Elizabeth May heads into 2019 with hopes of gaining some new, Green Party company in the House of Commons by year’s end.
But May is already gaining some extra company in her personal life this year, even before the election. On Earth Day in April, the Green Party leader will marry John Kidder in a big wedding at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria. Yes, May says, it will be a “low-carbon wedding.”
The two have known each other for years and have many mutual friends, but the romance and engagement happened in a whirlwind this fall. It’s the first marriage for May, 64, who has a daughter, Cate May Burton, and an extended family of stepchildren; it’s the second marriage for Kidder, who has three children and four grandchildren.
“I’m a happier person, that’s for sure,” May says. As for Kidder: “I’m energized. This has energized me,” he says.
When I spoke to May and Kidder for this column, they were happily soaking up some time in Sicily after attending international climate-change meetings in Poland earlier in December.
Kidder, 71, has been a tech entrepreneur and a Green Party candidate, and has a hops farm in Ashcroft, B.C. He bought the farm after the death of his wife in 2009, fleeing Vancouver for a quieter life. The next few years saw him shedding at least one other relationship too: Kidder abandoned the Liberal Party the day after Justin Trudeau entered the campaign for the leadership in 2012, disgusted with Trudeau’s open outreach to the oilsands industry in Alberta.
Trudeau has, however, wished the couple well. When May told him that she was dating the brother of Margot Kidder, who was romantically linked to Trudeau’s father in the early 1980s, the prime minister told her, “I loved Margot!”
This May-Kidder romance began, as some do in politics, at a political convention — the Green Party holding its big annual get-together in Vancouver at the end of September.
At dinner, Kidder was seated next to Sylvia Olsen, a good friend of May’s and the mother of Green Party MLA John Olsen, who represents roughly the same area as the national leader in the B.C. provincial legislature.
Sylvia Olsen had been urging May to find a man for several months before the convention, and had assigned herself the job of matchmaker. May was not entirely an enthusiastic proponent of this scheme. “About a couple of years ago, I’d decided it’s not worth having this delusional notion that I’m going to meet somebody. I have no time to date, no time to think about it,” she said.
But Olsen was sure she could find a good man for her friend. So when she was seated next to Kidder at the Green Party convention, the dinner turned into an interrogation — though Kidder seemed to enjoy it, and he definitely passed. Olsen wanted to make sure, for instance, that he didn’t have “ego issues.”
“Some of them were questions, some of them were statements,” he said of the interview.
Even before dinner had ended, Olsen ran over to the Green Party leader and reported she’d found the guy for May. When she told her who it was, May immediately brightened. She’d even told Kidder’s daughter at one point in the past that she had a “crush” on her father. That statement yielded zero in the way of contact, as Kidder was still getting over the death of his wife; they’d been together 32 years.
But this time, May and Kidder did connect. Kidder got May’s email address and the two spent the rest of the convention trying to snatch a few moments together, here and there in the corridors and the hotel coffee shop. They even posed for some photos together, with Kidder’s arm “chastely,” as he put it, across May’s shoulder. The Green Party leader joked that this was “rehearsal” for being a couple. Jokes aside, both came away from that convention knowing that something big was happening.
“It was so like high school, it was astonishing,” Kidder laughed.
They began to talk via email and then by telephone nearly every night. “John replaced Netflix in my life,” May said. “I used to finish work in Parliament around 11 or whatever and I’d go to my apartment to watch Netflix to fall asleep. Instead I started calling John. We’d talk for an hour.” Then they started to figure out how to fit in visits during May’s frenetic work schedule and travel.
After a few weeks, Kidder was convinced he was in this for the long term and decided to tell May so.
“Both of us had people telling us to go slowly now, this is risky territory. And my response was, I’m way too bloody old to go slow. That’s ridiculous,” he said. So Kidder asked May whether she’d heard of a planning technique called “future perfect,” in which you imagine an ideal situation and plan backward from there.
He wrote her an email, which he initially worried was too bold, but ultimately decided to send it anyway. “I suggested that we just operate on the working premise that we were going to be together forever,” Kidder said. “If things come up in the way, they’ll be like speed bumps rather than roadblocks or detours.”
That sealed it for May. She began to tell people (including this journalist) that she’d found a forever mate. “Yeah, I was pretty much toast, gone, after that,” she said.
Together, they started planning any occasion they could to see each other and by November, they were engaged. Kidder asked first by telephone and then made the proposal more formally in the Library of Parliament (naturally) in person in Ottawa.
Their life now is another whirlwind, trying to figure out how to plan a wedding and then an election campaign within the space of one year. Kidder isn’t sure he is going to run again as a candidate. He said he will be happy to help May whatever it requires, even “schlepping her bags,” and has joked with the Green Party office that his official title in the database can be “consort.”
They haven’t even worked out where they’ll live. Both divide their time already between two homes — May in her Saanich-Gulf Islands riding and at work in Ottawa; Kidder keeps a place in Vancouver as well as his farm in Ashcroft.
I asked May whether she thinks she’ll be a different kind of politician when she’s married, and what having Kidder by her side will do to her approach to politics.
“I am naturally a positive and happy person,” she said. “But I didn’t know what it was like to be really happy. This is the first really solid relationship I’ve ever known. I don’t know what kind of politician it will make me, but it definitely makes me a happier human being, which should translate into more energy and a better way of communicating a positive future.”
We won’t know until October whether that means more seats in the House for May, but we do know that she’s setting one more place at home in the meantime.
Susan Delacourt is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt