Elizabeth May

Photo courtesy of greenparty.ca

The most heated that MP Justin Trudeau ever got in the House of Commons was on the matter of who gets to go to the UN climate conference. When former Conservative Minister of Environment Peter Kent chided former NDP Deputy Leader Megan Leslie for not attending the conference in Durban, South Africa, Trudeau lost his cool, hurling a swear word across the aisle.

The Conservatives had in fact prevented opposition MPs from attending the summit.

With soon-to-be Prime Minister Trudeau promising a new collaborative and sunny approach, how fitting that a movement should arise urging him to send an MP from another party to the Paris conference this December.

Several petitions have sprung up since Monday night’s election results, with a total of over 80,000 signatures in under two days asking that Trudeau not only send Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to Paris, but to also make her his Minister of Environment.

Nic Morgan, Co-founder and VP Business Development of Morgan Solar quickly pitched the idea on social media as the votes were being totalled.

“No one is better qualified than May to represent us and put together a plan on short notice for the Paris conference in five weeks,” Morgan said. “Even if the appointment were temporary, it would be highly valuable to Canada and to meeting our environmental goals.”

Morgan suggests Interim Environment Minister could also work, allowing May to lead in Paris while Liberals are brought up to speed on the negotiations and a permanent minister could be chosen.

Morgan and others, however, also see the potential downsides.

Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Green Party of Ontario said that May could have a stronger role in opposition than in Trudeau’s Cabinet.

As minister, May would have to accept becoming part of Trudeau’s government. While a minister can develop policies and leadership on a file, they are at the whim of the Prime Minister’s direction, not the other way around. If May goes too far on any issue, she could be let go or forced to resign.

That was the case in 1988 when as Senior Advisor to Minister of Environment Tom McMillan, May resigned on a matter of principle when the minister pushed ahead with the Rafferty-Alameda Dams without environmental assessment.

Thomas Mulcair resigned in 2006 as Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development for Quebec in a similar story, when his government decided to sell Mont Orford Park.

While there are different stories as to what went down with Mulcair and Premier Charest at the cabinet table, it remains that the Environment portfolio is a difficult one, as the job of the minister butts against the competing priorities and lobbyists the Prime Minister or Premier gets to deals with. A very strong environment minister is often thought not to last too that long.

“May would make a great Environment Minister, but Liberals would be likely to make decisions that she and the Greens could not support,” said Schreiner. “Her cabinet role would prevent her from speaking out publicly and holding the government to account, which is the job of an opposition leader.”

Her role in cabinet could conflict with Trudeau priorities including pipelines, which as Minister, May would likely have to get onside with. Besides that, it would remove Parliament’s only Green MP from her key role in the party.

Schreiner suggests Trudeau make May a special envoy for the coming conference. The idea is something that some of the petitioners are also coming around to. An envoy could give May a voice and role on behalf of the government, without some of the potential drawbacks for both sides.

A ministerial offer by Trudeau could be a way for him to appear to the public to be reaching out, but with an offer she couldn’t possibly accept.

Trudeau has already said he’ll be bringing premiers to Paris. Those will come from different parties. Already a marked change from Harper. Perhaps even some other environment ministers will join Trudeau, like the ambitious Glen Murray of Ontario, who recently hosted the Climate Summit of the Americas, in lieu of federal participation.

So minister, interim minister, envoy, or opposition leader. The public is eager to see May play a key role, seeming to agree with the constituents of Saanich Gulf-Islands who gave her 54 percent of the vote on Monday.

And while Canadians keep tweeting the minister proposal minute by minute, Trudeau may be pondering other strong options within his large new caucus. This includes Stéphane Dion, who May worked with when he led the UN climate conference in Montreal one decade ago before becoming Green leader. History could repeat.

Darcy Higgins is a food activist and consultant in Toronto, Founder of Food Forward and Partner with Building Roots. He is a member of A/J’s Editorial Board and a long-time community, environmental and Green Party organizer.

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