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Why Elizabeth May refuses to be a rubber stamp in the Commons

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Common on June 6, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Elizabeth May is proving to be the outlier in the House of Commons, stymieing the Conservative government's plans by refusing twice this week to allow unanimous consent.

The Green Party Leader, who is the only Green MP in the chamber, has said she will not allow a proposed bill, dealing with so-called mega-trials, to sail through the Commons without debate.

Then, she stood alone Tuesday, denying unanimous consent for the motion to extend the mission in Libya.

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A disappointed Defence Minister Peter MacKay accused Ms. May of operating this way to keep herself in the headlines. It means neither he nor the Prime Minister or any other government official can claim to international partners that Canada showed a united front on the NATO-led mission.

Ms. May denies any ulterior motive. Rather, she says she's simply not a rubber stamp.

"Gosh no," she told The Globe about seeking attention, adding that she is disappointed with Mr. MacKay's observations. "I am not trying to block anything for the sake of blocking it."

"It was principled and had nothing to do with headlines," she said of her 10-minute speech in the Commons on the Libyan mission. Without party standing she was given permission by the government to participate in the debate.

"I went to great lengths to be complimentary to all parties. ... I spelled it out very clearly that this has migrated from responsibility to protect, this has migrated into we can't have any solution to this unless we have the elimination of Gadhafi, that it has morphed into a civil war in which Canada has taken sides."

She is also denying unanimous consent on a bill that NDP justice critic Joe Comartin is championing to deal with mega-trials. This, after 31 alleged bikers were set free by a Quebec judge who said that the trial would take too long.

"Giving unanimous consent, I'm sorry," she said. "I am not able to give consent knowing that a bill is about to be passed which will have significant impact and which hasn't had a single day of hearings."

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Saying "I'm the kind of person who reads things," she added that she was caught "off guard" as "none of the parties bothered to ask me whether I would consent to the bill."

Her stand has certainly caught the attention of the Quebec government. Provincial Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier came "on his own accord" to Ottawa Tuesday to talk to her about the bill.

She said she assured him that she is not against it, does not want to delay things and that she is "very sympathetic."

"I think he was relieved when he found that, yah I'm a lawyer, yah, I'm a reasonable human being ... and I'm distinctly un-tattooed and don't look anything like a supporter of Hell's Angels. I just don't think that it's good practice to pass anything important without any hearings at all."

She believes hearings, which could be expedited, can make the legislation better. And it could still be passed before the end of the month, she added.

In fact, Ms. May says her office is trying to reach Justice Minister Rob Nicholson as it would "be unfortunate if the government got stubborn on this point. All they have to do is make some effort to convene a parliamentary hearing of some kind."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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