Elizabeth May: Losing Confidence

Losing Confidence:
Power, Politics and the Crisis in Canadian Democracy
McClelland & Stewart
268 pages

by Tom Graff
When I read this book I can see why Stephen Harper does not want Elizabeth May at the debating table. She is formidable. She knows her facts, knows how to present them clearly and mentions detail that gets an audience thinking. She also happens to be disarmingly nice at the same time. She knows all the insiders from years of public service, is a kind of crucial insider herself, and lets us have her insight in this book, inviting us into an ecology of democracy. The eco-system of our demoralized democratic state is counting on her.

What You See . . .

Sitting across from her, one would not expect her to be such a threat to the power structure of our minority government in Ottawa. But because she knows how to practice “love your neighbour as yourself” politics, she has grown men shaking in their testosterone-laced boots. Articulately decrying “politics as blood sport,” Ms. May knows how to disarm as well as get the reader to think about democracy and politics without sinking to sports analogies. Reading her latest book, Losing Confidence, inspires the reader, and indeed me, the sceptical journalist.

Because the author is pragmatic instead of didactic, I was easily engaged in this primer for those who care about how we got to this low point in our democracy. Elizabeth May proposes solutions based in deep respect for our institutions, person to person, idea by idea. She is partisan, but she wants to play fair. She is an adult. She demonstrates this when she engages fairly and creatively in conversation about her new book.

She knows what drives efforts to discredit concern for the planet, for example. By watching our system work from inside and outside, first as an advisory bureaucrat to the federal government, then with a stretch as Sierra Club advocate and now leader of the Green Party, she has observed just about every in and out of Ottawa political life.

Ecosystem of Democracy

Losing Confidence is not about the pressing subject of the survival of the planet, but about the colossal but little-respected subject of why Canadian democracy has lost its rudder. The ecosystem of democracy, if you will, is her recent focus.

With this book, May explains passionately why we need to change. Her current outsider status gives her the responsibility and arm’s length clarity to discern what is going on regarding the dire issues of our democracy. She lines up the issues, from the loss of confidence in the RCMP to the lack of knowledge of the legal right of Parliament to create a coalition. She places it all in front of the reader in a concise style.

While still not elected, yet possessing an incisive ability to elucidate, she is not muzzled by a power-hungry back room or prime minister and probably has more constructive effect on our thinking about governance than most or all of Parliament’s members. The book’s canvas is large and the loss of confidence in our Canadian way of life, government, governance and public discourse, as well as education, is palpable. The documentation is deep and clear. The book is affable and readable, more a letter to fellow Canadians than a manifesto. If Obama reads it he will get an earful. Professor Ignatieff would be wise to make study notes. (Harper, once he reads it, will probably burn it to stay warm now that the polls are putting him out in the cold.)

One inclination that Elizabeth May practices in her politics and her writing about political affairs, is her constructive attitude. This author does not loose the reader in depression or despair or fear mongering. Not much goes unnoticed by her. For example, she openly points out how the undoing of Canadian democracy has become a perfect platform for Harper’s style of one-man rule.

Third World

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