Elizabeth May came to Nanaimo not only to talk about Green Party policy, but also to address broader questions about democracy in Canada.
The leader of the federal Green Party and member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands held a town hall forum Sunday afternoon at the Beban Park Social Centre.
She took questions on a range of topics including oil tankers, health care and veterans’ affairs, but her speech dealt largely with the Conservative government’s Fair Elections Act. May said she agrees with NDP leader Tom Mulcair that opposition parties should make the act the central issue in the next federal election.
May wants to see democratic reform of a different sort. She said she likes Conservative MP Michael Chong’s bill that would reduce the power of party leaders, and she repeated the Green Party’s frustration with the first-past-the-post electoral system.
“[We need] a whole group of public interest measures that revive Canadian democracy and ensure that when Canadians look at the prospect of voting, they do so thinking, ‘I’m going to vote for the change I want. I’m going to vote for what I believe in,'” she said.
May opposes the Fair Elections Act for several reasons, she said. She thinks it will make it more difficult for certain segments of society to prove their identity, she’s concerned about relaxed rules on campaign spending, and she worries about Elections Canada’s reduced role in combatting voting fraud.
May supports, on the other hand, Chong’s Reform Act bill, which would remove the requirement that party leaders sign off on candidates’ nominations, and would give a caucus the ability to initiate a leadership review.
“It would reduce the power of the leader of a political party and in doing so, enhance the power of each member of Parliament to work for their constituents,” May said.
She said party leaders are too powerful right now and pointed to the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Under Lester Pearson, the prime minister had an office – it was a couple of stenographers and a file clerk. Now it’s a $10-million-a-year partisan operation filled with ruthless, cutthroat psychopaths … They lose sense of what it’s about, which is a better country, protecting future generations, taking care of each other.”
May said she doubts Prime Minister Stephen Harper will run for re-election in 2015, hinting at Conservative backbench rumblings. A realistic outcome, she said, might be a Liberal minority government in which the Greens hold a balance of power.
She was asked about vote-splitting in Nanaimo, a traditional NDP stronghold, and said the Greens will certainly run a candidate in the new riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith.
“Vancouver Island is the best place in Canada to elect more Green MPs,” said May.