Countless accomplished Canadians, including three Prime Ministers, many scientific pioneers, artists, writers, and performers, were born abroad, chose to live here, and in doing so made Canada better.
One such person is Elizabeth May. From New England stock, counting three ancestors’ signatures on the Declaration of Independence, her family uprooted themselves and resettled in beautiful Cape Breton, a move that wiped them out financially but was a boon for Canada. You can now read about her early life and how she came to know and love our country with the intensity often found in new Canadians in her latest book “Who We Are: Reflections on my Life and Canada.”
Luckily, French studies in elementary school put her in good stead upon arriving in Canada, inhabiting a one-room log cabin with gaps the snow blew in and a TV that only got CBC and its sister French station, Radio-Canada. While friends went off to university, she spent her twenties waitressing and cooking for tourists in the family restaurant, campaigning to protect Cape Breton’s forests from toxic spraying in the off season.
Under a special admissions program and armed with a recommendation from the governor of Arkansas (an old activist friend destined to be United States president), this waitress/cook/activist from the Cape directly entered law school and went on to an environmental career so successful she was elevated to Officer of the Order of Canada with a teaching chair at Dalhousie University named after her.
Between founding several major environmental organizations (Canadian Environmental Defense Fund, Canadian chapters of Cultural Survival and Sierra Club) she also spent two years as senior policy advisor to Tory Environment Minister Tom McMillan, an extremely productive and successful period that led to Brian Mulroney being honoured as Canada’s “greenest” prime minister. During this time she also learned how Canada’s parliament worked: MPs from all parties rolled up their sleeves in committee and made legislation better. The Prime Minister showed respect for opposition leaders, consulting with or notifying them of major policy initiatives; international delegations included members from both sides of the House.
How much things change! Now an MP in her own right, she sits in a House more sharply divided and subject to more top-down control than ever before in our history. Much of her book deals with how unhealthy government is failing to serve the public interest, how we have strayed from the democratic ideals enshrined in our founding documents and instead fallen under the power of a dictatorial Prime Minister’s Office and party leaders, leading to policy failure on many key issues, particularly climate change.
But this topic, which takes up most of her book (with some common-sense prescriptions for how to fix it), goes beyond the capacity of a short column. Luckily, we have a chance to hear Elizabeth speak directly about these topics when she visits Barrie next Saturday (November 22) on her book tour. At 7 pm at the Southshore Centre, May will read from her book and take questions from the audience – unique among elected party leaders, with no pre-screening of attendees or questions! This is your chance to hear from the amazing source in person. For information, to book a ticket or attend the VIP reception, please visit www.BarrieGreenParty.ca.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Elizabeth May shares her insight in new book"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.
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