I have to admit that when I saw the news of Elizabeth May’s behaviour this weekend, with reports of bullying from some former staffers, I wasn’t particularly surprised. Disappointed, yes, and worried about what it meant for the Green Party in general. But not really surprised.
It took a bit of introspection on why I wasn’t surprised. I don’t know May well, but I’ve had the opportunity to meet her and work briefly with her in a policy development group. She’s outspoken, yes, but clearly highly intelligent, hard working, and very determined.
I worked in a large corporate entity many years ago, somewhat akin to politics, I’m sure, in terms of the power dynamics. I’ve known these women; the ones who are working successfully at high levels in a male dominated field. Although I hesitate to speak for women, I think there is probably some truth to the idea that women have to be tougher and more vocal than men to work in, and get respect in, that environment. There is truth in the idea that they will be held to higher standards of behaviour and judged more harshly than the men they work with.
It is possible that these complaints come from former employees who have an axe to grind for perceived slights. Clearly, there are numerous people who have worked closely with May for many years and have considerable respect for her as a politician and as a friend. I doubt you can get very far in politics without ruffling numerous feathers.
So, no, I wasn’t particularly surprised because, well, these stories almost certainly have at least a grain of truth in them.
It appears party officials are rushing to rally around May and downplay the accusers’ stories. This is an unfortunate mistake. We’re in an era where owning up to your actions is important. It is important to make sure that those that feel victimized get heard fairly and respectfully. It is important to determine, as much as possible, in a not-very-black-and-white-world how much truth there is in the stories. It is important to make appropriate amends, wherever possible; from personal amends to improvements in party complaint processes.
It is also important, as difficult as it might be in a one-MP party, to recognize that this MP is not the party. There are many good and capable people in the Green Party. There are clear signs that Green values are speaking to people, as evidenced by the growth in party popularity in B.C. and P.E.I. For me, personally, I remind myself that I came to the Green Party long before I had a real inkling of who Elizabeth May is. I have read her books, heard her speak, and come to admire and respect her, but she is not the reason I’m here.
I hope these grievances get resolved in a respectful and dignified way. And I’ll remain optimistic that, no matter what, the party will learn and grow from this experience. At the end of the day my commitment to the Green Party, and the values it embodies, goes beyond a single person.
Note: Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect GPC party policy or the policy of our EDA.