Elizabeth May looks to grow the Green Party as she returns to leadership, with help

OTTAWA — The Green Party's Elizabeth May is keeping her attention on climate action and on internal growth after disappointing results during her brief hiatus as party leader.

May is now "job-sharing" the role with Jonathan Pedneault after pitching a co-leadership plan to party members during the leadership race this fall.

That will eventually require a change to the party rules to allow the pair to share duties, something the two expect will happen this year.

"There's widespread support within the membership for the co-leadership model," May said in an interview this week. She called her time working with Pedneault a "completely different experience" than her previous tenure as leader from 2006 to 2019.

Four of the six candidates in November's leadership contest were advocating for the co-leadership model. Anna Keenan, who ran on a joint ticket with fellow community organizer Chad Walcott, placed a competitive second behind May.

May, 68, said her longevity as a mainstay in Canadian politics is not an issue. She said she regularly words 100 hours a week. But this time, she has help.

"People might think I was slowing down, but I don't feel the need to slow down," she said.

"I've got plenty left in reserves, but I also look forward to the future quite confidently because I share that workload."

Pedneault is planning to seek a Quebec seat in the next federal election, likely in Montreal, where the party favours running a candidate. The Greens, who currently hold two seats in the House of Commons — May in British Columbia and Mike Morrice in Ontario — have never won in Quebec.

"I'll do whatever is best for the party at the end of the day," he said in a separate interview.

Support for Greens dropped to 2.3 per cent of the popular vote during the 2021 election, held under former leader Annamie Paul. Her time in the role was marked by internal fights that spilled into public view and fundraising challenges.

Looking to move forward and grow the party brand, May is prominently featured on the party's website without Pedneault. But he said he does not feel overshadowed by the political veteran "whatsoever."

"We've been very good at sharing responsibilities, engagements, public speaking engagements," he said.

May calls them "equal partners" and a "team".

"I want people to get to know Jonathan," she says.

Discussions around party governance and fundraising are still being had internally, but Pedneault said it is "good to finally talk about the real issues" rather than "the problems that we've had internally."

With May's time away from the leadership in the rear-view mirror, the party is now rebuilding and refocusing on issues like health care, inflation and a green energy transition.

"Canadians from (the) West Coast to the other are struggling with health care and the health-care crisis," said Pedneault.

He expects to travel across Canada throughout the year, visiting with members and helping to organize campus clubs at universities while May handles the bulk of the parliamentary work.

He said the party will also continue advocating for a guaranteed livable income, food security, and transitioning the economy away from fossil fuels while providing support for workers.

Debate over the Liberal government's plans to bring in "just transition" legislation to help guide the change to a clean energy economy intensified this week, with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith saying she would fight it "with every tool at Alberta's disposal."

May said she finds the reaction to the "just transition" plans needlessly controversial, noting the Liberals have promised such legislation since 2019. She also said the concept is embedded in the Paris Agreement reached at the 2015 United National climate change conference.

"It is very bland language. I find it appalling that politicians are deciding that this is somehow divisive or unhelpful. It's just bizarre," she said.

May said Canada is in a "new kind of climate denial" by continuing to push policies that won't meet international obligations to reduce carbon emissions.

But she maintains it has time to avoid the worst of climate change.

"We are not doomsayers. We're the ones saying we still have time," she said. "We can avoid the worst, but not on the current plan."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2023.

David Fraser, The Canadian Press