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Elizabeth May
Elizabeth May in July 2014.jpg
May in 2014
Leader of the Green Party of Canada
Assumed office
November 19, 2022
Deputy Jonathan Pedneault
Preceded by Amita Kuttner (interim)
In office
August 26, 2006 – November 4, 2019
Deputy
  • Adriane Carr
  • Claude Genest
  • Jacques Rivard
  • Georges Laraque
  • Bruce Hyer
  • Daniel Green
  • Jo-Ann Roberts
Preceded by Jim Harris
Succeeded by Jo-Ann Roberts (interim)
Parliamentary Leader of the Green Party of Canada
In office
November 4, 2019 – November 19, 2022
Leader
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Member of Parliament
for Saanich—Gulf Islands
Assumed office
May 2, 2011
Preceded by Gary Lunn
Personal details
Born
Elizabeth Evans May

(1954-06-09) June 9, 1954 (age 70)
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
Political party Green
Spouse
John Kidder
(m. 2019)
Children 1
Residences Sidney, British Columbia, Canada
Alma mater Dalhousie University
Occupation
  • Politician
  • Lawyer
  • Writer

Elizabeth Evans May OC MP (born June 9, 1954) is a Canadian politician, environmentalist, author, activist, and lawyer who is serving as the leader of the Green Party of Canada since 2022, and previously served as the leader from 2006 to 2019. She has been the member of Parliament (MP) for Saanich—Gulf Islands since 2011. May is the longest serving female leader of a Canadian federal party.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Elizabeth May immigrated to Canada with her family as a teenager. She attended St. Francis Xavier University, graduated from Dalhousie University with a law degree in 1983, and later studied theology at Saint Paul University for which she told the Anglican Journal in a 2013 interview that she had to withdraw from the program due to conflicting schedule demands. Following her graduation from Dalhousie University, May worked as an environmental lawyer in Halifax before moving to Ottawa in 1985, joining the Public Interest Advocacy Centre as the associate general counsel. In 1986, she was named Senior Policy Advisor to Thomas McMillan, then-Environment Minister in the Progressive Conservative Mulroney government. As senior policy advisor, May was deeply involved in the negotiation of the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer. She resigned on principle from the position in 1988 over permits for construction of a dam granted without environmental assessments, which were later determined to be illegal by a federal court. May founded and served as the executive director of the Sierra Club Canada from 1989 to 2006.

In 2006, after building the Sierra Club into a nationally effective organization, May resigned to run for leadership of the Green Party of Canada, winning on the first ballot with 66% of the vote. On May 2, 2011, May became the first member of the Green Party of Canada to be elected as a Member of Parliament, defeating Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn with 46% of the vote in the Saanich–Gulf Islands riding. In the 2019 federal election, she was re-elected with 54% of the vote. May resigned as Green Party leader on November 4, 2019, but remained as parliamentary leader in the house. She was a candidate in the 2022 Green Party of Canada leadership election. Running on a joint ticket with Jonathan Pedneault, she won the election on November 19, 2022.

Elizabeth May has been an officer of the Order of Canada since 2005, and has been named by the United Nations as one of the leading women environmentalists worldwide. She was named by fellow MPs as Parliamentarian of the Year 2012, Hardest Working MP 2013, Best Orator 2014, and Most Knowledgeable 2020. In 2010, Newsweek named her as one of the world's most influential women. May has written eight books; her memoir, Who We Are - Reflections of my Life and Canada was listed as a best-seller by The Globe and Mail.

Early life and education

May was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Stephanie (Middleton), a sculptor, pianist, and writer, and John Middleton May, an accountant. Her father was born in New York and raised in England, and her mother was also a native New Yorker. She has a younger brother named Geoffrey. Her mother was a prominent anti-nuclear activist and her father was Assistant Vice President of Aetna Life and Casualty. The family moved to Margaree Harbour, Nova Scotia in 1972, following a summer vacation spent on Cape Breton Island. On moving to the province, the May family purchased a landlocked schooner, the Marion Elizabeth which had been used as a gift shop and restaurant since the mid 1950s. They operated this establishment from 1974 until 2002.

May briefly enrolled at St. Francis Xavier University in 1974, but dropped out. Returning to Margaree, May took correspondence courses in restaurant management. Beginning in 1980, she attended Dalhousie Law School as a mature student, graduating in 1983.

Following law school at Dalhousie University, May worked as an associate at small law firm in Halifax.

May studied theology at Saint Paul University, a federated college of the University of Ottawa.

Public life

May first became known in the Canadian media in the mid-1970s through her leadership as a volunteer in the grassroots movement against proposed aerial insecticide spraying on forests near her home on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The effort prevented aerial insecticide spraying from ever occurring in Nova Scotia. Years later, she and a local group of residents went to court to prevent herbicide spraying. Winning a temporary injunction in 1982 held off the spray programme, but after two years, the case was eventually lost. In the course of the litigation, her family sacrificed their home and seventy acres of land in an adverse court ruling to Scott Paper. However, by the time the judge ruled the chemicals were safe, 2,4,5-T's export from the U.S. had been banned. The forests of Nova Scotia were spared from being the last areas in Canada to be sprayed with Agent Orange.

In 1980, May and others launched a political party to raise environmental and anti-nuclear issues dubbed "the Small Party". The party ran 12 candidates in six provinces in the 1980 federal election. May, at the time a 25-year-old waitress, ran against the former Deputy Prime Minister, Allan J. MacEachen in Cape Breton Highlands—Canso. She placed last in a field of four candidates receiving 272 votes.

In 1985, May moved to Ottawa to work with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. She held the position of Associate General Counsel, representing consumer, poverty and environmental groups from 1985 to 1986.

In 1986, May became Senior Policy Advisor to then-environment minister, Thomas McMillan of the Progressive Conservatives. She was instrumental in the creation of several national parks, including South Moresby. She was involved in negotiating the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer, new legislation and pollution control measures. In 1988, she resigned on principle when the Minister granted permits for the Rafferty-Alameda Dams in Saskatchewan without proper environmental assessment. The permits were later struck down by a Federal Court decision that found that the permits had been granted illegally.

May helped found the Canadian Environmental Defence Fund with the aim of funding groups and individuals in environmental cases. She has worked extensively with indigenous peoples internationally, particularly in the Amazon, as well as with Canadian First Nations. She was the first volunteer executive director of Cultural Survival Canada from 1989 to 1992 and worked for the Algonquin of Barriere Lake from 1991 to 1992. She has taught courses at Queen's University School of Policy Studies, as well as teaching for a year at Dalhousie University to develop the programme established in her name in Women's Health and Environment.

Sierra Club of Canada

In 1989, May became the founding executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.

During her tenure with the Sierra Club of Canada, May received several awards in recognition of her environmental leadership, including: the International Conservation Award from the Friends of Nature, the United Nations Global 500 Award in 1990, the award for Outstanding Leadership in Environmental Education by the Ontario Society for Environmental Education in 1996, and in November 2005 was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of her "decades of leadership in the Canadian environmental movement".

In April 2006, May announced her resignation as the Sierra Club's executive director in order to seek the leadership of the Green Party of Canada. As one of her last major acts she participated in a poll of experts that determined that Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney was Canada's "greenest" Prime Minister for an award presented by Corporate Knights magazine. For her prominent role in this initiative, May took some criticism from commentators and environmentalists.

Upon leaving the Sierra Club, Board President Louise Comeau noted, "Elizabeth has led the Club at the national level from its infancy to the enormously effective entity it is today, she was also instrumental in supporting development of the Sierra Youth Coalition, the Atlantic Canada Chapter and other Sierra Club chapters and local grassroots groups."

Political career

Early leadership

Green Party of Canada leadership convention, 2006
May (right foreground) at the 2006 Green Party of Canada leadership debate

On May 9, 2006, May entered the Green Party of Canada's leadership race.

On August 26, 2006, May won the leadership election on the first ballot. She tallied 65.3% of the votes, beating her main rival, David Chernushenko (33.3%) and Jim Fannon (0.88%). She said one of the main platforms for the next election would be to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). At the time of her election as leader, May said she intended to run in the riding of Cape Breton—Canso in the next federal election, although she also said she would stand in a federal byelection if one occurred prior to the next general election. In the fall of 2006, May ran for election in London North Centre, finishing second to Glen Pearson of the Liberal Party. While she lost, May's showing in this by-election was the best result, in terms of percentage, achieved by the Green Party of Canada at that time.

In April 2007, during a speech by May to a London, Ontario United Church of Canada, she condemned Prime Minister Stephen Harper's stance on climate change, comparing it to "a grievance worse than Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of the Nazis." The statement drew criticism from the Canadian Jewish Congress and opposition parties. While Opposition leader Stéphane Dion refused to respond to Harper's request for him to distance himself from May and these remarks during Question Period, Dion did state to reporters outside Commons that May should withdraw the remarks, and that the Nazi regime is beyond any comparison.

May said she was having "a lousy week" because of the federal government's weak action plan on the environment, but stood by her comments. In a Green Party of Canada press release, May stated that she was referencing a Chamberlain Nazi appeasement analogy made by journalist George Monbiot a few days earlier. saying "I made reference to Mr. Monbiot's statement to highlight the damage being done to Canada's international reputation, something that should concern all Canadians."

Elizabeth May at Pride 2008 (2625409974)
May marching in the 2008 Toronto Pride Parade

On March 17, 2007, May announced that she would run in the Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova, in the 2008 federal election. The riding was held by Conservative National Defence Minister Peter MacKay. May has explained that she chose Central Nova to avoid running against a Liberal or NDP incumbent.

On April 12, 2007, Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion announced that the Liberals would not run a candidate in Central Nova in return for the Greens not running a candidate in Dion's safe Saint-Laurent—Cartierville riding. There was criticism from prominent Green Party members of May's failing to support all Green candidates unequivocally during the 2008 election, as she made favorable comments about Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and said that supporters in close ridings might consider voting strategically to attempt to defeat the Conservatives.

May was initially excluded from the televised national leadership debate in the 2008 federal election, based on the lack of any elected Green party MPs. She argued that the TV network consortium's initial exclusion of the Green Party of Canada was "anti-democratic" and blamed it on "the decision-making of a small group of TV network executives". Eventually May was invited to attend the televised debate.

May received 32% of the vote in Central Nova in 2008 to MacKay's 47%. Nationally the Greens received 6.8 percent of the popular vote.

Member of Parliament

In 2010, following a survey of potentially favourable electoral districts across the country, May announced her intention to run in Saanich—Gulf Islands, in British Columbia against Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn.

On March 29, 2011, the broadcast consortium organizing the televised national leaders' debate for the 2011 federal election announced that it would not invite May. Despite her exclusion from the national debates, she won her riding, defeating the incumbent Gary Lunn. Nationally the Greens received 4 percent of the popular vote.

EMay-NDAER3
May speaks at the Fair Vote Canada National Day of Action in Ottawa, May 2011.

In 2012, May tabled a Private member's bill, Bill C-442, with the aim of creating a national framework to address Lyme disease. On December 16, 2014, Bill C-442 received royal assent, becoming law. Bill C-442 was the first piece of Green Party legislation enacted in the history of Canada, and was passed with unanimous consent by both houses of Parliament.

The bill was introduced by May in response to the rise of lyme disease across Canada, and in recognition of the findings by groups including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who have noted that as a result of climate change Lyme disease is beginning to spread more quickly, as the number of ticks— who serve as vectors for Lyme disease– steadily increases.

In December 2014, May presented a petition to the House of Commons by members of 9/11 Truth organizations asking the government to review the September 11 attacks in New York. While she personally did not agree with the petition, May defended presenting it and stated "It is an obligation of an MP to present every petition submitted to them." While many MPs consider it a responsibility, House of Commons rules do not require MPs to present all petitions they receive to Parliament. In 2012, the NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar declined to present a similar petition by another 9/11 Truth group to parliament.

Annually, Maclean's Magazine organizes an awards ceremony in which MPs recognize the achievements and hard work of their colleagues. In 2012, May was voted by her colleagues in the House of Commons as Parliamentarian of the Year, in 2013 she was voted Hardest Working MP, and in 2014 she was voted Best Orator.

May was the first MP to take a stand against Bill C-51, on February 3, 2015, Toronto Star National Affairs columnist Thomas Walkom noted that, "So far, the only opposition MP with enough guts to critique the content of the Conservative government's new anti-terror bill is Green Party Leader Elizabeth May." May and fellow Green MP Bruce Hyer tabled sixty amendments during clause-by-clause considerations of Bill C-51 – all sixty amendments were rejected by the government. May later stated of Bill C-51, "It's not fixable. Stop it. Repeal it."

On April 23, 2015, May had two amendments to Bill C-46, the Pipelines Safety Act, accepted. These were the first Green Party amendments to a government bill ever adopted. The first amendment enabled "aboriginal governing bodies to be reimbursed for actions they take in relation to a spill". Prior to the amendment, the bill outlined that those at fault in a spill would only be liable for "costs and expenses reasonably incurred by Her Majesty in right of Canada or a province or any other person". The second amendment was related to the concept of polluter pays. The original line in the bill said that the National Energy Board "may" recover funds to compensate those affected by a spill, the Green Party amendment changed the "may" to "shall".

Elizabeth May Onstage 4472 (22113212145)
May announcing the Green Party's educational policy during the 2015 Canadian federal election campaign

In October 2015, Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau invited May to be part of the Canadian delegation to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris, France, in late November 2015; the summit was intended to negotiate post-2020 targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and resulted in the GHGPPA. According to Maclean's, "May, who requested and received a 30-minute meeting with Trudeau this week even as he was immersed in transition plans for swearing in a new Liberal government on Nov. 4, said his willingness to engage with opposition parties is also encouraging, suggesting a less hyper-partisan style of governing."

On March 23, 2018, May was arrested for civil contempt during a demonstration against the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Other members of the demonstration, including fellow Member of Parliament Kennedy Stewart, were also arrested concerning the same incident. They were accused of violating a court order requiring those demonstrating to stay five meters back from company work sites, when they allegedly blocked the roadway. On April 9, 2018, Justice Kenneth Affleck of the British Columbia Supreme Court recommended that May and the others arrested should be charged with criminal contempt in relation to the alleged incident. On April 16, 2018, it was reported that special prosecutors would be overseeing the charges against May and Stewart. On May 14, 2018, the special prosecutor handling May's case told Justice Affleck that the province was pursuing a criminal contempt of court prosecution against May. On May 28, 2018, May pleaded guilty to criminal contempt of court and was sentenced to pay a fine of $1,500. May has called for a doubling of Canada's greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to a 60% reduction from 2005 levels, instead of the current 30%.

Second leadership

After Annamie Paul, May's successor as Green Party leader, resigned following a period of internal tensions within the party and a poor performance in the 2021 Canadian federal election, May announced she would run in the leadership election to replace her. Running on a joint ticket with human rights activist Jonathan Pedneault and proposing that the party adopt a co-leadership model, May won the leadership election on November 19, 2022. As co-leadership is not formally recognized in the party’s constitution, Pedneault is serving as May's deputy leader while the two seek to amend the party constitution.

Personal life

May has one daughter with former partner Ian Burton, Victoria Cate May Burton, who was the Green candidate in Berthier—Maskinongé in 2015, losing to NDP incumbent Ruth Ellen Brosseau.

On November 27, 2018, May announced her engagement to John Kidder, brother of actress Margot Kidder and one of the founders of the Green Party of British Columbia. Kidder had previously run as the 2011 federal Liberal candidate in Okanagan—Coquihalla and as the 2013 BC Green candidate in Fraser-Nicola. May and Kidder married on April 22, 2019, at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, British Columbia.

May is a practicing Anglican, and has said she is "interested, in the long term, in becoming ordained as an Anglican priest." She cites Jesus Christ as her personal hero, because "he led a revolution that was non-violent".

Honours and awards

  • International Conservation Award from Friends of Nature, 1985
  • Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, in recognition of significant contribution to compatriots, community and to Canada, 1992
  • Elizabeth May Chair in Women's Health and the Environment, Dalhousie University, 1998.
  • Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters (DHumL), Mount Saint Vincent University, 2000.
  • Harkin Award from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society for her lifetime achievement in promoting the protection of Canada's wilderness, 2002
  • Best Activist Award, Coast Magazine, Best of Halifax Readers' Poll, 2002
  • Honorary Doctorate of Laws, University of New Brunswick, 2003.
  • United Nations Global 500 award.
  • Officer of the Order of Canada, 2005.
  • Couchiching Award for Excellence in Public Policy, 2006
  • Honorary Doctorate of Laws, Mount Allison University, 2007.
  • Newsweek Magazine: One of World's Most Influential women, November 28, 2010
  • Maclean's Parliamentarian of the Year, 2012
  • Awarded the Canadian Version of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012
  • Maclean's Hardest Working Parliamentarian of the Year, 2013
  • Maclean's Best Orator of the Year, 2014
  • Honorary Doctor of Divinity (D.D.), Atlantic School of Theology, 2015.
  • Maclean's Most Knoweldgeable Parliamentarian of the Year, 2020

Electoral record

Canadian federal election, 2021: Saanich—Gulf Islands
Party Candidate Votes % ±% Expenditures
Green Elizabeth May 24,648 37.62 -11.47
Conservative David Busch 14,775 22.55 +2.32
Liberal Sherri Moore-Arbour 12,056 18.40 +1.78
New Democratic Sabina Singh 11,959 18.25 +5.55
PPC David Hilderman 1,943 2.97 +1.61
Communist Dock Currie 141 0.22 -
Total valid votes 65,522
Total rejected ballots 374 0.57
Turnout 65,896 70.45 -4.18
Eligible voters 93,538
Green hold Swing
Source: Elections Canada
Canadian federal election, 2019: Saanich—Gulf Islands
Party Candidate Votes % ±% Expenditures
Green Elizabeth May 33,454 49.09 -5.31 $87,482.73
Conservative David Busch 13,784 20.23 +0.77 none listed
Liberal Ryan Windsor 11,326 16.62 -0.08 none listed
New Democratic Sabina Singh 8,657 12.70 +3.63 none listed
PPC Ron Broda 929 1.36 none listed
Total valid votes/expense limit 68,150 99.53
Total rejected ballots 323 0.47 +0.18
Turnout 68,473 74.63 -4.05
Eligible voters 91,752
Green hold Swing -3.04
Source: Elections Canada


Canadian federal election, 2015: Saanich—Gulf Islands
Party Candidate Votes % ±% Expenditures
Green Elizabeth May 37,070 54.40 +7.99 $191,615.15
Conservative Robert Boyd 13,260 19.46 −17.02 $148,289.09
Liberal Tim Kane 11,380 16.70 +10.64 $56,913.03
New Democratic Alicia Cormier 6,181 9.07 −1.97 $52,539.33
Libertarian Meghan Jess Porter 249 0.37 $231.52
Total valid votes/expense limit 68,140 99.71   $223,670.30
Total rejected ballots 201 0.29
Turnout 68,341 78.68
Eligible voters 86,863
Green hold Swing +12.50
Source: Elections Canada
Canadian federal election, 2011: Saanich—Gulf Islands
Party Candidate Votes % ±% Expenditures
Green Elizabeth May 31,890 46.33 +35.88 $87,738
Conservative Gary Lunn 24,544 35.66 −7.77 $89,604
New Democratic Edith Loring-Kuhanga 8,185 11.89 +6.20 $66,273
Liberal Renée Hetherington 4,208 6.11 −33.25 $50,002
Total valid votes/expense limit 68,827 100.0     $293,617
Total rejected ballots 160 0.23
Turnout 68,987 75.25
Eligible voters 91,673
Green gain from Conservative Swing +21.82


Canadian federal election, 2008: Central Nova
Party Candidate Votes % ±% Expenditures
Conservative Peter MacKay 18,240 46.60 +5.94 $61,468.89
Green Elizabeth May 12,620 32.24 +30.65 $57,490.60
New Democratic Louise Lorifice 7,659 19.56 -13.33 $39,917.36
Christian Heritage Michael Harris MacKay 427 1.09 none listed
Canadian Action Paul Kemp 196 0.50 $87.79
Total valid votes/expense limit 39,142 100.0     $80,462
Total rejected, unmarked and declined ballots 304 0.77 +0.42
Turnout 39,446 67.01 -2.16
Eligible voters 58,863
Conservative hold Swing -24.71


Canadian federal by-election, November 27, 2006: London North Centre
Resignation of Joe Fontana
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Glen Pearson 13,287 34.85 −5.27
Green Elizabeth May 9,864 25.87 +20.38
Conservative Dianne Haskett 9,309 24.42 −5.48
New Democratic Megan Walker 5,388 14.13 −9.62
Progressive Canadian Steven Hunter 145 0.38 −0.09
Independent Robert Ede 77 0.20
Canadian Action Will Arlow 53 0.14
Total 38,123 100.00
1980 Canadian federal election: Cape Breton Highlands—Canso
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Allan J. MacEachen 18,262 50.40% +2.30%
Progressive Conservative Bill Kelly 12,799 35.32% −3.44%
New Democratic William J. Woodfine 4,902 13.53% +0.39%
Independent Elizabeth May 272 0.75% *

Selected works

  • Budworm battles: the fight to stop the aerial insecticide spraying of the forests of eastern Canada (with Richard E.L. Rogers). 1982. Four East Publications. ISBN: 0-9690041-5-X
  • Paradise Won: the struggle for South Moresby. 1990. McClelland & Stewart. ISBN: 0-7710-5772-5
  • Frederick Street: life and death on Canada's Love Canal (with Maude Barlow). 2000. HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 0-00-200036-9 - focused on the Sydney Tar Ponds, and the health threats to children in the community – the issue that led her to go on a seventeen-day hunger strike in May 2001 in front of Parliament Hill.
  • At the cutting edge: the crisis in Canada's forests. 2005. Key Porter Books. ISBN: 1-55263-645-3
  • How to Save the World in Your Spare Time. 2006. Key Porter Books. ISBN: 1-55263-781-6
  • Global Warming for Dummies (with Zoe Caron). 2008. Wiley & Sons Publishing. ISBN: 0-470-84098-6
  • Losing Confidence: Power, Politics And The Crisis In Canadian Democracy. 2009. McClelland & Stewart. ISBN: 0-7710-5760-1
  • Who We Are: Reflections on My Life and Canada (Greystone, 2014)

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Elizabeth May (abogada) para niños

  • List of Green party leaders in Canada
  • 2008 Canadian federal election
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