The Green Party of Canada is seeking a new leader following Elizabeth May’s announcement Monday morning that she is stepping down.
“I’ve been very clear I didn’t see myself leading the party into an election in 2023, but personally I knew that I wanted to step down soon and on my own terms and with a good plan in place,” May said in a phone interview.
May said she met with the party’s federal council on the weekend, which also brought the party’s shadow cabinet and three members of parliament together.
“I don’t make decisions, and the Green Party doesn’t make decisions, unilaterally,” May said. “We talked through it, and it became apparent it was the very best plan.”
Jo-Ann Roberts, a former CBC radio host who has run as a Green candidate in Victoria and Halifax, will serve as the acting leader and party members will choose a permanent leader at a convention set for Oct. 4, 2020 in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
May will continue to lead the Green Party caucus in the House of Commons, which after the October election includes Jenica Atwin representing Fredericton, and Paul Manly representing Nanaimo-Ladysmith.
“I think this frees me up from a lot of political speculation and questions that take me off my core goals,” she said, mentioning a focus on addressing the climate crisis. “I can stay focused on what needs to be done in a minority parliament.”
Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Manly said he’s looking forward to working hard alongside May in Parliament.
“I’m sad to see her stepping aside, but she’s doing it on her terms and her time,” Manly said. “She’s been a brilliant leader for the Green Party and an awesome mentor in the House of Commons and a great ally throughout my life in environmental struggles.”
British Columbia Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, who himself recently announced he’s stepping down as leader of the provincial party, wrote on Twitter, “Thank you @ElizabethMay for your incredible service to Canada. You’ve been an inspiration to many, including me.”
He said May deserved credit for making climate change central to the October federal election. “You’ve demonstrated what integrity looks like in Ottawa.”
May has said publicly that she had hoped to resign as leader after the 2015 election. “I stayed on as leader because the party wanted me to stay on as leader, and I had 94-per-cent approval ratings and nobody wanted me to step down after 2015, so I knew I had an obligation to fight the 2019 campaign, but I equally knew that I promised my daughter in 2016 that this was the last time.”
Ahead of the election the Globe and Mail quoted May saying she had tried herself to find a successor who would be compatible with her as the party’s sole MP. “I asked multiple people, and I failed to find one candidate who was a person I really respected, who was willing to take it on.”
May told The Tyee that the party is now at a point where the leadership campaign is likely to be competitive. “I’m excited for a bunch of candidates, but I’ve taken the decision with council’s support that I will remain neutral and not give anyone any hints one way or the other,” she said.
“I am running in Saanich-Gulf Islands again to be clear, but I’m not going to be the leader of the party going into a federal election and I couldn’t be happier about it.”
Manly and Atwin both told reporters in Ottawa that they aren’t interested in running for the leadership.
Quebec Green Party Leader Alex Tyrrell has publicly expressed interest in the job and criticized the party’s 2019 campaign for being too ambiguous on issues including abortion and Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans many public service workers from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs, turbans, kippas and crucifixes.
On election night, May had said that she could end up remaining as leader through another election if the government were to fall quickly, but now says she doesn’t anticipate a snap election. “The more Trudeau talks about how he plans to run the minority parliament, I think it’s really highly unlikely.”
May led the party for 13 years and has represented Saanich-Gulf Islands since 2011.