Elizabeth May biography


Elizabeth May is one of Canada’s best known parliamentarians and is a life-long environmental advocate.

Prior to running for elected office, she worked as a lawyer, a governmental policy advisor and was for seventeen years the Executive Director of Sierra Club of Canada (1989-2006).  The ninth leader of the Green Party of Canada (2006 – 2019), she was the first Canadian Green to win election in 2011. Once she broke through the psychological barrier that Greens cannot get elected in a First Past the Post system, sixteen other Greens have been elected federally and in four provinces of Canada.  She is currently the Parliamentary Leader of the Green Party caucus, representing the southern Vancouver Island riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands on the territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation.

Although her family’s financial reverses in running a restaurant on Cape Breton Island prevented Elizabeth from obtaining an undergraduate degree, she was able to work her way through law school as a mature student in the early 1980s.  She cut her teeth in an epic legal struggle against corporate might and toxic chemicals in the fight to prevent the spraying of Agent Orange in Nova Scotia. A graduate of Dalhousie Law School, she was admitted to the bar in both Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Elizabeth moved to Ottawa in 1985 to become Associate General Counsel for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, only to be recruited to work as Senior Policy Advisor for the federal minister of the environment in summer 1986. During her time with Environment Canada, she was instrumental in the creation of several national parks, including Gwaii Haanas in Haida Gwaii. She was involved in negotiating the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer as well as acid rain treaties, and in the first international scientific conference on the threat of climate disruption.  In 1988, she resigned on principle when the minister granted permits for the Rafferty-Alameda Dams in Saskatchewan as part of a political trade-off, with no environmental assessment. The Federal Court later ruled the permits were granted illegally.

In 1989, Elizabeth became the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, a position she held until March 2006, when she stepped down to run for leader of the Green Party of Canada.

Awards and Notable Mentions

In November 2010, Newsweek Magazine named Elizabeth “one of the world’s most influential women.” In the Maclean’s Magazine Parliamentarians of the Year Award, she has been chosen, by a vote of all Members of Parliament, as Parliamentarian of the Year (2012), Hardest Working MP (2013), Best Orator (2014), and Most Knowledgeable (2020). In 2013 the Hill Times named her Hardest Working MP, and Best Constituency MP, and, in 2014, Best Public Speaker.

Her environmental work has been profiled in numerous documentaries, including in the final episode of the acclaimed CBC series, “Canada: A Peoples’ History.” Elizabeth is the recipient of many awards, including the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Sierra Club in 1989, the International Conservation Award from the Friends of Nature, the United Nations Global 500 Award in 1990, the award for Outstanding Leadership in Environmental Education from the Ontario Society for Environmental Education in 1996, and the Harkin Award from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) in 2002. In 2006, Elizabeth was presented with the prestigious Couchiching award for excellence in public policy. She was also named one of the world’s leading women environmentalists by the United Nations that same year.

Elizabeth was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005 in recognition of her decades of leadership in the Canadian environmental movement.

Volunteer Work

Her volunteer work in the environmental movement started in the 1970s. She led successful campaigns to prevent aerial spraying against spruce budworm in Nova Scotia’s forests, stopping the approval of uranium mining in Nova Scotia, and did extensive work on energy policy issues, primarily opposing nuclear energy.

She has worked with indigenous peoples internationally, as well as with Canadian First Nations. During her time at the Sierra Club, she was also the first volunteer Executive Director of Cultural Survival Canada from 1989-1992 and worked for the Algonquin of Barriere Lake from 1991-1992.

Board Appointments

Elizabeth has served on the boards of numerous organizations, including Friends of the Earth (Canada), Friends of Nature (current), the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (current), the International Institute for Sustainable Development, as Vice-Chair of the National Round Table on Environment and Economy, and was a Commissioner of the Earth Charter International Council when it was co-chaired by Mikhail Gorbachev and the late Maurice Strong.

Academic postings

Elizabeth has taught at Queen’s University School of Policy Studies, as well as teaching at Dalhousie University under the programme established in her name in Women’s Health and Environment (now re-named Elizabeth May Chair in Sustainability and Environmental Health). She holds four honorary doctorates (Mount Saint Vincent University, Mount Allison, and the University of New Brunswick, Atlantic School of Theology.)

Books by Elizabeth

Elizabeth is the author of eight books: Who We Are: Reflections on my Life and on Canada (2014), Budworm Battles (1982), Paradise Won: The Struggle to Save South Moresby (1990, revised and receiving a second printing, in 2020), At the Cutting Edge: The Crisis in Canada’s Forests (Key Porter Books, 1998, as well as a major new edition in 2004), Frederick Street: Life and Death on Canada’s Love Canal (co-authored with Maude Barlow, Harper Collins, 2000), How to Save the World in Your Spare Time (Key Porter Books, 2006), Global Warming for Dummies (co-authored with Zoe Caron, John Wiley and Sons, 2008) and Losing Confidence: Power, Politics and the Crisis in Canadian Democracy, (McLelland and Stewart, 2009).


Elizabeth has taken stands that involved dramatic protests. In May 2001, Elizabeth went on a seventeen-day hunger strike in front of Parliament Hill, protesting environmental racism in the toxic living conditions for residents near the infamous Sydney Tar Ponds in Cape Breton. The federal government ended her protest committing $400 million for the clean-up.  In March 2018, Elizabeth was arrested in protest against the Kinder Morgan pipeline – pursuing a course of action in non-violent civil disobedience inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Personal life

On Earth Day, April 22, 2019, Elizabeth married John Kidder, cofounder of Green Party of B.C. John has been a candidate for the Green Party provincially and federally, with an unusual resume including having been a working cowboy, environmental economist, farmer, policy analyst and tech entrepreneur. Both John and Elizabeth have children, step-children and a total of eleven grandchildren. They live in beautiful Sidney-by-the-Sea, in the heart of Saanich-Gulf Islands.