Elizabeth May’s Rob Ford Moment - can we expect to see her on the late night talk shows?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 14, 2015


When things go off the rails who do you call? Lisa Raitt, of course. Canada’s transport minister, was the woman on the job at the annual parliamentary press gallery dinner, as she rescued Green Party leader Elizabeth May from herself.


Fortunately MP Elizabeth May has a good government pension which she will need because she will never make a living as a stand up comic.

May, suffering from lack of sleep, had been at the microphone ranting about the sorry state of the fourth (fifth?) political party in Canada. Then she experienced a Rob Ford moment, trying to make something humorous out of Canada’s mistreatment and neglect of native son Omar Khadr. She had planned to play the theme song from a ’70’s sitcom – “Welcome Back Kotter”, and was hauled off the stage while screaming that Khadr had more integrity than the whole ‘f**king’ Harper Cabinet.

It was a dumb trick – no wonder it didn’t work for her. There is absolutely no connection between the fictional teacher Kotter and our child-soldier Khadr. The names are spelled differently and they don’t even sound the same. The crowd watched in disbelief as May’s little stunt collapsed like a deflated balloon. And May then had to be ushered off the stage by fellow east-coaster and parliamentary buddy, Raitt.

The parliamentary press gallery dinners have been troublesome and ofttimes embarrassing for Canada’s leaders over the years since the 1870’s when they first started. The idea of a forum for some good fun involving self-depreciation and ‘roasting’ of political leaders is similar to the US White House Correspondence Dinner, which it pre-dates by almost half a century.

William Lyon MacKenzie King used the event to announce his resignation. Pierre Trudeau apparently hated attending the dinners. Stephen Harper used to attend while in opposition, appearing once as a convincing Darth Vader, perhaps foretelling where he planned to take the nation if elected But he is AWOL now, as PM.

Elizabeth May has had an impressive record as a champion of the environment, even before she came to lead the two-seat Green Party. A one-time advisor to Mulroney’s environment minister Tom McMillan, she was instrumental in the creation of several national parks. May was awarded the the Order of Canada in 2005 and Newsweek magazine named her “one of the world’s most influential women” in 2010.

Newly minted federal Minister of Transportation Lisa Raitt, who is the MP for north Burlington thinks the air park is "not a bad piece of infrastructure" but she wants it to operate within a "social license".

Minister of Transportation Lisa Raitt, got fellow MP Elizabeth May off the stage at a Press Gallery dinner where her speech stunt flopped badly.

Her buddy, Lisa Raitt, on the other hand has a more mixed biography, clouded by actions during her time as head of Toronto’s Port Authority. Her tenure as natural resources minister in the Harper Cabinet was awkward, given her unfortunate outburst during the shut down of the reactor at Chalk River. As Labour Minister she is credited with causing an airport workers’ wildcat strike when she called for the RCMP to arrest the workers.

Harper moved Raitt to the transport ministry following the Lac Mégantic train disaster, to give the appearance that his government was doing something. And the government is finally doing something about banning those unsafe tank cars, knowingly used for decades for this dangerous cargo; informing communities when these oil trains pass though; and re-confirming no exemptions for minimum train crews – to help ensure that trains would be properly braked, unlike the one that broke free and crashed, causing the Lac Mégantic tragedy.

Omar Khadr, is the Canadian-born child soldier, shot and captured by American soldiers in Afghanistan, before growing up as an inmate at the US torture academy at Guantanamo Bay. His release on bail was followed by a media conference where he appeared humbled, promising Canadians he’d be a better person. He had been well primed and appeared credible, if not cuddly. Was that the welcome back moment May was championing?

Omar Kahdr

A boy of 15 on a battlefield where everyone was shooting at everyone gets charged with murder when someone was killed as the result of a grenade the 15 year old boy threw – for this the Canadian government wants to keep him in jail?

This one-time child-soldier, born into a politically activist family with roots in the middle east, had spent most of his life somewhere other than Canada. I don’t know if tossing a grenade in self-defence at a gun-fight with American invaders in a lawless country like Afghanistan is much of a crime. But holding children as extra-judicial military prisoners sure is.

In retrospect he probably shouldn’t have been there (Afghanistan), but history will show that neither should the Americans who shot and then held him prisoner for as long as they did. Omar Khadr has had a tough life growing up and had been poorly treated – by the Americans and his own parents – but he is hardly a hero worthy of praise. And while he is now in the country of his birth, Canada is barely his home. No wonder May’s skit flopped.

Background links:

Elizabeth May       May and Khadr       Lisa Raitt      Omar Khadr

Welcome Back Kotter       White House Correspondents

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. 

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6 comments to Elizabeth May’s Rob Ford Moment – can we expect to see her on the late night talk shows?

  • Tony Pullin

    Hmm. I guess one must consider Lisa Raitt’s sharp perception for encouraging Ms. May off stage. Through a life experience of watching wedding speeches, retirement speeches, Academy Award speeches, political speeches etc. I’ve never seen anybody be dragged off the stage for being “tired”!
    I hope that Ms. May will refrain from speaking, driving, representing constituents, or running countries if she is “tired”.
    Kudos to “east coast buddy” Ms. Raitt for identifying Ms. May’s sufferance from “lack of sleep” and intervening.

  • D.Duck

    Omar Khadr was indoctrinated into a cult-like family as a child. No one at that age could have escaped his family’s programming and because of this, he became a war-child soldier. He has paid for his family’s misguidance in way that we will never understand. To the soldier’s family who lost his life and to the others’ who were wounded we give our heart felt condolences. But let’s allow Omar to learn to live as an individual in a free Canada where he can make his own choices away from his reprehensible family. He will surprise us………in a good way.

    As for Ms. May, is there not a ‘Morality Clause’ to being an MP?? Should she not be held accountable for her lack of professionalism?? Ya, I forgot………they’re more special than we are and hence entitled to more forgiveness.

  • Gary

    I will be interested in learning what the annual cost to the taxpayers will be for the authorities to monitor Khadr. I hope they have classy agents watching him as befits his new exalted status.

    With respect to May, it has been my experience that people who come across as crusaders for some cause or another generally lack a good sense of humour and should avoid all attempts at stand-up comedy altogether.

  • Fascinating information on several levels. Of course, Khadr’s story, as presented herein, would be hard to find south of the Canadian border.

    I hope May has not brought discredit upon the Green mentality. Perhaps it can be excused as a bad choice of mushrooms on one of her forest walks.

  • Bob Zarichansky

    I can see Harper trying to soften his image before the election by appointing Khadr to the senate to represent PEI.

  • Brenda Oliver

    Well thought out article and interesting view points, Ray.