If you missed the Parliamentary Press Gallery Dinner the other night, not to worry. I did, too. It is an annual ritual featuring politicians who are expected to display a sense of humour about themselves in front of a lot of people they don't like. Stephen Harper hasn't shown up for years, and I don't blame him.
Elizabeth May, however, loves the media, and they treat her well. The fact that she's a little wacky is considered part of her charm. She is a sort of parliamentary mascot. Nobody takes her seriously, but she gets respectful coverage because her cause is thought to be high-minded. Besides, she's always good for an instant anti-Harper quote. For these reasons, she gets far more airtime than she deserves.
Ms. May gets away with stuff that no other politician would – certainly no party leader. Imagine the fuss if any Conservative had delivered such a bumbling, profanity-laced speech to the nation's leading journos. He would have been booed off the stage. He would have been judged unfit for his position and relegated to the nether regions of the party for the rest of his career.
But this was just good old Liz. People felt sorry for her, not outraged. "It's hard to do speeches at these events," the CBC's Rosemary Barton explained the next day. "I've had to do them myself, it's a really tough room."
Personally, I felt sorrier for Lisa Raitt, a true friend, who calmly attempted to steer Ms. May off the stage before she flung herself into the abyss. Ms. May's now famous exit line was, "Omar Khadr, you've got more class than the whole f---ing cabinet." Which seemed more than a bit unfair to her friend Ms. Raitt, who happens to be a member of that cabinet.
I have no idea if Ms. May was tired and refreshed that night, or just tired. I have the impression that she scribbled her speech notes on the plane from Vancouver. A lot of it dealt in an unfunny way with how she deserves to be on the stage with the big boys. "Which of us as leaders is not like the other?" she asked, playing the gender card. Unfortunately, her remarks merely confirmed that she's not in the same league as the big boys. Ouch!
As for Omar Khadr, there really isn't a good Khadr joke. He killed a man. Like Ms May, I think he deserves to get out of jail and get on with his life. That doesn't mean he's a hero. But to many on the left, that's exactly what he is. Elevating him to sainthood is a good way of sticking it to that effing Harper and those effing Americans.
Ms. May, who has since apologized for her remarks, felt comfortable saying what she did because she thought she was among a friendly crowd – people who largely share her view of the world. She wasn't wrong. But she's a lousy comedian. And she forgot that the evening is supposed to be about showing off your sense of humour, not your sense of grievance.
This wasn't the first time her judgment has failed her. She impulsively tweeted out premature support for Jian Ghomeshi, before we knew details of the disturbing allegations against him. She blamed her error on her distress over the attack on Parliament that week. She has compared Stephen Harper's stance on climate change to "a grievance worse than Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of the Nazis." She thinks WiFi is hazardous to your health, and once tweeted that "it is very disturbing how quickly WiFi has moved into schools as it is children who are the most vulnerable." Last fall she presented a petition to Parliament from a bunch of crackpots who think the U.S. government was behind 9/11.
Maybe I'm attacking a gnat with a sledgehammer. But Ms. May is widely respected among the public, who believe she deserves a seat at the table. She has demanded to be treated like any other party leader. And so she should be.