Elizabeth Evans May OC MP (born June 9, 1954) is an American-born Canadian politician. May is leader of the Green Party of Canada and Member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands. An environmentalist, author, activist, and lawyer, May served as the Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada from 1989 to 2006.
Elizabeth May, July 2014
|Member of the Canadian Parliament|
for Saanich—Gulf Islands
|Assumed office |
May 2, 2011
|Preceded by||Gary Lunn|
|Leader of the Green Party|
|Assumed office |
August 26, 2006
|Preceded by||Jim Harris|
Elizabeth Evans May
June 9, 1954
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
|Political party||Green Party of Canada|
|Residence||Sidney, British Columbia, Canada|
|Alma mater||Dalhousie University (1983)|
|Occupation||Politician, lawyer, writer|
While May's family home is in Margaree Harbour, Cape Breton Island she moved her permanent residence to Sidney, British Columbia, in 2010. On May 2, 2011, she became the first member of the Green Party of Canada to be elected as a Member of Parliament.[a]
In the Federal election on October 19, 2015, Elizabeth May was re-elected in the riding of Saanich–Gulf Islands, being the only Green Party member to win a seat. Prior to this election, May had been invited to participate in two of the leaders' debates: one hosted by Maclean's magazine on August 6, 2015, and the first French language debate hosted by Radio-Canada on September 24, 2015. However, May was excluded from the other two debates. After being advised of the exclusion from the September 28, 2015 Munk Debate on Canada’s Foreign Policy, May took her message to social media where she criticized the Harper government on Twitter.
May is an Earth Charter International Commission member.
Early life and family
May was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Stephanie (Middleton), a sculptor, pianist, and writer, and John Middleton May, an accountant. Her father was born in New York and raised in England, and her mother was also a native New Yorker. She has a younger brother named Geoffrey. Her mother was a prominent anti-nuclear activist and her father was Assistant Vice President of Aetna Life and Casualty.
The family moved to Margaree Harbour, Nova Scotia in 1972, following a summer vacation spent on Cape Breton Island. On moving to the province, the May family purchased a landlocked schooner, the Marion Elizabeth which had been used as a gift shop and restaurant since the mid 1950s. They operated this establishment from 1974 until 2002.
May briefly enrolled at St. Francis Xavier University in 1974, but dropped out. Returning to Margaree, May took correspondence courses in restaurant management. Beginning in 1980, she attended Dalhousie Law School as a mature student, graduating in 1983.
Following law school at Dalhousie University, May worked as an associate at small law firm in Halifax. In 1985 she moved to Ottawa to work with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. During this time May helped found the Canadian Environmental Defence Fund with the aim of funding groups and individuals in environmental cases.
May studied theology at Saint Paul University (affiliated college of University of Ottawa) and describes herself as a practising Anglican. She indicated that her life goals include "…in the long term, in becoming ordained as an Anglican priest."
May has a long record as a committed advocate for social justice, for the environment, for human rights, and for economic pragmatic solutions. She is an environmentalist, writer, activist and lawyer who has been active in the environmental movement since 1970.
She first became known in the Canadian media in the mid-1970s through her leadership as a volunteer in the grassroots movement against proposed aerial insecticide spraying on forests near her home on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The effort prevented aerial insecticide spraying from ever occurring in Nova Scotia. Years later, she and a local group of residents went to court to prevent herbicide spraying. Winning a temporary injunction in 1982 held off the spray programme, but after two years, the case was eventually lost. In the course of the litigation, her family sacrificed their home and seventy acres of land in an adverse court ruling to Scott Paper. However, by the time the judge ruled the chemicals were safe, 2,4,5-T's export from the U.S. had been banned. The forests of Nova Scotia were spared from being the last areas in Canada to be sprayed with Agent Orange.
According to The Globe and Mail May, similar to other politicians has had interests in other parties,
She once took out a membership in the NDP and admits to joining the Liberal Party briefly to support a friend in a nomination meeting.— Jane Taber, The Globe and Mail
Her volunteer work also included successful campaigns to prevent approval of uranium mining in Nova Scotia, and extensive work on energy policy issues, primarily opposing nuclear energy.
She has held the position of Associate General Counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, representing consumer, poverty and environment groups from 1985–86. She has worked extensively with indigenous peoples internationally, particularly in the Amazon, as well as with Canadian First Nations. She was the first volunteer Executive Director of Cultural Survival Canada from 1989–1992 and worked for the Algonquin of Barriere Lake from 1991–1992.
In 1986, May became Senior Policy Advisor to then federal Environment Minister, Thomas McMillan of the Progressive Conservatives. She was instrumental in the creation of several national parks, including South Moresby. She was involved in negotiating the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer, new legislation and pollution control measures. In 1988, she resigned on principle when the Minister granted permits for the Rafferty-Alameda Dams in Saskatchewan because of no environmental assessment. The permits were later quashed by a Federal Court decision that the permits were granted illegally.
She has taught courses at Queen's University School of Policy Studies, as well as teaching for a year at Dalhousie University to develop the programme established in her name in Women's Health and Environment. She holds three honorary doctorates from Mount Saint Vincent University, Mount Allison, and the University of New Brunswick.
May is the author of eight books:
- Budworm Battles (1982)
- Paradise Won: The Struggle to Save South Moresby (1990)
- Frederick Street; Life and Death on Canada's Love Canal (co-authored with Maude Barlow, Harper Collins, 2000)
- At the Cutting Edge: The Crisis in Canada's Forests (Key Porter Books, 1998, as well as a major new edition in 2004)
- How to Save the World in Your Spare Time (Key Porter Books, 2006)
- Global Warming for Dummies (co-authored with Zoe Caron, John Wiley and Sons, 2008)
- Losing Confidence: Power, Politics and the Crisis in Canadian Democracy (MacLelland and Stewart, 2009)
- Who We Are: Reflections on My Life and Canada (Greystone, 2014)
Frederick Street focused on the Sydney Tar Ponds, and the health threats to children in the community – the issue that led her to go on a seventeen-day hunger strike in May 2001 in front of Parliament Hill.
In June 2006, May stepped down as Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, a post she had held since 1989, to run for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada. Upon leaving the Sierra Club, Board President Louise Comeau noted, "Elizabeth has led the Club at the national level from its infancy to the enormously effective entity it is today, she was also instrumental in supporting development of the Sierra Youth Coalition, the Atlantic Canada Chapter and other Sierra Club chapters and local grassroots groups." She was successful in her bid for Green Party leadership, and was elected the party's ninth leader at their national convention in August 2006.
In 2005, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in November 2010, Newsweek magazine named her "one of the world's most influential women". In the 2011 Election, May made history by being the first Green Party candidate to be elected to the House of Commons. She now represents the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands.
Sierra Club of Canada Executive Director
During her tenure with the Sierra Club of Canada, May received several awards in recognition of her environmental leadership, including: the International Conservation Award from the Friends of Nature, the United Nations Global 500 Award in 1990, the award for Outstanding Leadership in Environmental Education by the Ontario Society for Environmental Education in 1996, and in November 2005 was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of her "decades of leadership in the Canadian environmental movement".
May resigned as the Sierra Club's executive director in April 2006 in order to seek the Green Party of Canada Leadership. As one of her last major acts she participated in a poll of experts that determined that Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney was Canada's "greenest" Prime Minister for an award presented by Corporate Knights magazine. For her prominent role in this initiative, May took some criticism from commentators and environmentalists. In the 1980s May worked as a Senior Policy Advisor to then Federal Environment Minister Tom McMillan, under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Upon leaving the Sierra Club, Board President Louise Comeau noted, "Elizabeth has led the Club at the national level from its infancy to the enormously effective entity it is today."
Bill C-442 – Federal Framework on Lyme Disease Act
In 2012, May tabled a Private member's bill, Bill C-442, with the aim of creating a national framework to address Lyme disease. On December 16, 2014, Bill C-442 received Royal Assent, becoming law. Bill C-442 was the first piece of Green Party legislation enacted in the history of Canada, and was passed with unanimous consent by both houses of Parliament.
The bill was introduced by May in response to the rise of lyme disease across Canada, and in recognition of the findings by groups including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who have noted that as a result of climate change Lyme disease is beginning to spread more quickly, as the number of ticks –who serve as vectors for Lyme disease– steadily increases.
Opposition to Bill C-51
May was the first MP to take a stand against Bill C-51, on February 3, 2015 Toronto Star National Affairs columnist Thomas Walkom noted that, "So far, the only opposition MP with enough guts to critique the content of the Conservative government's new anti-terror bill is Green Party Leader Elizabeth May."
May and fellow Green MP Bruce Hyer tabled sixty amendments during clause-by-clause considerations of Bill C-51 – all sixty amendments were rejected by the government. May later stated of Bill C-51, "It's not fixable. Stop it. Repeal it."
Amendments to Bill C-46
The first amendment enabled "aboriginal governing bodies to be reimbursed for actions they take in relation to a spill". Prior to the amendment, the bill outlined that those at fault in a spill would only be liable for "costs and expenses reasonably incurred by Her Majesty in right of Canada or a province or any other person".
The second amendment was related to the concept of polluter pays. The original line in the bill said that the National Energy Board "may" recover funds to compensate those affected by a spill, the Green Party amendment changed the "may" to "shall".
Maclean's Parliamentarian of the Year Awards
Annually, Maclean's Magazine organizes an awards ceremony in which MPs recognize the achievements and hard work of their colleagues. In 2012, May was voted by her colleagues in the House of Commons as Parliamentarian of the Year, in 2013 she was voted Hardest Working MP, and in 2014 she was voted Best Orator.
1980: Small Party
In 1980, May and others launched a political party to raise environment and anti-nuclear issues dubbed "the Small Party". The party ran 12 candidates in six provinces, in the 1980 federal election. May, at the time a 25-year-old waitress, ran against the former Deputy Prime Minister, Allan J. MacEachen in Cape Breton Highlands—Canso. She placed last in a field of four candidates receiving 272 votes.
2000s: Green Party of Canada
On August 26, 2006, May won the leadership election on the first ballot. She tallied 65.3% of the votes, beating her main rival, David Chernushenko (33.3%) and Jim Fannon (0.88%). She said one of the main platforms for the next election would be to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). At the time of her election as leader, May said she intended to run in the riding of Cape Breton—Canso in the next federal election, although she also said she would stand in a federal byelection if one occurred prior to the next general election.
2006 London North Centre by-election
In the fall of 2006, May ran for election in London North Centre, finishing second to Glen Pearson of the Liberal Party. While she lost, May's showing in this by-election was the best result, in terms of percentage, achieved by the Green Party of Canada to date.
2008 federal election
On March 17, 2007, May announced that she would run in the Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova, in the 2008 federal election. The riding was held by Conservative National Defence Minister Peter MacKay. May has explained that she chose Central Nova to avoid running against a Liberal or NDP incumbent.
On April 12, 2007, Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion announced that the Liberals would not run a candidate in Central Nova in return for the Greens not running a candidate in Dion's safe Saint-Laurent—Cartierville riding. There was criticism from prominent Green Party members of May's failing to support all Green candidates unequivocally during the 2008 election, as she made favorable comments about Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and said that supporters in close ridings might consider voting strategically to attempt to defeat the Conservatives.
May was initially excluded from the televised national leadership debate in the 2008 federal election, based on the lack of any elected Green party MPs. She argued that the TV network consortium's initial exclusion of the Green Party of Canada was "anti-democratic" and blamed it on "the decision-making of a small group of TV network executives". Eventually May was invited to attend the televised debate.
May received 32% of the vote in Central Nova in 2008 to MacKay's 47%. Nationally the Greens received 6.8 percent of the popular vote.
2011 federal election
In 2010, following a survey of potentially favourable electoral districts across the county, May announced her intention to run in Saanich—Gulf Islands, in British Columbia against Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn.
On March 29, 2011 the broadcast consortium organizing the televised national leaders' debate for the 2011 federal election announced that it would not invite May. Despite her exclusion from the national debates, she won her riding, defeating the incumbent Gary Lunn. Nationally the Greens received 4 percent of the popular vote.
2015 federal election
May ran for re-election in the riding of Saanich–Gulf Islands in the October 19 federal election and was successful in regaining her seat in Parliament. She is the party's only member that will sit in the House of Commons. In October, Prime Minister designate Justin Trudeau invited May to be part of the Canadian delegation to the United Nations summit on climate change to be held in Paris, France, in late November 2015; the summit is intended to negotiate post 2020 targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to Maclean's, "May, who requested and received a 30-minute meeting with Trudeau this week even as he was immersed in transition plans for swearing in a new Liberal government on Nov. 4, said his willingness to engage with opposition parties is also encouraging, suggesting a less hyper-partisan style of governing."
Honours and awards
- International Conservation Award from Friends of Nature, 1985
- Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, in recognition of significant contribution to compatriots, community and to Canada, 1992
- Elizabeth May Chair in Women's Health and the Environment, Dalhousie University, 1998.
- Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (DHumL), Mount Saint Vincent University, 2000.
- Harkin Award from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society for her lifetime achievement in promoting the protection of Canada's wilderness, 2002
- Best Activist Award, Coast Magazine, Best of Halifax Readers' Poll, 2002
- Honorary Doctorate of Laws, University of New Brunswick, 2003.
- United Nations Global 500 award.
- Officer of the Order of Canada, 2005.
- Couchiching Award for Excellence in Public Policy, 2006
- Honorary Doctorate of Laws, Mount Allison University, 2007.
- Newsweek Magazine: One of World's Most Influential women, November 28, 2010
- Maclean's Parliamentarian of the Year, 2012
- Awarded the Canadian Version of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012
- Maclean's Hardest Working Parliamentarian of the Year, 2013
- Honorary Doctor of Divinity (D.D.), Atlantic School of Theology, 2015.
Stance on abortion
May is personally against abortions, but she believes that women have a right to safe and legal abortions. She supports her party's stance on abortion, which officially favours unrestricted abortion access. During a visit in 2006 to the Mount St. Joseph's Convent in London, Ontario, May responded to a nun's question about her position on abortion stating that, "I don't think a woman has a frivolous right to choose." She told the nuns, "Nobody in their right mind is for abortions. I've talked women out of having abortions. I would never have an abortion myself, not in a million years. I can't imagine the circumstances that would have ever induced me to it." Following reports of May's statements, prominent Canadian feminist Judy Rebick announced that she was withdrawing her previous support of May and the Green Party because of May's questioning "the most important victory of the women's movement of my generation". May has since said that her stance has been misreported. She clarified that she had been trying to explain to the nuns how "their belief in right to life means that they should support abortion". She explained that making abortions illegal would cause more deaths from desperate illegal abortions, as had been the case for hundreds of years previously.
In April 2007, during a speech by May to a London, Ontario United Church of Canada, she said that "In the eyes of history, John Howard, George Bush, and Stephen Harper will be judged more culpable than Neville Chamberlain." "We have a moral obligation to our Lord and Father to ensure we don't destroy the creation that was given to us. Through the power of our Lord and Jesus Christ, we can meet this moral obligation," said May. She condemned Prime Minister Stephen Harper's stance on climate change, comparing it to "a grievance worse than Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of the Nazis." The statement drew criticism from the Canadian Jewish Congress and opposition parties. While Opposition leader Stéphane Dion refused to respond to Harper's request for him to distance himself from May and these remarks during Question Period, Dion did state to reporters outside Commons that May should withdraw the remarks, and that the Nazi regime is beyond any comparison. May said she was having "a lousy week" because of the federal government's weak action plan on the environment, was standing by her comments.
In a Green Party of Canada press release, May stated that she was referencing a Chamberlain Nazi appeasement analogy made by journalist George Monbiot a few days earlier. saying "I made reference to Mr. Monbiot's statement to highlight the damage being done to Canada's international reputation, something that should concern all Canadians."
Views on dangers of wireless internet and support for homeopathy
In 2011, May Tweeted a flurry of warnings about the possible dangers of WiFi using her cellphone. May's comments that the use of WiFi might be related to the "disappearance of pollinating insects" and writing that WiFi was a "possible human carcinogen" fueled attacks over the scientific soundness of her views. "It is very disturbing how quickly Wi-Fi has moved into schools as it is children who are the most vulnerable", she wrote.
In June, during a Twitter exchange with May, a Green Party critic downloaded the party's platform and found reference to the party's support of government-subsidized homeopathy. Homeopathy found its way into the platform "by accident", May later said.
Presenting 9/11 conspiracy petition
In December 2014, May presented a petition to the House of Commons by members of 9/11 Truth organizations asking the government to review the September 11 attacks in New York. While she personally did not agree with the petition, May defended presenting it and stated "It is an obligation of an MP to present every petition submitted to them." While many MPs consider it a responsibility, House of Commons rules do not require MPs to present all petitions they receive to Parliament. In 2012, the NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar declined to present a similar petition by another 9/11 Truth group to parliament.
Tweets about Jian Ghomeshi
In 2014, May sent out a series of tweets defending Jian Ghomeshi, who faced allegations from three women that the radio host was physically violent to them without their consent during sexual encounters. "I think Jian is wonderful. Likely TMI for an old fogey like me, but his private life is none of our beeswax", May wrote. May then wrote, "I have known Jian and something at work here doesn't make sense. Innocent until proven guilty." When one user accused her of "buying into" rape culture, she replied, "As a feminist, I do not buy into rape culture." May later stated that she regretted defending Ghomeshi, stating that she had not yet read about the allegations of physical violence in the Toronto Star and that she was still "shaken up" by the Parliament Hill shootings when she wrote the tweets.
2015 Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner speech
At the Parliamentary Press Gallery's dinner in Gatineau, Quebec on May 9, 2015, May was recorded on video in front of an audience stating, "Welcome back, Omar Khadr. It matters to say it. Welcome back, Omar Khadr. You're home", in reference to Omar Khadr, a convicted child soldier. She further said, "Omar Khadr, you've got more class than the whole fucking cabinet", before being escorted off the stage by Transport Minister Lisa Raitt. Early in her speech she also questioned why no-one else had mentioned the event was being held on First Nations territory, asking "What the fuck is wrong with the rest of you?"
May later blamed her actions on fatigue and insisted she hadn't had too much to drink. "I didn't have a lot of wine," May said, "but it may have hit me harder than I thought it would". When questioned if she should resign, May responded that "a lot of people have given bad press gallery speeches and have gone on to be Prime Minister or gone on to lead other aspects of their lives, time will tell." May was quick to admit that her remarks at the annual press gallery dinner in Gatineau, Quebec, were a poor attempt at comedy. However, she said they shouldn't detract from her political track record. President of the Treasury Board Tony Clement and NDP House Leader Peter Julian said Monday afternoon that May's apology was sufficient. "Look, she's apologized which was appropriate and I'm going to leave the matter at that", Clement told reporters. Laura Peck, senior partner at TransformLeaders.ca, said, "She has apologized. She's done the right thing, she's apologized", Peck said. "One mistake is forgivable, two is a pattern." It's more of an "inside Ottawa beltway" thing anyway, Peck added.
Other senior members of the media have called into question why this speech received so much attention from the press. CBC's Michael Enright noted that the Press Gallery Dinner has long been home to rowdy behaviour by both politicians and journalists, usually attracting little or no coverage. In his Sunday Edition segment, Enright even pondered, "Why the mountain of coverage, nearly all of it unsympathetic? Was it because she was appearing before a roomful of journalists? Would the story have disappeared if she had been speaking to environmentalists? Was it because she sometimes has seemed to be holier than thou? Was it because she is a woman? Whatever the reason, May was mugged by the media."
Elizabeth May faced accusations of being an abusive boss in January 2018.
2018 Criminal Contempt of Court
On March 23, 2018, May was arrested for civil contempt during a demonstration against the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Other members of the demonstration, including fellow Member of Parliament Kennedy Stewart, were also arrested concerning the same incident. They were accused of violating a court order requiring those demonstrating to stay five meters back from company work sites, when they allegedly blocked the roadway. On April 9, 2018, Justice Kenneth Affleck of the British Columbia Supreme Court recommended that May and the others arrested should be charged with criminal contempt in relation to the alleged incident. On April 16, 2018, it was reported that special prosecutors would be overseeing the charges against May and Stewart. On May 14, 2018, the special prosecutor handling May's case told Justice Affleck that the province was pursuing a criminal contempt of court prosecution against May. On May 28, 2018, May pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of court and was sentenced to pay a fine of $1,500.
On November 27, 2018, May announced her engagement to John Kidder, brother of actress Margot Kidder and one of the founders of the Green Party of British Columbia. Kidder had previously run as the 2011 federal Liberal candidate in Okanagan—Coquihalla and as the 2013 BC Green candidate in Fraser-Nicola. May and Kidder married on April 22, 2019 at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, British Columbia.
|2015 Canadian federal election: Saanich—Gulf Islands|
|New Democratic||Alicia Cormier||6,181||9.07||−1.97||$52,539.33|
|Libertarian||Meghan Jess Porter||249||0.37||–||$231.52|
|Total valid votes/Expense limit||68,341||100.00||$223,670.30|
|Total rejected ballots||201||0.29||–|
|Source: Elections Canada|
|2011 Canadian federal election: Saanich—Gulf Islands|
|New Democratic||Edith Loring-Kuhanga||8,185||11.89||+6.20||$66,273|
|Total valid votes/Expense limit||68,827||100.0||$293,617|
|Total rejected ballots||160||0.23|
|Green gain from Conservative||Swing||+21.82|
|New Democratic||Louise Lorifice||7,657||19.6||−4.96|
|Christian Heritage||Michael Harris MacKay||427||1.1||-|
|Canadian Action||Paul Kemp||196||0.5||-|
|Total valid votes||39,139|
|London North CentreCanadian federal by-election, November 27, 2006: |
Resignation of Joe Fontana
|New Democratic||Megan Walker||5,388||14.13||−9.62|
|Progressive Canadian||Steven Hunter||145||0.38||−0.09|
|Canadian Action||Will Arlow||53||0.14||–|
|Liberal||Allan J. MacEachen||18,262||50.40%||+2.30%|
|Progressive Conservative||Bill Kelly||12,799||35.32%||−3.44%|
|New Democratic||William J. Woodfine||4,902||13.53%||+0.39%|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Elizabeth May.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Elizabeth May|
|Wikinews has news related to:|
- Elizabeth May official site
- Elizabeth May on Twitter
- Profile at Green Party of Canada
- Profile at Parliament of Canada
- Elizabeth May – Parliament of Canada biography
- Speeches, votes and activity at OpenParliament.ca
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Elizabeth May on IMDb
- Works by or about Elizabeth May in libraries (WorldCat catalog)