A group of people listening

Elizabeth May comes to Campbell River: Why Greens matter

Green Party leader Elizabeth May flew in from Ottawa on Saturday, May 6. She was the feature speaker at the North Island – Powell River Electoral District Association (EDA) AGM at the Maritime Heritage Centre in Campbell River. Around 60 people from Campbell River, Comox, Powell River, Port McNeil, Quadra Island and Cortes Island were in attendance.  

This is an edited transcript of her speech, and a couple of excerpts from the subsequent remarks made by local Green Party candidate Jessica Wegg.

Image credit: Jessica Wegg and Elizabeth May – from Green Party press release

Elizabeth May: What a day of firsts, because of COVID this is the first in-person AGM of any EDA I’ve been to. Everything has been, ‘Have you heard of Zoom?’ (Laughter) Oh man, oh man, COVID has been horrible for many of my friends, but I think we have societal long COVID. (Laughter)   it’s very, very hard for all of us to resume life, the way it used to be like.

Pender Island is in my riding. They always had a strong volunteer base to pull together the Fall Fair. Now, well what happened? Well,  bunches of people saw, ‘I’d rather live on Pender than downtown Vancouver, but don’t ask me to volunteer. I just got here to get away from all that kind of stuff.’ The society is in a flux situation. 

So first for a long time, to see people face to face in an AGM and I’m so thrilled to see the turnout here today. Thank you so much. And as you probably also know, North Island- Powell River is the first EDA to officially nominate the candidate for the next general election.

Jessica Wegg, stand up Jessica. (Applause)

This is not the first time I’ve met Jessica, because we campaigned together in 2021. It was such a fun election. I just looked at the old picture of us together. I have a cane because I’ve just had knee surgery. I look like  I’m on my last legs; Everybody’s wearing masks. I don’t think Justin Trudeau even considered my health when he called that election. I don’t think he gave one single solitary thought to it. (Laughter) But anyway, the less said the better. 

I also wanted to make sure I introduced some people who are new to North Island-Powell River, to everybody. Now, I think you all know Rainbow Eyes and Glen. Rainbow Eyes is just to love. I want you to know that she and her partner Glen are now in Campbell River and the role that Rainbow Eyes plays in the National Party is really important. 

We have created an Indigenous People’s Advisory Circle, and that is a really important part of how the Federal Party does its work. We’ve changed the constitution to include three Indigenous members, but they’ll be added one at a time. So the first seat will be failed by person representing First Nations, then by Metis, and then Inuit.  

I was really thrilled to know the three representatives of candidates –  Inuit, First Nations, and Metis – as well as our Governor General Mary Simon, are meeting with the King before his coronation. It’s a reconciliation piece. It may be controversial to think, but the Crown matters in Indigenous/ Crown relations often much more than the elected people. anyway, Rainbow Eyes is a key part of the party that I’m back with and so happy. 

I also want to recognize Deraek. He said, ‘I’m your BC rep.’ I just wanted to make sure that sunk in. There is a representative from each province on the federal council. The members have the highest level of authority within the party. The leader has none, just to be clear, and that is good. The membership gathered together is your highest level of authority and in between meetings with members, it’s your federal council. I’m so {pleased} Deraek Menard is doing an amazing job on behalf of British Columbia Greens on the Federal Council. 

I want to introduce a friend of mine who’s here and also new to North Island- Powell River,but a former member of the Federal Council. Susan Stratton is an  amazing Green, amazing organizer and an amazing person, as is her husband Bernie Amell, who have just officially cut their ties with Calgary and live on Quadra.  When I was running for leader in 2006 and finding an organizer for a province, I cold called Susan because everyone said, ‘Oh if you get Susan Stratton, if you talk her into it.” So that was how we know each other, I talked her into it. (Laughter)

Anyway, we’ve gotten a tremendous amount of volunteer strength and capacity in North Island, Powell River.  I couldn’t be more pleased because  we don’t know when the election will happen. It could be any time because there’s a minority parliament. I tend to think we’ve got time to organize, but being ready …

Now, Deraek can tell you this. One of the things that happened on Paul Manley‘s campaign (in Nanaimo) in 2019, was that we still had the lawn signs from 2015. So when the bi-election happened, your team there had already gone into Paul’s father’s shed, pulled out all the old signs, got them ready to roll and nothing communicates, ‘Yes, we are organized and we’ve got ground strength,’ like being the first party to have lawn signs all over the place.  A lot of Greens say, ‘Oh, it’s a terrible idea.’ All of those signs, we recycle them  over and over again. Some of my lawn signs for Saanich Gulf Islands really do need a little freshening up, but we’re not going to, we just  paint around where we need to paint. 

Being organized early really matters, but why does the Green Party matter?  That’s what I wanted to talk about.

I’m now Leader but with a partner: Jonathan Pedneault. He’s an extraordinary young man and we are working towards getting to the next convention where resolutions around our constitution will be brought forward.  There will be a resolution to suggest that the Green Party of Canada,  should move in the direction of Greens around the world, in showing distributed leadership. 

I mentioned earlier, the leader is not the boss. A lot of people don’t get that because in all the other parties, the leaders are dictators. The issuer of punishments, that’s how it goes;  the issuer of perks and benefits and punishments. Nobody questions what the leader decides because that’s how the other parties are organized.

Greens all around the world share the same values.

A hundred countries have Green parties. Of those, about 40 have elected Greens in parliament that makes 400 Green members of parliament in countries around the world.

Right now, of those countries where we have Greens in Parliament – 11 countries have Greens in government, sitting on the federal, the national cabinets of countries around the world. For example, one of my favorite friends is the Climate Minister for New Zealand, James Shaw. He is Co-leader of the New Zealand Greens and his other Co-leader, whom I don’t know as well, Marama Davidson, is Maori.

If you look to Germany, you can’t help feel sad for my Green friends who had normal lives,  except they’re Co-leaders of the German Greens and running in an election that ended right before the Glasgow negotiations in 2021. Those Glasgow negotiations of the  COP 26 had been postponed for so long by COVID, we really could have used the German government to be present in those negotiations. They were in the background negotiating the coalition that’s now the Scholz government, where Annalena Baerbock, whom I know from going to COPs, was the Co-leader of the German Green. She’s now their Minister of Foreign Affairs. Robert Habeck, the other Co-leader of the German Greens is now the Minister for Energy and Climate. 

I don’t think they’d even been able to enjoy setting up their offices before Putin attacked Ukraine. Other than being Chancellor, you couldn’t find more of a pressure cooker than being Minister of Foreign Affairs or Minister of Energy and Climate in Germany

We have Co-leaders in government in Scotland. 

I could go through the list and why it makes a difference. You really see it when you’re in a global climate negotiation. What countries make a difference? The countries with Greens in government make a huge difference. More countries that are there negotiating, and you’ve got the push that comes from the EU where there are so many Greens in the European Parliament.

Then there’s the minister of a tiny little country.  Carole Dieschbourg is the Minister for Climate from Luxembourg. You see her everywhere, bending everybody’s ear, talking to everybody, moving things forward. 

I wish we could find a better way to communicate to Canadian Greens, and British Columbia Greens. The difference it makes to see our Green values, which are always the same six core Green values, apply all around the world. 

Right after Glasgow, they broke up the coalition, but the Swedish Climate Minister at that point was also the Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden. Greens in Iceland, Greens in Finland, England, Greens in Belgium make a huge difference in these global negotiations.  When I’m working with them, I just feel so inspired.  (Caroline Lucas) the (former leader of the) Green Party of England and Wales is probably my best friend in the global Green movement, although it’s pretty hard to pick one. They’re brilliant and wonderful people and we are like family.

In every one of these COPs, these climate negotiations, we have a midpoint of the negotiations called the Green Family Breakfast. We organized a Green Family Breakfast for COP 15 on Biodiversity in Montreal. Green Family Breakfasts are only for elective Greens from all around the world, and it’s a working breakfast. It’s all about how the negotiations are going? What are the risks? Who do we have to move? Where are the opportunities? And we strategize and they know what’s going on with their governments. They’re in them, or they’re in the opposition parties, but they used to be in government themselves.  It’s an incredibly important role that Greens play around the world.

We play that same rule in provincial legislatures, like Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen do. I hope everybody here is also a member of the Green Party of British Columbia and ready to help them out when they ask for help.

The NDP chose to make themselves one big party. Bruce Hyer who’d been in a Democratic party MP before becoming an Independent then joining me in Parliament used to say,’ I don’t know: they’re not new,  they sure aren’t democratic (Laughter) and it isn’t any party.’  (Laughter) When you have to stand up and vote the way you’re told to vote, and if you don’t, you’re punished. That’s why Bruce became an Independent. 

He was just so damn sick of being told what to do. The people who lived in Thunder Bay- Superior North elected Bruce Hyer as their MP. He did what he understood they wanted him to do, which was not support the Long Gun Registry. I support the Long Gun Registry, but anyway Bruce had reasons because that’s what his constituents wanted – including a lot of First Nations people in his riding.  He went to Jack Layton and said, ‘I need to make sure I don’t get punished by voting against the Long Gun Registry.’ Jack said, ‘fine.’ 

Of course after Jack’s death, Tom Mulcair decided to start punish him. Well it was before Tom, it was the interim leader that started punishing Bruce. No trips were approved for Bruce Hyer  except between Ottawa and Thunder Bay. He wasn’t allowed to speak in Parliament. He wasn’t allowed to sit on any committees, and at one point he finally thought, Okay, that’s it.” 

He went to Tom Mulcair and said, ‘How long do you plan to punish me?’ It’s been a year and a half and I don’t feel I can do my work for my constituents where I can’t raise any issues in parliament.’ 

 Tom said, ‘well, not sure how long we’ll punish you.’ 

And Bruce said, ‘well, I can tell you I’m at my limit. If this doesn’t …’ 

Mulcair said, ‘What you going to do?’ 

Bruce said, ‘I can leave the NDP and sit as an Independent.’

I don’t know if Tom ever regretted these words, he said, ‘You don’t have the guts.’ 

The next day Bruce Hyer sat as an Independent and I was so happy because they put ’em right next to me.  (Laughter)

Anyway, I’m not picking on one party in particular, but democracy and Canada suffers through  the concentration of power in the hands of political party operatives and leaders on their own. That’s why it’s so important that we have the values we have. 

I mentioned Caroline Lucas because she’s my role model on this. When she got elected in 2010, she was the first Green Party candidate elected at the national level in any ‘first past the post’ country. 

It’s only British Empire commonwealth countries that ever got stuck with ‘first past the post.’ I said once that we’re still in Queen Victoria’s hand me downs and they never fit. (Laughter) So that’s why we have a really perverse bad voting system.

 Of the Commonwealth countries, only New Zealand has ditched ‘first past the post’ for mixed member proportional, which is why James Shaw and Marama are in the cabinet of New Zealand. 

Okay, so back to,  looking at this question  of the horrors that first passed the post. Caroline Lucas winning in Brighton Pavilion in 2010 gave us a lot  of good ideas and momentum for Saanich Gulf Islands in 2011. Caroline, when she got elected in Brighton Pavilion, was leader of the Green Party of England and Wales. And when I got elected in 2011 in Saanich Gulf-Islands, I was leader of the Green Party of Canada. 

Caroline decided she couldn’t do a good job doing both because – I do love her, but  it was hard to keep a straight face when she said, ‘The country’s so big, I’d spend all my time on trains. I’d never be able to do a good job as an MP if I had to travel all of England and Wales all the time.’ (Laughter)

 She’s so brilliant. If you don’t know Caroinel Lucas, just Google anything about ‘Caroline Lucas, the Guardian.’ Even though there are, believe it or not, 650 members of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster in England, Caroline’s a standout, right? Just a standout for sheer hard work.

Anyway, Caroline, stepped down as leader because of the challenges of the great vastness, (Laughter) but then her successor didn’t do terribly well in the elections, and so she came back. You can see the parallels here. And I was emailing Caroline,  ‘I really didn’t think I’d ever want to do this, and I’m not sure I want to do it, but the IPCC report has me scared out of my mind.’

I’m going to do something crazy if I don’t channel my energy in a place where I think I can make a difference. And being former leader of the Green Party of Canada, even as a sitting member of parliament, I’m not making an impact here. I feel at any minute now I’m just going to lose it and be like that scene in ‘Don’t Look Up‘ where the Jennifer Lawrence character goes screaming from the room. I can almost see myself doing it. You say, oh, that’s not going to happen. I’m not doing that. I could see it happening, (Some laughter) so, all right,  I emailed Caroline. 

She said, ‘I really strongly recommend that if you think about coming back, think about Co-leadership, find someone unknown, much younger, who represents a different kind of life story than yours.’ She said, ‘that’s what I did with Jonathan Bartley and it worked perfectly. We changed our constitution. And then the next time we had a leadership race, it was a leadership race between pairs.’  

She said it was just such a different feeling and it makes it really clear to people that there isn’t one person running everything. There is a little feminist overlay to this, which I’ll add, says if that one person is a woman, it’s very easy for people to assume the ‘B’ word, being in total control of herself, but with a different acronym. (Laughter) Did you know that one? That’s the acronym. Not talking too long about this,  but it was Caroline who gave me the idea. 

Then it was like a miracle – I was saying  I don’t know anyone who quite fits what Caroline’s described for me, because it’d have to be someone that I would trust and feel good about taking the Green Party forward. We’d work together as Co-leaders for, I don’t know, one or two elections, who knows?  Then once the Co-leader who’s lesser known becomes really well known, then we can swaparoo and the next younger person can come in and sidle-up. So with Jonathan Pedneault: when we started talking,  I could barely control myself. I had to stay calm because he didn’t know me very well. He was coming to me for advice because he was thinking of running for Leader of the Green Party.  He’s a brilliant communicator, but he has also got a life story that  is amazingly brave.

People talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Jonathan puts his life on the line a lot. He’s been working overseas in conflict zones. His first time was working on a film documentary and he was 17. His mother had to sign a waiver to Radio Canada to say if he was killed while making a film in Darfur, the family wouldn’t sue. He is courage and integrity down to his toes, and there’s a long way from his head to his toes. (Laughter)

Anyway, I just wanted you to get  a sense of why the Co-leadership model is going to make a difference, why the Green Party makes a difference.

If we didn’t have the Green Party of Canada, if we didn’t have Green MPs, there would not be a single member of Parliament in that place who could tell the truth about climate, not one. There’s some who understand it. I can say that in every party, including Conservatives, there are individual members of parliament who understand the peril we’re in and understand what must be done, but they really can’t say it.

NDPers can’t say that they can’t shut down the Trans Mountain Pipeline because that would upset Rachel Notley. NDPers can’t say we ought to ban fracking because that would’ve upset John Horgan and now David Eby. We have to stop logging old growth forests, not going to hear that.  There are individual members who know that.

So I know this phrase has always been speaking truth to power. That’s what we do and that’s why our voices are noticed. 

My colleague in Parliament – I can’t leave here without telling you how spectacular Mike Morris is and how hard he works.  He’s our first ever federally elected Green in Ontario, and he works extremely hard.

We split up our issues a bit. He  took over from where Paul Manley was working on a lot of the housing issues, fairness issues, and equity issues.  Right now I think Mike’s motion, which was based on Paul’s motion to get rid of real estate investment trusts: Fingers crossed I think we’re going to win that one. We’ve got the Finance Minister looking at it seriously. Another part of our secret sauce is being willing to work across party lines with absolutely anybody who agrees with an issue on principle.   Mike solicited co-signers to his motion from a lot of the other parties. We got a lot of Liberals, that starts communicating things.

In the break, you were talking about the Liberals at their convention, voting for having a Citizen’s Assembly. Mike brought forward the motion in concert with Fair Hope Canada. Motion 76 is Mike’s motion, that we should have a citizen’s assembly to move towards electoral reform. The fact the Liberal convention just passed it and the individual Liberal members like it a lot. 

There’s one Liberal member that is not very persuadable and he’s the Prime Minister. (Laughter) In a top down party where everything is controlled by the back rooms, I want to believe we can get that out of Liberals.

But there’s only one way. It is when the Greens in Canada hold what Adam Olsen always called the balance of responsibility. Adam would never call it the balance of power. When we hold the balance of responsibility, we will not do a deal to benefit ourselves somewhere that doesn’t include climate action and getting rid of first past the post. No deals without bottom lines being met. 

That’s why it’s so critical that we start talking to neighbors and friends. Get them to open their minds to the idea that they’re going to vote Green in the next election and they’re going to feel really good about it.

As organizers (we need to realize) where the real votes that elect Greens are coming from. Certainly in my case in Saanich Gulf Islands, when I was elected on May 2nd, 2011, so it is this week, 12 years ago. The guy I beat was a sitting member of Stephen Harper’s cabinet. Lots of power, oodles of goodies to direct to the riding. I still brought more money into the riding than Gary Lun ever did, but that another thing. Beating Gary Lun was based on going after one group of votes, as we could find who said, ‘I’m just so disgusted, I don’t vote anymore.’ That’s our base. 

We’re not ‘stealing’ somebody else’s votes. We’re giving people who have been so let down by lies like ‘2015 will be the last election under first past the post.’ (Laughter & some applause) Or lies like citing Canada’s track record as a climate leader. Really, and we’re building the Trans Mountain pipeline with $30 billion of public money. Lies like we’re serious about reconciliation, but Indigenous women and girls continue to go missing. And don’t get me going on the RCMP. I couldn’t believe how good a Globe and Mail editorial was, but the Globe and Mail editorial on the mass casualty report on Portapique literally said the National Police Service must be torn down to its foundations and then the foundations must be dynamited. It’s time to get rid of the Community Industry Resource Group (C-IRG), the paramilitary. (Applause)

All the things that we could do as Greens are because we’ll never put some chance of power above principle, and we will not ever give up on our children because it’s hard to say we’re canceling a pipeline. We will be the ones who speak truth to power. And with enough of us in Parliament, we can make things change at a very fundamental level while we still have time.

And that’s why I’m very happy to introduce to you your next member of Parliament. I like saying it. Jessica Wegg, come on up.

 I just wanted to make sure everybody knows Jessica’s background is really impressive if you’re looking at it as a CV. Do you all know her a CV, that she’s a human rights lawyer – a champion on indigenous reconciliation issues? She’s living here, two kids? 

Jessica Wegg: Two kids.

Elizabeth May: Two kids and a husband – that’s like another kid. (Laughter) I say these things and get in so much trouble. (Laughter) When Mark said I was a good listener (earlier in the meeting), my husband is sitting in the back – and he really wanted to heckle. (Laughter) 

Have you all met my husband? I have a husband now, John Kidder. We got married on Earth Day four years ago and we’re still together. (Laughter) But he did say, right before we got married he said, ‘Well, honey, marrying you, that’s, that’s gonna be great. I’ll never have to speak again.’ (Laughter) He’s so funny. No, actually, he’s excellent. Anyway, Jessica is a fantastic candidate.

Jessica Wegg: So no pressure talking after Elizabeth (Laughter), but I’d like to start by thanking the EDA executive who went to such lengths and worked so hard to put this AGM together and to make sure that they contacted Elizabeth straightaway: Mark de Bruijn, LarryMcCumsey, Susan Short, Carol Thatcher, Linda Ash, Jay Oostdam, everybody. They have been meeting a lot extra to make sure this went off without a hitch. (Applause) Thank you so much. 

I won’t say much,  but I would like to say I want the theme going forward to be is working together and that is the only way that we are going to be able to accomplish anything. I’m so happy to see so many people that I know here and so many familiar faces. I’m even happier to see people I don’t know here and that I don’t recognize and who are not members, or who are not members, yet who came out on a Saturday morning/afternoon to see what we were about. I really appreciate that you did that and that you’re here and we want to hear from you. You don’t have to be a member to have your voice heard. We want to know what you are worried about? What are your concerns? What are you wanting to see from the people you elect?

 Like Elizabeth said, the Green Party is run from its membership and  the parliamentarians work for their constituency. They don’t work for a boss in a fancy office. Thank you for showing up and for participating in this part of your government. It’s really important.

I had a very ambiguous assignment. It said you might have to talk for a long time in case Elizabeth’s ferry gets delayed (Laughter), you might only have a few minutes.  I also had a very nebulous idea about what I wanted to talk about, but the theme was ‘Together.’ 

I was in the United States over Spring Break with my kids to visit grandparents.  I made a point of listening to the conservative talk radio, to hear what was being said, and I can tell you that there was one storyline. There were no other voices, no other opinions being heard, and it made those radio shows sound very convincing. When you only hear one side of the story, it’s so easy to buy.  You don’t have to use your brain at all to think about what’s going on.

 For a lot of people,  they lack the resources or the people to ask about any other thing that’s going on. So they hear what they’re told  and they buy into it. That’s why it’s so important that if you have somebody that you generally just ignore what they’re saying, because it’s not what you believe in – you need to listen to them, if only to educate yourself about other opinions and to be able to talk to them about it. 

We can’t get through the climate emergency that we’re in by just having little groups of Greens show up and be active together. We need to bring other people on board. We can only accomplish our goals if we reach out to other people who we disagree with, and we show them that we care about what they have to say. Their concerns are just as valid as ours. We all want to see a bigger brighter future. We want to know that our kids have a secure, safe planet to live on and they’re going to have jobs and they’re going to be able to afford homes. We all want these things. 

… Just show up and work together, that’s all it takes.

Top image credit: Some of the people at the AGM – Photo by Roy L Hales

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