They share a campaign slogan — “not right, not left — forward” — and, it seems, Maxime Bernier and Elizabeth May share a challenge.
Keeping their campaigns relevant.
Bernier, the former Conservative MP, won the support of 49 per cent of Conservative Party members in the leadership race that elected Andrew Scheer. Bernier then split from the Conservatives, created the People’s Party and has been trying to drive daggers into Scheer’s back — and front — ever since.
Bernier’s campaign has taken a number of bizarre turns — most recently, a on-line bullying attack on young climate activist Greta Thunberg in which he mocked her as “mentally unstable.” Thunberg has Aspergers.
Bernier’s campaign has failed to meet the support threshold required to join the two official debates. He also won’t be on stage during this Thursday’s Macleans debate.
Increasing identification with conservative positions
May’s campaign, amid slumping poll numbers, has also taken a turn to the absurd in recent weeks.
Once perceived as a progressive left alternative to the NDP and the Liberals at a time when addressing climate change is critical, May has increasingly become identified with social conservative positions.
May has also repeatedly stated she could prop-up a minority government lead by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
Last Friday, Abacus Research put May’s Greens at nine per cent. Since mid-spring, the Green Party under Elizabeth May has lost one-third of her support.
May’s Greens won’t speak up for Charter rights and freedoms
May embraced controversial Quebec MP Pierre Nantel after the NDP blocked his nomination. Nantel had said a leader wearing a turban was “incompatible” with the Quebec electorate — though clearly, other Quebec NDP MPs and candidates disagree with Nantel’s pessimistic assessment of Quebec voters.
Now May is allowing Greens candidates, including Nantel, to support Quebec Bill 21, legislation that bans certain workers from wearing religious symbols. The law uses the charter’s notwithstanding clause to exempt it from any legal appeal based on the Canadians’ fundamental freedoms.
That position has earned a strong rebuke from the National Council of Canadian Muslims. On Monday, NCCM executive director Mustafa Farooq issued a press release calling May’s position on Bill 21 “unacceptable.”
No apology after racism used in Green Party pitch
May again played to anti-turban currents by failing to condemn a racially-charged vote pitch by new Green Party member Jonathan Richardson.
In July, Richardson’s mother, Joyce Richardson, was blocked from running for the leadership of the New Brunswick NDP after she didn’t pass candidate vetting.
Then, at a press conference last week, both Richardsons and a small number of their supporters announced their move to the Green Party.
In explaining the move, Jonathan Richardson argued that New Brunswickers hold racist views and, because NDP leader Jagmeet Singh wears a turban, the NDP can’t win in New Brunswick — so vote Green.
His mother’s blocked NDP candidacy, and the reasons for it, weren’t raised — or asked about by reporters.
Despite Richardson’s claims of ubiquitous racism, polls have shown a large majority of Canadians — in New Brunswick and elsewhere — say a candidate’s race or religion is irrelevant to how they decide their vote.
Richardson offered only anecdotal evidence to back his claim that people in New Brunswick wouldn’t vote for a Singh because of his religion.
Over the weekend, Kevin O’Donnell, president of the Saint John East Greens riding association, quit The Green Party over its failure to apologize to Singh for using the racist vote plea.
May’s anti-abortion positions back under scrutiny
Then May’s position on abortion resurfaced. During her 2006 by-election campaign in London North, May said women don’t have a “frivolous” right to abortion and she’d talked women out of having abortions. Though she is pro-choice because of the danger illegal abortions pose, May stated “nobody in their right mind is for abortions.”
And Monday, in a CBC interview, May said she wouldn’t stop any Green MP from working with social conservative MPs to reopen the abortion debate.
Within hours, a post from the Green Party twitter account directly contradicted May’s position. And shortly after came a “clarification.”
But the leader of the Quebec Greens, Alex Tyrrell, wrote he was “extremely disappointed” with May’s stance, which would allow anti-choice activists to use the Green Party to press for restrictive laws on abortion.
May’s conservative orientation is not new. In the 1980s, Elizabeth May was a ministerial assistant to Tom McMillan, the Environment Minister in Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government.
Conservative pundits have of course been eager to pump-up Ms May. Her willingness to support Scheer in a minority parliament not only might be needed after the result. But during the campaign, May’s openness to the Conservatives helps them greenwash a poor record on climate and normalize Scheer’s socially conservative positions.
This Thursday’s debate with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to participate — might be May’s last change to show she adds anything but confusion to the election race.