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How Elizabeth May could change the face of Canadian politics

Photo by Mico Mazza

With no end in sight to the federal government’s efforts to reshape the political landscape, most recently through the Fair Elections Act, many are sceptical that anything can be done to end its assault on democracy. Lucky for us, Green Party leader Elizabeth May is not.

Whether the Conservatives acknowledge it or not, May represents a threat to their way of doing business. In fact, she could be Canada’s best shot at achieving real democratic reform, even despite her relative insignificance in the House of Commons.

May, who is an environmentalist and lawyer, has become one of the biggest critics of what she calls the “dangerous trends” in Canadian parliamentary democracy. At the 2014 Mallory Lecture at McGill University on March 24, May’s lecture addressed what can be done to prevent the rise of “elected dictatorships.”

Her concerns include the current concentration of power in the hands of the prime minister and the prime minister’s office, the muzzling of scientists and “decision-based evidence making,” and the legislative disenfranchisement of voters through bills like the Fair Elections Act.

Simply put, May believes parliamentarians should be able to think for themselves, to weigh in on debates, and to propose and pass amendments to legislation.

The reason she poses a threat to the Conservatives is that there is little they can do to silence or discredit her. If attempted, their regular bullying tactics would be, for the first time, largely ineffective.

As the only elected Green Party member currently in the House, May is mostly on the outside looking in. In the dance that is federal politics, she is spared the burden of dancing through hoops to appease the majority of the electorate. This not only affords her the freedom to say what needs to be said, but also gives her a certain immunity to petty politics.

It would be incredibly difficult for the Conservatives to dismiss her views and charge her with embarking on a smear campaign in order to win the next federal election. If she were power hungry, she would join a different party.

But May places principle over personal gain. During her Mallory Lecture, she encouraged Canadians to mobilize in support of Conservative MP Michael Chong’s bill to reduce the power of party leaders. Her words seemed at odds with the partisan attitudes we have come to expect from our politicians. Such an unbiased approach is hard to criticize, even in the most creative of Conservative attack ads.

Finally, if anything, May is proof of how well things work when MPs have the freedom to fulfil their duties. It is no coincidence that May was voted Parliamentarian of the Year in 2012 by her fellow MPs, that she was named the hardest working MP by the Hill Times in 2013, and that her constituency of Saanich-Gulf Islands had the highest voter turnout of the country in 2011, at 75 per cent.

May is outspoken, dedicated to her constituents, and resolved to restore true democracy in Canada. She could just prove to be the most effective counterweight to the Conservative machine.