Elizabeth May comes to campus

As part of a special winter speaker series, Green party leader Elizabeth May speaks in the Ban Righ Fireside Room on Friday afternoon.
As part of a special winter speaker series, Green party leader Elizabeth May speaks in the Ban Righ Fireside Room on Friday afternoon.

The campaign to bring Elizabeth May to Queen’s started after the Green Party leader was elected as an MP in the Spring.

“We wanted to focus our attention on the connection between human beings and the natural world this year,” said Lisa Webb, an organizer of the event.

May is a former Queen’s School of Policy Studies professor and is the sole Green Party representative in Ottawa, representing the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands in B.C.

She spoke to a crowded room of students and Kingston residents on Friday in the Ban Righ Fireside Room as part of Ban Righ Centre’s special speaker series.

“It’s her analysis of environmental issues and how everything is interconnected: the economy, the political parts of things, the policy, the environment, the choices we make in our daily lives,” Webb said.

“She can interweave all of those things and come out with a clear idea of what action is required.”

May, who recently attended the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, was on her way to catch a 2:30 p.m. train to Windsor when she sat down with the Journal to talk about student voting, environmental activism and the Green Party’s future.

Q: A lot of concern surrounds student voter apathy in AMS elections. What can you say to that?

A: If it’s student government, then they’re going to make decisions that affect your experience as a Queen’s student so surely you must have some preference about what kind of decisions you want.

Voting in that will make a difference … You know it’s both a responsibility of citizenship and it’s a responsibility of being a community member to exercise your right to choose the best kind of representation you have on offer, and to run yourself if you don’t like what’s on offer.

Q. How can low voter turnout be improved in Canada?

A: We need Canadians to understand that votes do count even under this really perverse voting system we have of first-past-the-post.

When you start realizing that the difference between a Conservative minority and Conservative majority was 6,201 votes, you have to know the day you go out to vote, you simply can’t know whether you’re going to be in one of those ridings where your vote makes the difference between a party you really like winning and a party you like better winning.

Q: How can students get involved with environmental activism?

A: We’re all citizens and we all have a voice and we all have the ability to change everything.

You could routinely devote ... [an] hour or two a week spent writing letters to an editor, or the hour of two a week to go to a civic engagement.

So, committing some of your time to being vocal, being active and speaking out will have real impact. If everybody who cared about the issues we care about spoke out on them, the noise would be deafening. But we somehow think we can’t make much of a difference, so we don’t try.

Q: Where do you see the Green Party going in the future?

A: We have a different approach to politics. We like to see a more respectful dialogue. We don’t like the hyper-partisanship. I’m positive in the next election we will be electing many more Green MPs than we currently have.

One of the reasons it was so hard for me to get elected, or anyone to get elected was the media saying, ‘Well Greens can’t get elected in Canada.’ Well, the leader’s elected. That makes it pretty clear; Greens can get elected.

Q: What are the Green Party’s plans for tuition?

A: Some form of loan forgiveness or alternate program needs to be brought forward so students can afford to go to university. The Green Party policy is that there should be access to quality education that’s affordable for all.

We have a whole range of different programs and bursaries and scholarships and … we’re also very concerned about the fact that there’s persistent youth unemployment in Canada post-recession.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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