We Fight On


Column / Elizabeth May


It is hard to have any perspective, writing this less than a week after election day 2019.

Some things are clear. The campaign itself was dispiriting. As many commentators have noted, it was a dirty campaign. Scheer lied about Trudeau, Liberals demonized Conservatives. The award for the most dishonest, well-funded campaign goes to the NDP for the carpet bombing of Vancouver Island with attack ads against the Green Party and me personally. Even my own riding was targeted. That is how Greens lost 2-3 expected seats. In the event, we were lucky to hang on to two seats on the island.   

At the national level, far too much time and newspaper ink was wasted on a barrage of tempests in a series of teapots. Was Scheer a dual-citizen? How often did Trudeau dress up in black-face? And my own personal nightmare – being photoshopped. 

It was hard to find the substance. There were not enough leaders’ debates. The strange format of the Leaders Debate Commission events deprived leaders of an opening or closing statement. The effect was of a very scattered affair, with too many moderators and too little substance. Only one debate took place in English with the Prime Minister participating, and two in French, but with TVA excluding Greens with the collusion of the other three main parties. A ballot issue did not emerge.  

I called this election a referendum on climate. And it may have been. Certainly, we had more references to the climate emergency in the news and in interviews than ever before. The election coincided with the global climate strike, called for September 20-27 to frame the September 23rd United Nations Climate Change Summit. The size of the marches within Canada was unprecedented. Nearly one million Canadians participated on Friday, September 27th.

But it only left the generalized impression that, like Pride parades, Liberals, NDP and Greens marched and the Conservatives stayed away. For the most part, the national media don’t understand the issue well enough to explain, or compare and contrast party platforms. Reporters sort of understand carbon taxes, but, again, for the most part, do not understand that the science has given us hard and non-negotiable constraints that we are not permitted to exceed. The “targets” of all the other parties exceed those constraints. They would not keep global warming under control. Failing to understand the science, the media fail almost completely to explain the urgency, or to frame the political choices. They tell us it’s the Conservatives who are offside on climate — the Liberals, NDP and Greens together are the good guys. But in fact, the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP all fail, they just fail at different rates.  

It is urgent that we change course and exit the fossil fuel economy as quickly as possible. To do so, we need only to face down a hugely profitable and powerful industry. But to fail to do so, in Canada and globally, means the vastly ugly degradation of human civilization within the lifetimes of our grandchildren, and perhaps an end to the whole human project in a few more generations. With stakes so high, it is deeply disturbing that those facts lay buried in sloppy election rhetoric.

There should have been no room for strategic voting, in that only the Green platform and Mission: Possible gave us a fighting chance of doing our part in avoiding global climate catastrophe. There was only one vote for climate and it was Green. But the Liberals were able to play their usual card: vote Liberal to avoid the Conservatives.

Choppy waters lie ahead. My bet is that Justin Trudeau will be able to play one of the other parties against another to stay in power for at least a two-year term, choosing a moment of his advantage to go back to the polls. It may not be too late in 2021 to make the massive changes required to preserve a livable world. It will certainly be too late by 2023. 

The numbers of seats held by Liberals and Conservatives leave very little bargaining room for the Bloc and the NDP. Just as Stephen Harper was able to do between 2006 and 2011, Liberals are likely to find a party to avoid an election none of them want. 

In my letter to all the other party leaders, I proposed areas of shared concern — at least among the Liberals, NDP and Greens. We should be able to make progress on pharmacare, as well as on reconciliation and UNDRIP. If the Liberals are willing to collaborate where collaboration makes a difference, Greens are ready to assist.  

I am grateful to the voters for over one million votes for the Greens and for Paul Manly (Nanaimo-Ladysmith) and Jenica Atwin (Fredericton) — both of whom will be superb MPs. We are the largest Green Caucus ever elected at the national level in a country using first-past-the-post.  I am also looking forward to working with Jody Wilson-Raybould.  

We four have our integrity intact. We will be creative, watchful and ready for any moment when we can make a difference to advance progress. We fight on.

Elizabeth May is the former leader of the Green Party of Canada.