In his Saturday National Post column, Rex Murphy claimed that Canada’s Green party has no goal other than to get me elected as an MP — and that this has been the case for “two or three general elections.”
In fact, I have led the party into only two general elections. The Green Party, unlike any of the other parties represented in Parliament, is truly grassroots. The leader is not the boss, and electing the leader was not a priority before 2011.
In 2008, our campaign strategy called for me to help other candidates: I was out of my riding during more than half the writ period. (That included the national campaign launch, which took place in Guelph, Ont.) In 2011, the party decided I would campaign primarily in my own riding, and I spent only 12 days helping other candidates. But even so, my 2011 campaign received no more financial support in the writ period than any of the other 300-plus Green Party candidates.
Mr. Murphy describes the Green party’s recent decision not to field a candidate in Labrador as though it were mine alone. But any decision as significant as standing down in a by-election is one that is made through consultation, including with local green party members, the federal campaign committee and the elected federal council. (The council is the governance structure of the party, with volunteers from every province and the North, including from Newfoundland and Labrador.)
In the case of the upcoming Labrador by-election, Green-party members believed it was important to consider that Elections Canada has not yet finished its investigations into the local violation of election laws. It is also clear that Peter Penashue, the Conservative incumbent, got the jump on preparations, knowing that the by-election would be called. It is true we gained only 136 votes in 2011 in that riding, but Mr. Penashue won by only 79 votes.
Our decision was not easy. We had surprised pundits in November by coming within a hair’s breadth of snatching a “safe” NDP seat in Victoria, and capturing more than 25% of the vote in Calgary Centre. In Labrador, we were tempted to demonstrate how our vote has grown. But this temptation had to be weighed against the risk of splitting the vote, and thereby aiding the candidate whose election-law violations led to the by-election in the first place.
The most egregious part of Mr. Murphy’s article was his attempt to denigrate my support of Mark Warawa’s recent Point of Privilege in regard to his being prevented (by his own Conservative party) from delivering a member’s statement in Parliament. Mr. Murphy ridiculed my declaration that “we [MPs] are not here as teams” on the basis (which I have refuted in the paragraphs above) that this is “easy for her to say — the Green party is not a team only because it has but one player.” In launching his narrow attack against me, Mr. Murphy missed an issue of enormous importance: the rights of individual Members of Parliament. When Gordon O’Connor, Chief Government Whip, described the Speaker as a “referee” who had no business talking to team captains about their players, he was reinforcing a false and dangerous notion.
As eminent political scientists Professors Peter Russell and Ned Franks have pointed out, the emergence of powerful political parties, with leaders capable of instructing every move made by their MPs, is a threat to democracy itself. This is how being Green is different: I read every bill and decide how my constituents would want me to vote. But all around me in the Commons, the MPs from other parties receive a page of instructions on every bill and every vote. Every day, MPs rise and read scripted assaults on other parties, written for them by their own party’s back-room operatives.
The principle of Westminster parliamentary democracy is that Members of Parliament are elected to represent their constituents. Political parties do not exist as protected (or even recognized) entities in our Constitution, nor are they necessary for the governing of our country.
The metaphor of Parliament as a team-based sporting contest is wrong. The fact that such an argument was used to deny a Member of Parliament his right to speak for 60 seconds, once every few months, shows that our democracy is endangered. Democracy is not a sport, and Mr. Murphy might be more inclined to monitor the threats against it than launch ill-founded attacks against one of the few MPs seeking to protect its integrity.
Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, is the Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands. In 2012, she was Maclean’s magazine’s “Parliamentarian of the Year.”
Originally printed in the National Post.