Elizabeth May was in the diplomatic gallery for Question Period today – across the House from those environmental protesters who disrupted proceedings. I spoke to May after Question Period about her new riding in BC, and what that means for her political organising.
Q: How are things going for you in Saanich-Gulf Islands?
A: Extremely well. The community is really welcoming, and at a level that is sort of feels like you need to pinch yourself. The postman comes by and says ‘I’m so thrilled you moved here,’ and crossing the street you’ve got a traffic guard saying ‘It’s great you’re here,’ and you order in a meal in a restaurant when you’ve eaten there before, and they’ve actually changed a plate to decorate the pancake batter to say ‘Go Green!’ It’s very welcoming and encouraging environment.
Q: I remember that the first thing that you did there was the AIDS Walk, wasn’t it?
A: One of first things was the Walk For Life, and I’m glad I did it actually – I mean, I always do it, but ironically, if the CBC crew hadn’t been following me around, the wonderful work of all these political people locally to do the Walk For Life would have had no local coverage, and as it was, we made the national news because we had a film crew following me around. That’s a pretty sad, state of affairs. But it was a really inspiring walk – it was candlelit, and really impressive.
Q: I think it also says a lot that you hear about these in larger cities, but you don’t hear about it in places like Saanich-Gulf.
A: The march was actually in Victoria, which is out of my riding, but I went in for it because there’s always a Walk For Life across the country, and I was missing the one back home in Pictou County, and now I’ve got a new home, so I looked around for where’s the closest one, and that led me to Victoria.
Q: What are some of the things you’re doing to start engaging with this new community?
A: There are the usual things you do when you move to a new place. I joined something called the Newcomers Club, which is really great – it’s women who’ve moved newly to the riding, and have things like kayaking and hiking trips, and that’s fun. Of course, I always join my local church and you get to meet people that way, but in terms of the politics of it, I’m trying to be as available to can be to people who have issues to try to help them sort out concerns about their relationship to government. A number of the big issues that are happening in the community – there’s a lot of concern about the collapse of the salmon fishery, there’s a lot of concern about the threats of more oil tankers along the coastline. People in the riding are environmentally aware, but they’re also worried about the economy, so I’m just engaging them any way I can.
Q: Logistically, what kind of a challenge is going to be for you, because I know you really liked attending Question Period?
A: Yeah – I won’t be here very much, and that’s okay. As national party leader, I am out of the riding more than I’d like to be, frankly, because it’s a long trip back and forth between BC and Ottawa, and once I’m an MP, I’ll do it a lot more often. But until the next election, I really want to spend as much time as I can in the riding. That said, I have important things coming up. I will be attending Copenhagen; I’m doing a debate in Toronto on the issue of climate change, where George Monbiot and I will be the team arguing for action, and we’ll be up against Bjorn Lomborg and Nigel Lawson from the UK, so that’s kind of an interesting experience. So there are things on my calendar that take me outside of the riding, but I’m trying to stay put as much as I can.
Q: Do you have an offset system you’re using then, because this is going to involve a lot more flying?
A: Yeah – what I try to do is work out a system. Number one, we pay for our carbon offsets through a group called Carbon Zero, and also, my staff is getting used to a lot of complicated arrangements, because most greenhouse gasses in flights happen in take-off and landing – I’m trying to eliminate short-hop flights. So Victoria to Vancouver, or Toronto to Ottawa make it a more convenient set of schedules you can take to travel. What I’m doing is I’m insisting that I either fly direct Victoria to Toronto, where there’s a once-a-day direct flight, or fly Vancouver to Ottawa, which is again once-a-day direct flight, and then use ferries to get from my home in Sydney to the Vancouver flight, or fly to Toronto and take the train from there. So far I have done that – I had speaking engagements in the Maritimes, flew to Toronto, and took the train from there. So I’m trying as much as I can both to buy offsets and to minimise the amounts of flights to get across the country. And I’m doing more things with video conferencing. The Green Party of Ontario has its leadership convention – it’s just too difficult to be going back-and-forth, so I’m going to be providing a video address, and then hooking up probably by Skype to take questions. So we’re trying as much as we can to innovate ways of being lots of places without jetting around the country to get there.
Q: Do you think that might start seeing a change in the way politics is being done?
A: I think that those of us who are very mindful of greenhouse gases – I mean, I’ve never met George Monbiot, but I have spoken with him, because Margaret Atwood hosted him at the Green Living show a couple of years ago, and he lives in Wales, and he participated using the device she invented for her Long Pen, to meet people remotely to sign books. It also allowed for him to participate in the conference in a quite intimate way. It’s hard if you’re going to give a long speech with a video, but Margaret Atwood engaged him in conversation, and then he took questions, so he and I had a conversation, but it was over video, long-distance, and it was very effective, and we really did feel like we were connecting. We do need to use technology more, and the same way that we need to encourage telecommuting so that people can work from home, we also need to encourage people who are public speakers, attending conferences – video conferencing, telephone conferencing should start replacing some of the needless travel. Where you can avoid it, we should be avoiding it.