Elizabeth May says she’s sorry for giving a rambling, profanity-laced speech at Ottawa’s annual press gallery dinner, blaming her performance on a strenuous travel schedule that left her tired and with little time for preparation ahead of the Saturday night event.
In a display witnesses have described as bizarre and awkward, the Green Party leader was finally escorted off stage by Transport Minister Lisa Raitt after paying off-colour tribute to Omar Khadr, who was released on bail from an Edmonton prison this week.
May acknowledged she drank wine at her table before taking the stage — and that it may have had an impact on her performance — but insisted she wasn’t drunk. “I didn’t have a lot of wine,” she said, “but it may have hit me harder than I thought it would.”
She had also been taking the cold medicine Nyquil that day, she said, but doesn’t think it was a factor. “I’m not one of those people who wants to use the ‘I was on cough medicine’ excuse.”
“The speeches are supposed to be humorous, self-deprecating, and non-partisan — and she broke all the rules,” said Harper. “Nobody knew if it was ever going to end.”
Known fondly as “nerd prom,” the press gallery dinner affords party leaders a chance to let their hair down and trade light-hearted barbs with reporters. This year, for example, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair staged a well-received skit in which he posed as a journalist grilling comedian Mark Critch, who was dressed as Mulcair.
Voice raspy from what she described as laryngitis, May explained her own odd showing as the product of a grueling trip to her B.C. riding that involved two cross-country flights in as many days, and 21 consecutive hours of work.
May said she flew out of Ottawa early Friday, waking at 5 a.m. Then, after a brief visit, she woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday PST to catch a flight back to Ottawa. Because she can’t sleep on planes, she was exhausted by the time her flight landed that afternoon, she said.
The speech was pulled together at the last minute and wasn’t fully fleshed out, May added. At one point, she used her BlackBerry to play the theme song for Welcome Back, Kotter, a ’70s sitcom starring John Travolta, as a prelude to mentioning Khadr.
May gave the last speech of the night around 11 p.m., Harper said.
While she repeatedly apologized, May also downplayed the significance of the gaffe, noting that the press gallery dinner is known for its irreverent atmosphere.
“It isn’t a parliamentary speech; it’s an attempt to be funny,” she said. “If you’re trying to be funny and you’re not, that’s not the worst thing that can happen.”
May said the outburst was uncharacteristic of her: “I’m pretty well-known around here as a goody-goody two-shoes … I never heckle, I don’t swear.”
Raitt’s interruption was the act of a “friend,” May added.
“I hadn’t realized I had run long — and that was a problem.”