other renewable energies and looking into clean coal; that was actually a re-announcement. But they have not yet taken the steps that will convince anyone that they really understand the crisis, except from a public opinion point-of-view.

AAD: What about the fact of the auditors? Why are they so important? Because when the government made that announcement, they talked about how so much time and money was spent on auditing.

EM: I know. They made it out like somehow the auditors were an administrative expense. But one of the things that made the EnerGuide program so invaluable was that there’s no way that human beings learn better than one-to-one. And when you have an experienced energy auditor move through your home, they can inform people in a way that they normally wouldn’t get about a whole range of issues. Now I can tell you, I did energy improvements on my home when I moved in without an energy auditor and I wasted money on the wrong things. I spent a lot of money on energy efficient windows on the third floor of my house because it was brutally hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter and I thought it was these rackety old windows. So I bought some very expensive windows, when what I really needed was to insulate. So once I got the energy auditor through my home, I actually knew what to do.

Now if you don’t have the energy audit as something provided by the government then a lot of people will be kept out of the program. With the EnerGuide program, the way it was under the Liberals, you got a first audit for $150 and after words they’d come back price included, to double check whether you made the changes and got the initial reductions you wanted. Now it’s over $400. So I think in their zeal to find something wrong with a very good program, they settled on the idea that the energy auditors were paper pushers looking at forms, but it’s the working brains of the program.

AAD: I wanted to ask you generally about how the environment is so huge in the polls now trumping security and health care. Is this a real movement now, are people really going to embrace the need for change do you think?

EM: The interesting about these numbers is that this is a top of mind of poll, you’re not conditioning people by asking is the environment important because 90 per cent of Canadians say ‘yes’. But when you cold call and you ask people, “What is the single most important issue facing Canada?” That is unprecedented because a majority of people are putting climate change at the top and that is unheard of. This is my third big, global tidal wave of concern about the environment; the first was in the late 60s the next was in the 80s and now here we are. These are higher numbers with more specificity; climate change rather than just the environment and it seems very solid. So I think we’ve now reached the tipping point of public concern.

AAD: You’ve been more active on Parliament Hill than your predecessor, has that been a factor?

EM: I think so. My predecessor Jim Harris is a great guy. He’s the one that made the determination that what really mattered was to run 308 candidates and get two per cent of the vote and do a lot of the mechanics to make the party “real”. But he lives in Toronto and he runs a consulting firm. I live in Ottawa and I’ve worked on Parliament Hill for the last twenty years and I told the membership when I was running that I’d make the party more relevant and raise the profile before the race starts. So I think the fact that I’m more engaged in media, that I’m in Parliament Hill, that I’m going to committee even though I’m not a member yet, I think that helps.

AAD: I read a poll online today that said that 77 per cent of Canadians think you should be able to participate in the nationally televised leaders debate and even Stephane Dion has come out and said that he supports that idea. So, what do you think your chances are of getting in?

EM: It’s still no better than 50-50 and that is the best it’s ever been. They have to figure out if I can get in without creating a precedent for other parties and I understand their need for concern. But we have to make them understand that in the history of Canada there’s only been four parties that have run candidates in every single riding and one of them’s the Green Party and we’re the only party excluded from the debate. We have to convince them that the signal that they send by keeping us out of the debate is, “We don’t think this party’s real.” They confine us to living on the fringe and it becomes about censorship their keeping us out. So our chances are pretty good, but it also depends on how many Canadians sign our online petition because that’s an active way for Canadians to say we want the Green Party in the debate.

AAD: If don’t get in what’s your strategy then?

EM: Then we’ll have to get very, very savvy on the Internet and have me take place in the debate that way, so that from wherever I was I could answer a question or respond to another candidate in real time. But I think I’ll get into the debates, at least that’s my commitment. It also depends on if it’s a spring election or a fall election. Right now, we’re very hot in the polls and if the election’s delayed until fall I guess we’ll just have to see where we are and convince people that were not just a one issue party. We have a whole list of policies that we can’t get out if we’re not in the debates.

AAD: One of those policies that you recently announced was a guaranteed income for Canadians, can you talk a little about that?

EM: Well a wealthy country like Canada does not have to accept poverty and homelessness in our midst. It is a drag on the economy frankly, it’s morally reprehensible, and the way to get rid of it is through a guaranteed annual income. That said, we’re looking at how in our 2007 platform can it be phased in and make sense, because the best way to do it would be with the support of the provincial and the municipal governments and get all of them to cancel what I call “The Poverty Industry.” The current welfare programs are a very shame-based system and you to get rid of that, you want don’t anything that’s going to mark them in the community like vouchers, and instead you give them a cheque that is enough to live on.

But it’s not great; you want to earn more. And when you earn more you shouldn’t have to take it as cash under the table, but declare your income because you’re not going to get cash back until get more income. So when you do that, you eliminate poverty, but you still have problems with homelessness, mental health and addictions problems. But then you focus on those because you don’t have to confine people to poverty in a country as wealthy as Canada. We’re still developing the platform quite frankly and the policy expert forum we did last week in Vancouver was enormously helpful and what were looking at is if we were the federal government tomorrow, what are the things we’d do help the people who need it the most.

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  1. Posted by: Dave H on Feb 2, 2007 @ 3:37pm

    Three cheers for Elizabeth May!

  2. Posted by: Cameron W on Feb 5, 2007 @ 5:39pm

    The 2006 Green Party platform was fantastic, and I know that with the current Green Party shadow cabinet, the countless new policies recently ratified by Green Party members, Canada wide public Green party policy sessions, and input from the membership and public, the 2007 platform will be even better.

    Go Elizabeth Go!

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