Local MLA Adam Olsen said Greens across Canada owe outgoing leader Elizabeth May a “tremendous debt of gratitude” in praising her leadership, but also acknowledged that it could be a challenge to replace her.
“She has done an incredible job of advancing the issues that both the federal and provincial Green parties across the country have been building on, and she has been the leader who has really solidified support for Greens right across the country,” said Olsen. “We owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude for the work that she puts in.”
But if Olsen praised May’s contributions in creating political space for Greens both federally and provincially, he also urged fellow Greens to make sure the party has an identity beyond its leadership.
“Going forward, the Green Party of Canada is going to have to do a job to ensure that it is not just the party of the leader, that it is also well-defined, and that the leader is the latest spokesperson of the party,” he said.
May announced her decision to step as federal Green Party Monday early afternoon Ottawa time. May, who plans to remain as MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, promised her daughter three years ago that the 2019 election would be her last as the party leader — though not necessarily her last as an MP. Olsen said he was aware that she would be making the announcement, but has not had a chance yet to speak with her.
The question of whether May would remain leader had been floating around the political ether before last month’s federal election during which the federal Greens won three seats but failed to make a broader impact and only intensified after it, reaching a fever pitch with suggestions that she would be interested in becoming the Speaker of the House of Commons.
When asked whether the suddenness of May’s announcement surprised him, Olsen said he was not aware of the internal conversations that led to the decision.
“I had been expecting some news around what is going on with the leadership of the party,” he said. “As for the timing, I really don’t have much of a comment. I don’t have any insights about how it played out.”
This said, the Greens will now have to find a new leader, not necessarily an easy task.
“They [May’s footsteps] are massive,” said Olsen. “She has taken the Greens from outside the political narrative right into the middle of the political narrative,” he said.
May’s “consistent and very disciplined approach” has made her leader in Canada’s climate change debate. “There are only a very few people in Canada’s political landscape who have a bigger presence than Elizabeth May,” he said. “So clearly the job ahead of any future leader of that party is going to be to take the groundwork she has laid and build on it and take it forward and to build a presence that is as large and powerful as she has. I think it is going to be a challenge.”
Any new leader should not necessarily look to fill her shoes, but define a distinct leadership. “They should be establishing themselves as an entity outside Elizabeth May, not Elizabeth May II,” he said.
This of course raises the question of whether the Greens have a future beyond May, with many Canadians associated her with the Green Party.
“This is the danger of any political party, identifying itself too, too much with the leader,” said Olsen. “I think there is no question that leaders of political parties set the tone and political parties are evaluated a lot on their leaders. But I think they have been entities that can exist on their own as well. No leader should be bigger than the political party and this is a situation that the Greens are going to have to work to ensure that it doesn’t get too imbalanced in the future.”
Olsen also used the occasion to rule out that he would be running to replace May.
“I will not be running for the leadership of the federal Greens,” he said. “That is a certainty. I have two children still in elementary and middle school and I am very much committed to the provincial issues I am dealing with. I very much appreciate the ability to commute to Victoria rather than having to commute to Ottawa.”
With files from Canadian Press.
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