Martyn Brown: I didn’t vote for Elizabeth May to be Speaker—I voted for her leadership voice on climate action

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      Well, now: Green party leader Elizabeth May is “interested” in being the next Speaker of the House of Commons.

      "It interests me," May said. "It would be wrong to say it hasn't interested me for a very long time."

      "There is an attraction, I think, in a minority Parliament having a Speaker who represents a party not in power." 

      She won’t say if she petitioned Justin Trudeau during their discussion the day after the election to support her bid to fill that role. That is, if she should decide to put her name forward as a candidate for Speaker when the new Parliament votes by secret ballot to make that selection, as its first order of business.

      "I think private conversations should stay private," she said.

      Uh, no.

      Sorry, Elizabeth, but when you are the leader of a party, it’s not cool to play coy about whether or not you are quietly canvassing the role of Speaker with the prime minister whom we expect you to hold accountable as the leader of your opposition party.

      Indeed, using any such private conversation to in any way enhance your own personal interest in serving as Speaker would be a huge no-no, in my books. Some might even call it a real or perceived conflict of interest.  

      In any case, if May had not touched on the issue in her first post-election meeting with her “good friend” Trudeau, a simple “no, it wasn’t something we discussed” would have sufficed. By not saying that, she has left the opposite impression, probably unintentionally.

      No matter, the toothpaste is now out of the tube and there’s no putting it back.

      As the CBC reported, “May said she thinks she'd make a good Speaker, adding she'd work to restore civility to the House.”

      “‘A thorough understanding of parliamentary rules and procedures and a willingness to be completely non-partisan—now, if those are two important criteria, I would suit both of those for sure,’ she said. ‘And I think most members of Parliament know that I am less partisan, certainly, than most members of Parliament, certainly more non-partisan than any other party leader.’ 

      ‘And I want Parliament to work because I love the institution and I respect our institutions and want to see them elevated and not degraded.’ "

      All of that is true, no doubt. But with respect, that’s not the point.

      The point is what we should expect of party leaders when we elect them to represent us, both directly, as our MPs, and indirectly, as the one asking us to trust him or her as the leader of that party in the Parliament to be elected.

      Can you imagine the public outcry from Green voters if B.C.’s Green Leader Andrew Weaver or New Brunswick Green Leader David Coon opted to immediately quit their job to run for Speaker in those provinces’ minority governments?

      Or if P.E.I. Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker had quit his leadership post right after being elected, to serve as that legislature’s Speaker?

      Unthinkable. But now, I guess, we have to ask every minor party leader if they might quit their job to serve as Speaker in the next Parliament, seeing as how that might be a position they had on their personal career radar for a long, long time.

      I was one of the 33,454 residents of Saanich-Gulf Islands who voted—again—for Green Leader Elizabeth May as my MP.

      She won with 49 percent of the vote, with nearly 20,000 more votes than the second-place Conservative challenger and with almost 25,000 more votes than the fourth-place NDP candidate.

      As such, May likely won’t lose any sleep over my feeling somewhat betrayed by her instant Speaker speculation.

      Fact is, had I ever imagined that she might immediately step down as Green leader and effectively silence herself in combatting the climate crisis, I probably would have cast my ballot for the NDP candidate, Sabina Singh.

      As Speaker, May would be prohibited from leading the fight for meaningful climate action that she has long embraced as her most passionately held cause. She would be a parliamentary mute in the debates and votes on bills and proceedings.

      Contrary to her pledge that she would never support any government that does not commit to her party’s climate action targets, she would, in essence, be throwing at least one more vote to help Trudeau maintain the confidence of Parliament, come what may.

      I, for one, was counting on May to lead that climate charge, which she has aggressively called on NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to fight for with all his parliamentary might, in propping up Trudeau’s minority government.

      All that aside, May’s candidacy for Speaker, should she decide to take that leap, might be a bit of a long shot.

      It was only a few weeks ago that she was slamming Andrew Scheer for doing “permanent damage” to “respect for the office of the Speaker” by re-entering partisan politics in his successful party leadership bid.

      A cheap shot, I thought at the time. Of course he had every right to run for his party’s leadership, after being replaced as Speaker by Trudeau’s Liberal MP Geoff Regan, following the 2015 election.

      Here in British Columbia, lots of Speakers have left their posts to serve as cabinet ministers in partisan roles.

      They include, for example, former Social Credit MLA John Reynolds, former NDP MLAs Joan Sawicki and Dale Lovick, and former B.C. Liberal MLA Claude Richmond.

      Still, it would have been nice to know when May derided Scheer for supposedly using the Speaker’s office to advance his personal ambitions that she might actually have her own eye on taking on his old job.

      A position, it’s worth repeating, that she had been apparently personally interested in "for a very long time”.

      After May’s other numerous partisan election campaign attacks on Scheer, I’d be shocked if his caucus colleague voted to support her candidacy for Speaker.

      Her wonderfully savage and wholly unfair comparison of Scheer to Donald Trump in the English-language debate probably did little to endear her to the Conservatives.

      I’d be amazed if they would want to shower May with that new job and its handsome salary and trappings in helping Trudeau boost his slim parliamentary plurality, by appointing her as Canada’s equivalent to the United Kingdom’s outgoing bombastic Speaker, John Bercow.

      Video: Watch some highlights from John Bercow's legendary rule over the sometimes unruly British House of Commons.

      Would the Liberals vote for May as Speaker?

      Sure, if they don’t mind rewarding and newly empowering someone who rightly went to such great lengths to hammer Trudeau as someone who doesn’t understand or respect the rule of law, who has refused to even apologize for his illegal conduct, and who should yet be subject to a public inquiry and an RCMP investigation.

      Bravo! What are a few harsh words between friends?

      Then again, she more than proved that she was indeed a “good friend” of Trudeau’s by never insisting on holding him accountable as a precondition for her party’s support of his minority government, if her Greens held the balance of power.

      Certainly, May would get Jody Wilson-Raybould’s vote.

      I mean, how much more “nonpartisan” can you get as a party leader than doing as May did in endorsing JWR in Vancouver-Granville?

      Don’t vote for her own Green party's candidate, Louise Boutin, May as much as told those voters by openly throwing her support behind Wilson-Raybould. Understand, Boutin was only running against Puglaas because the Green Party constitution requires it to field a candidate in every riding, May insisted.

      Yet, despite May’s vote of confidence in the latter at the expense of the former, some 2,554 people still voted for Boutin. Well done.

      How about the NDP? Would they rally behind May as Speaker?

      Sure. Because why wouldn’t Jagmeet Singh and his 23 caucus colleagues want to put May on that pedestal, after all of her helpful “nonpartisan” and “constructive” post-election comments about their “dishonest” campaign and their party’s newly beloved leader?

      Ever since losing the additional two seats that May likely expected her Greens to win in Greater Victoria from the NDP, she has been on a Twitter tear.

      Of course, there’s always the Bloc Québécois. May hardly offended them at all.

      Far be it from Yves-François Blanchet to want someone other than her in the Speaker’s chair, anxious as he is to help make the hung Parliament “work” for Canadians.

      Why not dilute his party’s relative voting power by a factor of one to help Trudeau advance Quebec’s interests over the other opposition parties’ objections, if and when those schisms materialize? May, yes, by all means.

      "If elected Speaker, obviously one can't be party leader," May said. "Do we launch a leadership succession plan now? Do we give it six months in case there is a snap election?"

      Actually, Elizabeth, I think you opened up a whole different can of worms.

      For now that we know that you are very interested in becoming the Speaker, you should resign as party leader forthwith, whether or not you are “elected” to the post.

      You have already made it abundantly clear that you have no wish to stay on as leader. And after yet another abysmal campaign, most Canadians can well understand why you and your party might agree on that point, sooner rather than later.

      Notwithstanding May’s “historic” one-extra-seat “victory”, her party’s 6.5 per cent share of the popular vote was actually less than the 6.8 per cent it won in her first election as party leader, in 2008. 

      In a word, she blew it, big time. 

      No sense in blaming the NDP for beating the Greens back on South Vancouver Island and elsewhere. If ever there was an election served up on a platter for the Greens, it was this one.

      As usual, their support dwindled during the campaign for any number of reasons. 

      They included not having a tangible, focused campaign that relentlessly hammered on stopping the Trans Mountain pipeline, holding Trudeau accountable for Lavscam, and insisting on proportional representation as non-negotiable “deal breakers” in supporting any minority government.

      They included putting out a ridiculously costly and often economically loopy party platform, and insisting on a politically undoable 60 percent emissions reduction target by 2030 as the Greens’ price of power in a hung Parliament.

      The campaign fundamentally failed to give Green target voters a compelling reason to abandon both the Liberals and the NDP and award May the “balance of responsibility”, as she put it.

      Instead, what they saw was a party that had racist and separatist candidates in its midst, and a leader who was as prone as Scheer was to screwing up her responses to relatively straightforward campaign issue questions and internal party challenges.

      Especially on the issue of protecting a women’s right to choose from would-be Green MPs who might not take kindly to the party whip in advancing their own pro-life values.

      Though the Greens’ campaign was less amateurish than their previous electoral outings, it was still nowhere near ready for primetime, May’s stellar debate performances aside.

      Organizationally, it was not at all up to snuff.

      From its candidate recruitment process and its events planning and execution, to its communications capacity and its get-out-the-vote effort, the entire campaign was entirely too...Green.

      May did her best, but in answer to her questions, "Do we launch a leadership succession plan now?”—yes, a thousand times, yes. Especially now, after the Speaker speculation. 

      “Do we give it six months in case there is a snap election?"

      No, not on your life, because the chances of that happening are about as great as the Greens winning a bunch more seats anytime soon with May as their leader.

      If Elizabeth May becomes Speaker, either Fredericton MP-elect Jenica Atwin or Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP-elect Paul Manly could become the new leader of the Green Party of Canada.

      So, by all means, get on with choosing a new leader.

      Elizabeth May might well make a great Speaker. Indeed, I think she would be terrific, for all the reasons she cites that would make her well-suited to the job.

      Having said that, the reason I voted for her—and the reason that many other Canadians voted for her party—is because of the voice she alone stands to offer in bringing urgency to the climate crisis debate in this next Parliament.

      Silencing that voice—her voice—by electing May as Speaker would be a significant loss for climate activists everywhere.

      She can only be that vocal thorn in Trudeau’s side if she is free to speak her mind and use her vote to exert pressure on him and Singh alike to make climate action a priority.

      For that reason, if for no other, I hope to hell that May either gives up her Speaker aspirations or that she loses out to someone less worthy when Parliament casts its ballots to pick its Speaker.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at