The former Greater Victoria radio host now leading the federal Greens as interim leader predicts Elizabeth May’s decision to step down as leader will allow the party to cast a wide net in its leadership process.
Jo-Ann Roberts, a former CBC radio personality who ran for the federal Greens in 2015 in the Victoria riding, said the party is looking for a “lot of what” May represented. “But what I am hoping now we will see is someone who can speak to new people, who are interested in the Green Party, who can reach new audiences. There could be an age or a generational change. That is not necessarily what we are looking for, but that would certainly be something that hopefully comes to the table.”
May’s decision to step down as leader comes after the Greens won three seats during last month’s federal election, the most ever in a national election, but failed to make a breakthrough in Greater Victoria.
“I wouldn’t say that a new leader couldn’t make a breakthrough in Victoria,” said Roberts. “You probably remember that I ran in Victoria in 2015 and I came second with more votes than 131 MPs who were elected. I believe very much that the south Island still has the ability to be a place for great growth for Greens, and some of it will depend on how voters feel about New Democratic representation in a minority government. They will have a chance to see whether that works for them. I think that was a factor in this election.”
But Roberts also suggested that May’s voice may have lost some weight in calling a May a “prophet in her own land.”
“I’m not sure how to explain this in a positive way, but sometimes, a strong voice stops being as strong as it is, when you have heard it a lot,” she said. “To a certain extent, people on the south Island have known what a great MP they have had in Elizabeth May. But they kind of have been accustomed to that.”
A new leader, she added, could be good for renewal, and also create additional interest.
Roberts made these comments after May announced Monday she would effectively step down as leader of the federal party. She will remain MP for Saanich Gulf-Islands.
“The timing was a surprise, the fact that this was going to happen at some point wasn’t a surprise,” said Roberts. “Elizabeth and I are friends as well as colleagues and we had certainly spoken about her desire to leave on her terms and make this decision herself.”
May, 65, said Monday she promised her daughter three years ago that the 2019 election would be her last as the leader — though not necessarily her last as an MP.
She also said it’s about timing — she predicts the newly elected minority parliament will last about two years, which means the Greens need to have a new leader in place with plenty of time to prepare for the next campaign.
A leadership convention is to be held in Prince Edward Island in October 2020.
“I think she really wanted there to be space for us to really cast a wide net,” said Roberts. She added later that the eventual winner of the leadership process could come from within the party, or from other parts of the Green movement.
Accounting for differences in the electoral system, Greens elsewhere in the western world tend to do well in large urban centres, a milieu where the Greens have not necessarily done well, having all won of all three seats in medium to smaller communities. So should the next leader of the Greens appeal more to urban voters?
Roberts does not see necessarily see it that way. “Yes, appealing to urban voters is important,” she said. “But it is not an accident that we elected members on both coasts, because that is where climate change is that much more visible.”
A new leader must be able to appeal to voters affected by climate change in both rural and urban ridings, said Roberts.
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