Three petitions popped up on election night asking Prime Minister elect Justin Trudeau to give Elizabeth May the position of Environment Minister, making it clear that some Canadians see her as the most qualified MP for the job. They’re probably correct, but that doesn’t mean she should sit in the front bench on Trudeau’s side of the House of Commons.
To most Canadians who care deeply about the environment May is our patron saint and represents that real and tangible change to not just environmental, but economic, social, and even charter legislation that we go to bed dreaming about every night. We can’t let those fantasies cloud our judgment though, were May to sit in Trudeau’s cabinet Canada would not suddenly become a renewable paradise.
In reality, we would see a strong voice silenced. May would speak occasionally about a token bill or two, a new national park here, an endangered species bill there, but she would ultimately be robbed of her current ability to hold the government’s feet to the fire. This wouldn’t be May’s fault — I’m sure she would want to make a more tangible change — but what happens in a cabinet is behind closed doors, and when they open MPs support each decision confidently or they’re tossed out.
Even if May was able to pass some strong environmental bills that would make conservationists celebrate, it would be a small victory in comparison to the work that needs to be done. The problem is that this sort of Liberal-Green coalition would not be a coming together of like-minded people for the most part. You would have May, one person against thirty-three, trying to sway other ministries towards the sweeping changes that she proposed in her platform.
All legislation is environmental legislation. Choices the cabinet makes about the economy, transportation, infrastructure, fisheries, agriculture, and development will undoubtedly impact our fragile ecosystems, and as our world becomes more polluted and dangerous the ministries of health, public safety, science and technology, and justice will have to pick up the slack. May couldn’t make a real difference to Canada’s environment while restricted to one portfolio — she needs to be able to speak out publicly against every decision and every proposed bill. May has said she would never support the Keystone XL pipeline, end of story, while Trudeau has said he supports the project. Who would win in a cabinet brawl? The environment sure wouldn’t.
So if May doesn’t really benefit from this scenario then who does? It might be only Trudeau. In one fell swoop, he could literally green-wash his party with a shiny Elizabeth May figurehead and shut her up when it comes to his less environmentally friendly policies going forward. Trudeau should offer May the position, but she should definitely decline.