Elizabeth May officially left her post as the leader of the federal Green party Monday after 13 years in the role.
May, 65, said she made a promise to her daughter that the 2019 campaign would be her last as leader. The timing of her departure was also dictated by the fact that last month’s election delivered a minority Liberal government so the next campaign could theoretically come at any time, she said.
“It’s what’s best for the party and it’s what’s best for me personally,” May said.
With all parties recovering financially from the 2019 campaign and many regrouping after losses and disappointments, it is expected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be able to keep his minority humming along at least for a year or two.
A Green leadership convention is scheduled for the first week of October 2020, in Prince Edward Island, said May. In the meantime, deputy leader Jo-Ann Roberts will take over as interim party leader and oversee the selection process for May’s permanent replacement.
May had said she wouldn’t be the Green leader during the next campaign but, until Monday, hadn’t given a date for her departure. Her announcement came four days after some party members started a petition calling for an immediate leadership race to prepare for the next campaign. The Green party also had a national council meeting in Ottawa over the weekend, which is where she said the discussions about her departure and the next steps took place.
Alex Tyrrell, the provincial Green leader in Quebec, started the petition and said while May did some great things for the party it is time for a refresh. He also blamed May for making decisions in the recent campaign that prevented the party from capitalizing on momentum achieved at the provincial level.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” said Tyrrell, who said he is considering mounting a leadership bid.
Winning three seats was an improvement but far shy of the 12 needed for official party status. The Greens also have very little influence in a minority government where their three seats are not enough on their own to prop up the Liberals.
Tyrrell said May’s unclear positions on abortion and Quebec’s secularism law known as Bill 21, as well as her position to invest in refining more oil from Alberta to replace foreign oil imports in East Coast refineries, cost the party votes.
“A lot of people had really high hopes for this election,” he said. “It’s time for a more radical platform.”
May was cheerful and cracking jokes as she announced the end of her leadership Monday but several times her words suggested she was well aware of the voices looking for her to take her leave.
“I want to choose my own time of going,” she said.
Roberts, a former CBC radio host who ran unsuccessfully for the Greens in Halifax this fall, said she is taking on the role of interim leader reluctantly.
“This is not a replacement for Elizabeth May,” said Roberts. “I don’t think anybody would be up for that job.”
May was elected leader in 2006, and since then became the first Green leader in a national debate and the first Green MP elected (she won her Saanich-Gulf Islands seat in British Columbia in 2011, 2015 and again in 2019). In October the Greens elected three MPs and earned 1.1 million votes, almost twice as many as in 2015.
Roberts’ focus will be on overseeing the leadership selection process. May will remain the party’s parliamentary leader in the House of Commons, since Roberts has no seat there, and when Trudeau meets with all opposition leaders individually next week, it will be May, not Roberts, who attends. May also will fly to Spain for the next United Nations climate meeting in December.
Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh all issued kind words Monday to May on Twitter. Ontario Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said May was a “friend, mentor and hero.”
“Elizabeth’s legacy is indisputable, and for the last decade she has been the heart and soul of the Green movement in Canada,” Schreiner said.
So far no other Greens have stepped forward to show interest in the leadership job. Neither Fredericton’s Jenica Atwin, nor Vancouver Island’s Paul Manly, the other two Green MPs, put up their hands when asked about the job Monday. As interim leader Roberts is ineligible to run.
Story by Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press