18 Sep In rare (for me) praise of Elizabeth May
I first met Elizabeth May when she was 21 and I was 30. Together we fought a government plan for spruce budworm spraying in Cape Breton in the late-1970s, a plan we helped scuttle.
If we both live to be 110, I will find it hard to forgive May for her leading role in prolonging the destructive, 20-year debate about the Sydney Tar Ponds, an ugly controversy that enhanced her career even as it sapped Sydney’s capacity to find a way forward after the death of its steel industry.
Perhaps paradoxically, I nevertheless regard May as a politician whose rhetorical gifts could serve as an example to public figures whatever their political views. Love her or hate her, May has a rare knack for speaking to citizens through the media as if she were seated at their kitchen table, sipping tea and speaking plain talk about the crucial issues of our time.
She speaks simply and directly. She speaks about important matters. She conveys an impression, almost extinct among today’s generation of politicians, that she believes what she is saying, and is not merely saying it for momentary political effect.
I mentioned this recently to a right-wing friend who advises politicians and governments on communications strategy. Somewhat to my surprise, he readily agreed. I paraphrase his response because I wasn’t taking notes. He said there is a vast empty space available between the populist rants of a Donald Trump and the messaged-up-the-ass caution of today’s professional politicians.
To her credit, May occupies that space with great success, albeit bearing the gonfalon of a minor party. If any of Canada’s major party leaders had this skill, they would have clobbered the other two in last night’s debate. That is no doubt why she was excluded, and it is to The Globe and Mail’s great shame that it enabled this exclusion.