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Elizabeth May Talks About Her Green Party Army And Her Biggest Disappointments Of 2011 (VIDEO)

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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May leaves a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Thursday, December 1, 2011.(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May leaves a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Thursday, December 1, 2011.(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May lists two great disappointments when she looks back on 2011: being banned from the federal leaders’ debate and Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.

In a year-end interview with The Huffington Post, May said she still can’t get over the broadcast consortium’s decision to block her from participating in the debate.

“Being excluded from the leaders debates … really hurt our campaign across the country,” she explained. “It was a really undemocratic decision. I still think about it, I mean how do you have five national networks deciding who is in a televised debate without any rules? And they just get away with it.”

Now that she has a seat in the Commons, May hopes she will be included next time around. “But since they have no rules, I remain concerned about that,” she added.

The Green Party Leader’s second biggest disappointment was the government’s decision to withdraw from Kyoto.

“I was very surprised and unhappy with the fact that 39 per cent of the electorate could elect a majority government. I didn’t see a majority government coming. And despite the fact I was happy to win my seat (in Saanich — Gulf Islands), I found that a devastating moment because I knew at that point that we were in for a rough ride. Having said that, I never thought we would see the government withdraw from Kyoto legally — that’s been a significant blow,” she told HuffPost.

“I don’t know how we will manage as a country to hold our head up in the world, if that remains what we are doing — but we have a year to change their mind,” May said, explaining that Canada cannot legally withdraw for another 12 months.

May remains hopeful outrage from international partners such as France will help change the Conservative government’s mind.

Her focus for 2012 will be trying to capture the attention of governments around the world about the type of action that is needed to combat climate change.

The U.N. talks in Durban were “quite weak,” May noted, adding that the world is “nowhere near the emissions reductions that we need to avoid runaway global warming.”

It’s hard for people to recognize climate change is happening around them, May said. But the potential risk of inaction is “cataclysmic climate change,” she said, citing findings by the International Energy Agency.

“We have warmer winters, we have more floods, we have more droughts, we have retreating glaciers, we have disappearing Arctic ice and disappearing permafrost, that’s all happening now. That’s climate change. But cataclysmic climate change would potentially destroy human civilization,” May said.

“When you put it in those terms, people think you are, you know, exaggerating, but when you look at will happen if we don’t reduce emissions soon, we are talking about whether human civilization survives. That’s just the fact,” May added.

She doesn’t blame Environment Minister Peter Kent for Canada’s lack of judgment on the climate file. Instead she places responsibility squarely on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s shoulders.

The majority Conservative government has resulted in more control and more top-down management, she said. “The only real decision maker is Stephen Harper, when you talk about the environment and people focus on Peter Kent, no Peter Kent is the spokesperson for what Harper is doing. But I don’t even think at this point (that) ministers actually fulfill ministerial responsibilities. All key decisions are made by the Prime Minister.”

May said she is shocked to see the number of committee meetings this fall that have gone in-camera on a regular basis.

As a lone MP, without official party status, May has not been allowed to sit on any committees. But she has accumulated a small army of Green Party volunteers that attend every meeting and report back to her office.

“I made a conscious decision to recruit as many interns as possible so we could actually cover all committee hearings because I am entitled as a member of Parliament to bring forward amendments at report stage … The number of times (my interns) show up at a meeting that is scheduled and they are turfed out because no one can stay in the room unless they are a member of the committee or staff to a member of the committee, and then key decisions, votes, even witnesses are being heard in secret. There is no excuse for this, there is no rational for it,” May said.

“The Government House Leader, Peter Van Loan, will deny every time this is a decision by the government. He says committees make their own rules. This is their own decision, but it is obvious that it stretches credibility to the breaking point to imagine that suddenly a whole bunch of committees decide to take their work in secret,” she said. “This is clearly something directed by PMO (Prime Minister’s Office),” she added.

On the occasional visit she does make to a committee, May is allowed to sit and listen to witnesses but she can only ask questions at the discretion of the chair — a position held mostly by Conservative MPs.

So far, she told HuffPost, “the chair has not been inclined to show that discretion toward me.”

Twelve volunteers and five paid staff help May keep tabs on what’s happening in Parliament while she spends most of her time in the House of Commons speaking on various issues. Together with her Green army, she tabled 52 amendments to the Conservatives’ omnibus crime bill which were all put to a vote but defeated by the Government’s majority.

Despite that setback, May believes she has more freedom and more opportunities to make an impact than most other MPs on Parliament Hill.
Each MP has rights, but most don’t use all the tools at their disposal to try to affect change, she told HuffPost.

“(They are) reduced to basically taking orders, saying what you are told to say, vote how you are told to vote, so I have an enormous advantage over those other parties,” she said.

As the leader of a one-person party in the House of Commons, May pledged that this same freedom of expression would be granted to any other Green MP that follows her into the chamber.

The Green Party is hoping to add another seat in 2012 and is thinking of what by-elections — so far there is only one in the NDP's late leader Jack Layton’s Toronto riding — they may be able to win.

For the moment though, May is busy reviewing every piece of legislation the government has introduced and deciding, with her team what amendments they can bring forward and what changes they should champion.

“The media can choose not to cover what we are doing but there is no question we are having an impact,” she said.

Like Huffington Post Canada's Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj's reporter page on Facebook and follow her onTwitter for all the latest news from Parliament Hill.

althia.raj@huffingtonpost.com

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