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Elizabeth May: 'Stephen Harper Should Be Ashamed' Of His Campaign

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The Canadian Press/HuffPost
The Canadian Press/HuffPost

For Elizabeth May, there are few clearer examples of how Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has manipulated this election campaign than his party's pledge last week to create a tip line for "barbaric cultural practices."

It was another moment that confirmed for the Green Party leader that the longest Canadian election campaign in 143 years has, paradoxically, produced less meaningful debate of real issues.

"I think Stephen Harper should be ashamed of what he's done in this election campaign," May told The Huffington Post Canada's Althia Raj in a one-on-one interview Friday.

"I hope Canadian voters — I particularly hope Conservative voters — will decide they can't reward this kind of behaviour."

The announcement of an RCMP hotline came amid emotionally charged debates about whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear face veils (niqabs) during citizenship ceremonies, and the federal government's plan to strip convicted Canadian terrorists of their citizenship.

May said it brought back memories of Chris Alexander, as immigration minister, thumping his desk in the House of Commons, demanding to know how the Green leader could possibly disagree that so-called "honour killings" qualified as barbaric.

At the time, MPs were debating the "Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act" — a piece of legislation that May called an affront to Parliament and parliamentary democracy, and which declared "illegal" things that were already illegal.

She voted against it.

"Honour killings. Kind of already illegal, aren't they? Murder. Already illegal," she said Friday.

"We now have a tip line to report barbaric cultural practices without anyone understanding that this is completely manipulation on a non-issue," May said.

She said she's downright "embarrassed" by the move.

Tories fanning the flames of xenophobia, May argues

The Green leader believes debates over niqabs and the sense among some that Muslims are being used as scapegoats has exposed "Conservative party tactics at their worst.

"It's an attempt to fan what I hoped didn't exist in Canada — the flames of xenophobia," she said. "And yes, Muslim Canadians are feeling targeted."

May said a 19-year-old woman whose parents immigrated to Canada from Pakistan before she was born recently approached her at a rally to say she's feeling afraid for the first time in her life.

"She's actually feeling vulnerable at a very fundamental level about whether she's welcome in Canada," she said. "She's Canadian. She was born here."

And if the stand against the face-covering veil is about equality, as Harper maintains, May has a different piece of advice for the Conservative leader.

"If he's worried about women's rights," she said, "where's the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women?"

May said there's another element of the polarizing niqab issue that should bother small-c conservatives: the federal government's insistence on wasting money on "pointless court cases" that they don't have a "snowball's chance in hell of winning."

May still bothered by debate snubs

The Green leader also called out Harper for snubbing both the nationally televised English debate organized by the broadcast consortium and an event dedicated to women's issues.

"He wants to make it an issue whether a woman will show her face, but he won't show his," she said.

May concedes that the lack of a consortium debate could hurt her party this election, as the Greens received their highest number of votes in 2008 after she participated in the leaders' debates. She was denied the chance four years ago.

May is also still disappointed that NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair let Harper "off the hook" by refusing to participate in any debate that did not include the Conservative leader. She called it a "tragic mistake" that ultimately denied Canadians their best chance to see leaders exchange ideas.

 

May said Liberals, New Democrats, Greens, and the consortium had agreed that an empty lectern would represent the Conservative party if Harper followed through with his threat to skip the event.

She remains convinced that the prospect of that image's being broadcast to homes across the country would have been enough to spur Harper to show up.

The coalition question

Unlike other federal leaders, May concedes that she will not be prime minister after Oct. 19.

But she's confident she can win her seat again in British Columbia's Saanich–Gulf Islands and will be joined by other Green MPs who will seek to find common ground in what she predicts will be a minority Parliament.

She said she doesn't much care if Mulcair or Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau becomes prime minister but would like to see those rivals start to work together.

"We would have had a much more productive election campaign if Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau spent less time attacking each other and more time focusing again on Stephen Harper's record," she said.

Mulcair and Trudeau have both vowed not to prop up Harper if he wins a minority. On the matter of a potential coalition government, May said it would be up to MPs to put together the "best possible arrangement for the longest possible period of productive Parliament."

And that won't happen under the Tories, she said.

 

Greens have a short list of conditions for support in a coalition including a commitment to repeal the government's anti-terrorism legislation, take action on climate change, push electoral reform to scrap Canada's first-past-the-post system, and prevent tankers on the B.C. coastline.

The final piece would involve limiting the "excessive" powers of the Prime Minister's Office, an organization she once famously said was "filled with ruthless, cutthroat psychopaths."

But, once the smoke clears, May said, all parties must ensure that the "spin doctors" who ran their campaigns are not given the chance to run the parliamentary agenda.

"That has to stop, because it's absolutely counterproductive to achieving the ends for which Canadians elect us to go to work in Parliament," she said. "We should go to work."

Party leader since 2006, May would not speculate what might happen to her if Greens cannot elect more than one MP this time. Under her party's constitution, leaders face a review after each campaign.

"I'm not a fan, really, of politics," she said. "I love Parliament."

***
Other key moments from May's interview with HuffPost:

On the hollowness of the "balanced budgets versus deficits" debate…

"As much as there has been a discussion on the economy, it's fixated on a very narrow question of deficit or surplus, in a budgetary sense. Not the health of the economy overall. Whether we run a deficit or surplus is virtually irrelevant to the Canadian economy."

On pressures Green supporters are facing to vote strategically on Vancouver Island and in Guelph...
(Reader-submitted questions from Lela Cruikshank and Nancy Livingston)

Watch her response below:  

On the view that most oilsands oil must stay in the ground if Canada is to hit its climate targets…

"Most of the reserves of fossil fuels globally, two-thirds of them, must stay in the ground. And that's not the opinion of the Sierra Club or Greenpeace, that's the International Energy Agency, that's the World Bank, that's the IMF. We're seeing a phenomenal shift of the global establishment around sound economic policy now aligned with the scientific advice that we must avoid a 2°C global average temperature increase."

On why she opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership…

Watch her response below:  

On whether she supports expanding health coverage for homeopathy…
(Reader-submitted question from Matthew Hooper)

"No. What we do support is expanding health coverage to include complementary and alternative medicine that has an empirical basis, that it works. So, extend health coverage to chiropractic, extend health coverage to other areas of medicine where a lot of Canadians are spending a lot of money on things that their doctor will actually recommend to them but they can get coverage."

On her principle goal for the election…
(Reader-submitted question from Lilianne Michaud)

"Our principle goal is to make sure that we restore a healthy democracy to Canada. We believe to do that we need the missing ingredient in Parliament is more Green MPs, but I'm very optimistic that in a minority Parliament, once Stephen Harper is gone, we're going to be able to change the way Parliament has been operating so that you can once again bring school children into Parliament without worrying you'll have to have your teacher rush you out of the room because of the bad behaviour."

On whether she'd reopen the Constitution to get rid of the Senate..
(Reader-submitted question from Alfredo Franco Cea)

"We support reform of the Senate. Anything you do about the Senate is going to call for re-opening the Constitution so it's a long process, and difficult. We don't support abolition at the moment. The party policy is to support electing the Senate through proportional representation but frankly the urgent problems are the one we can get at much more easily.

"You don't have to open the Constitution to get rid of the excessive abuse of power by a prime minister. You don't have to open the Constitution to change our voting system to proportional represenation, nor to restore proper committee process, nor to un-gag the scientists. Those are all things that are on the House of Commons side and don't require opening the Constitution. So that's the first priority."

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