Thursday, October 16, 2008

Two Women

October 5, 2008

“When you're going door to door, it's amazing what people will tell you,” says Megan Leslie. “I was at this house the other day, and when the man recognized me, he said, 'I lost my job, I'm losing my house, I have to declare bankruptcy, and I don't know what to do.' And it really shook me how much trust this person had in me, to tell me that.

“You know, this is the privilege of being a candidate. People look to you to change things and make things better for them – even as a candidate.”

The man chose the right candidate to talk to. Personable and astute, Megan Leslie is a tireless anti-poverty advocate, deeply concerned with affordable housing and fair energy pricing. A dedicated environmentalist, she has a law degree and works with Dalhousie Legal Aid. Campaigning for the NDP nomination in Halifax against two strong and articulate competitors, she won by delivering a passionate speech to more than 600 party members.

Her opponents can only envy that enthusiasm. The Liberals quickly acclaimed a candidate just before the nomination deadline, while the Tories were forced to appoint a candidate not once, but twice. Meanwhile, Megan Leslie's campaign workers include both of her competitors, five MLAs whose ridings fall within the Halifax federal constituency, and her revered predecessor, Alexa McDonough.

That kind of firepower ought to carry Alexa's former seat decisively. Still, as Alexa firmly declares, the riding belongs not to the NDP, but to to the people of Halifax, and their support has to be earned anew every time.

I believe that good citizens should not only vote, but should actively support the candidates of their their choice. Since I'm voting in Halifax this time, I'll contribute both cash and effort to Megan's campaign, and hope to attend her victory party.

And though I can't vote in Central Nova, I'm also contributing to Elizabeth May's campaign.

A new web site,, contends that environmentalists should vote strategically, supporting the environmentally-responsible candidate most likely to defeat the local Tory. In Halifax: Megan Leslie, NDP. In West Nova: Robert Thibault, Liberal. In Central Nova: Elizabeth May, the Green leader.

It's an appealing idea, but that's not what I'm up to. I just think that Elizabeth May is an extraordinary woman, one of the most powerful voices for environmental sanity that we've ever had, and I think that Canada would benefit from having her in Parliament.

I met Elizabeth in the 1970s, when we were both in the coalition of determined Cape Bretoners who successfully opposed the insecticide spraying in the island's forests. She was a shy young woman of 21 when the battle began. She emerged as an indefatigable, politicized environmentalist. In a later attempt to prevent Scott Paper from herbicide spraying, she and her family lost their home and 70 acres of land in a lawsuit – but the suit delayed the spraying long enough to prevent the use of 2,4,5-T. That's commitment.

After law school, Elizabeth served as an adviser to former Environment Minister Tom Macmillan. She was instrumental in creating several new national parks and was in negotiating the Montreal Protocol on the ozone layer. She later worked for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and spent 17 years as Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada. She's written five books, and she has a basket of awards and honorary degrees.

In Canada, unlike Europe, the Greens have never been part of the political mainstream. Sweeping cultural currents are rapidly changing that - as is Elizabeth May's performance as leader. Since she took over, her party has steadily risen in the polls. In a 2006 Ontario by-election, Elizabeth captured second place, with 26% of the vote.

The strongest evidence of her stature is the uproar that arose when she was barred from the leadership debates. Agreed, the Greens have never elected a member – but by any other standard they are now a significant national party. The public roared, the establishment caved, and Elizabeth entered the debates.

These two women are like a waft of springtime. They're a powerful antidote to cynicism. A province which can generate such candidates should feel proud of itself – and prouder still if it sends them on to Ottawa.

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