Community Papers

Hard work based upon principles

Elizabeth May says MPs have been morphed into pawns by their parties - not the way government is supposed to work. - File photo
Elizabeth May says MPs have been morphed into pawns by their parties - not the way government is supposed to work.
— image credit: File photo

By Tim Collins/Contributor

This November, Elizabeth May was once again honoured at an event sponsored by McLeans and L’actualite’ magazines at which parliamentarians receive the recognition of their peers.

May was no stranger to the event, having last year won the Parliamentarian of the Year title. This year she was named Hardest-Working MP.

One might reasonably ask what it is that has earned her that level of respect for two years running.

“It may be that I’m always in the House while it’s in session,” joked May. “But in fairness, I really don’t have a desk in my office.”

It’s true that her office is so small that it really has barely enough room for her staff of four so May has given up that space, preferring to work in the House.

But the real secret to the respect she has garnered from her peers lies in an unwavering set of principles from which May has never strayed.

For example, there is a dedication to making government work more effectively and responsively.

When May rises from her seat — Seat 309 (near the translators) — she will not tolerate the heckling that often characterizes the House. If heckled, she will take her seat and wait for the House’s attention before rising to continue.

“Part of what I want to accomplish is to break through the partisanship that has overtaken the House. We’ll never accomplish anything if we’re constantly at war with everyone who’s not in our party,” said May.

As the leader and only Green Party MP, May also recognizes that she needs the co-operation of fellow MPs to address her own agenda and the issues arising out of her constituency.

“I’m not operating on party lines. If it’s a good idea my counterparts know that I’ll go to bat for them. I expect the same courtesy.”

“The system has been massively denigrated under this government,” said May. “MPs have been morphed into pawns in a big game with far too much power being exercised in the PMO. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.”

That’s why May has thrown her support behind a private members bill introduced by Conservative MP Michael Chong. That bill would give party caucuses the power to oust leaders and would free up members to vote their conscience without fear of being turfed from caucus.

“It’s very much in line with the Green Party philosophy. When we take more seats in the House – and we will - we will never have whipped votes,” said May. “Our role is to represent what’s best for the country and our constituency … not the party. That’s not a strategy; it’s the job.”

And May takes the job very seriously. Her work day typically begins before 7 AM and doesn’t wind down until after 11 PM. (see “Typical Schedule” for an idea of May’s day.)

“In the end, I represent the people of Saanich-Gulf Island,” said May. “And they deserve my best. It’s really the only way I can live with myself.”

May’s closing comments about her personal philosophy and work ethic is telling.

“The only way to get through it all is to make sure that you never do anything you’d be ashamed to tell your children and grandchildren about.”

 

A typical day for Elizabeth May

How do you get voted Hardest-Working MP? We wondered about that and convinced Elizabeth May to share her schedule for a random day.

Here it is:

• 6:45 a.m. – Pickup from home to Parliament hill.

• 7:15-8 a.m. – Parliamentary prayer breakfast.

• 8-9 a.m. – French lesson.

• 9-9:40 a.m. – Meet with constituent.

• 9:45-10:15 a.m. – Meet with environmental NGO.

• 10:15-10:30 a.m. – Meet with staff.

• 10:30-11:30 a.m. – Green Party  bi-weekly meeting.

• 11:30 a.m.-12 p.m. – meet with fellow MP about constituent case.

• 12-1:30 p.m. – Equal Voice lunch with Kim Campbell.

• 1:30-2 p.m. – Meeting with the Marine Pilots Association.

• 2-3 p.m. - Question period.

• 3–6:30 p.m. Routine proceedings/Government Orders in the House.

• 3:30-4 p.m. – Remembrance Day statements in the House.

• 4:10ish – meet with Toronto environmental organization.

• 4:30-5 p.m. – meet with ocean research group from B.C.

• 4:50-5:05 p.m. – Time allocation vote on c7 reception.

• 5:30-6 p.m. – Attend all-party ocean’s caucus.

• 6:30 – 6:40 p.m. Adjournment proceedings. Sometime after question period, step out to do media interview.

• 6:40-7 p.m. – two votes.

• 7-7:30 p.m. – Participate in adjournment proceedings.

• 7:30-8:30 p.m. – After hours tour of the house for 44 students, teachers and parents from a high school in the riding who were visiting Ottawa.

• 8:30-9 p.m. – Stop into Teacher’s Institute dinner.

• 9-9:45 p.m. – swim.

• 10-10:30 p.m. – rejoin teachers institute dinner.

• 10:30 p.m. - go home and deal with email.

We did a bit of follow-up to ensure we’d not selected an especially busy day and found the schedule for this day was fairly typical.

May said that the schedule varies considerably when she gets home to Saanich-Gulf Islands. Then she tends to work the same number of hours, but has the opportunity to concentrate on issues at a constituency level.

 

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