The Saanich News asked Saanich-Gulf Islands MP and federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May questions about her experiences and keys to success in the political realm.
Saanich News: What is your definition of success?
May: I have never found a better one that this from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Words to live by.
“Success: To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Q: What is your suggestion for success?
This advice was from one of my favourite law school professors: “Develop the habit of thoroughness.” When you prepare well, chances of success go way up.
Q: What, if any obstacles, did you encounter as you sought to establish your professional career?
The biggest obstacle I faced was the financial circumstances of my family. Just as it was time for me to start university, financial reverses meant I had to stay home and work in my family restaurant. I was able to get back on track to a law degree some years later by entering law school without an under-grad degree, thanks to Dalhousie University Law School’s Mature Students program. I feel very fortunate that such a program was created.
Q: How important are mentors?
It is hard to overstate the importance of strong mentors. I am so grateful for the support and guidance of an amazing parliamentarian, Flora MacDonald, and trail-blazing U.S. Congresswoman Bella Abzug. They were both way ahead of their time and taught me so much.
Q: Who mentored you during the early stages of your career?
My mother was my strongest role model and mentor. She always believed in me and encouraged my commitment to protect human health and the natural world.
Q: How do you balance your career with family? What lessons can you share with readers?
Every mom has to figure out what works best for her and her family. One size will not fit all. That said, what worked for me was not to try to “balance” but to integrate my family in my life’s work. I took my infant daughter with me everywhere. We were not apart a single night until she was three. By then, she had no separation issues. She couldn’t wait to be a big girl and spend a night with other friends. And she grew up knowing that nothing mattered more to me than she did. So when I did have to work late or go out of town, she understood.
Q: While you currently hold public office, which private sector skills have you been able to transfer to your current position?
I have worked in the past as a lawyer, a waitress, an environmental group’s executive director, and a government policy advisor. They have all helped. Looking at only the private sector skills, I am so grateful for the law background when I am studying new legislation and writing my amendments. I draw on my environmental policy background and exposure to top-notch scientists over decades. But, honestly, working hard, on my feet for long days and keeping on smiling as a waitress is an indispensable skill.
Q: What is the most important advice that you would give women who are currently contemplating their respective career choices?
Do what you love. Life is hard enough without having to compromise on your dreams.
Q: What else needs to happen to empower women in politics?
We must create a more respectful public space for discussion and debate. Partisan nastiness turns women – and a lot of men – off politics. I firmly believe that getting rid of our First Past The Post voting system is the single most important thing we can do to improve the political climate and have a more respectful politics. All of us in B.C. have an amazing opportunity to deliver this important step forward for democracy this fall in our upcoming referendum.