VANCOUVER -- Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says she is “losing respect” for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, over what she claims is his repeated use of the abortion issue to distinguish their respective parties, which are gripped in a tight race for third place. 

“I don’t want to sound harsh because I do want to work with Mr. Singh after the election, but I am losing respect for him because this is not open for debate,” May said in a telephone interview with CTV News on Monday from Vancouver.

During Singh’s seven-day campaign visit to British Columbia, the NDP leader faced repeated questions about how his party is different from the Green Party.

While Singh acknowledges the two parties have some similar views on how to combat climate change, Singh has repeatedly said the NDP’s stance on a woman’s right to choose is firm, while the Green Party’s is not. 

“For me, contrast is really clear; May has said she'd put Scheer into the prime minister’s seat. I would never work with the Conservatives,” Singh said in response to a question from CTV News at a town hall in Vancouver on Saturday. “She has said she would let anti-abortion candidates run in her party, the NDP are very clear that there's no debate on whether a woman has a right to choose.”

The issue has created controversy for May in recent weeks. In early September, May announced the party was re-vetting at least one candidate -- Mark Vercouteren in the Ontario riding of Chatham-Kent-Leamington -- after a report surfaced that he had made previous anti-abortion statements in two Campaign Life Coalition questionnaires. May says he has since “sorely committed” to the Greens’ pro-choice platform.

That same week in September, the party was also forced to clarify a statement May made during an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics, where she said she would not “silence” any Green MPs who wanted to bring the issue forward. In the interview May said the Greens do not believe in whipped votes and she did not have the power to silence any MP. 

The party later clarified the remarks, saying there was “zero chance” any Green MP would re-open the debate and that the party’s stance on a woman’s right to choose is firm. May now admits that it was “her fault” the topic became a controversial issue for the party this election.

“This is not debatable. We have a very, very strong and clear policy that we will never retreat one inch from the right of every Canadian woman for a legal, safe abortion. There is no ambiguity here. None,” May told CTV News, adding that her party received a firm commitment from Vercouteren that he stands behind the Greens’ platform and its commitment to expand abortion services.  

NDP campaign insiders question how May can say on the one hand that the Green Party does not believe in whipped votes and on the other hand tell MPs they must toe the party line when it comes to the party’s official position on a woman’s right to choose. 

Asked about May’s characterization of his comments on the abortion debate, Singh said he stands by his statements and reiterated that there are no pro-life candidates running under the NDP banner. Unlike May’s party, Singh said, the NDP commitment to increase access to abortion services is not “just lip service.” 

“It’s one thing to make a mistake in terms of a statement, or a word, it’s another thing to say very clearly she has no ability to stop someone from bringing up the abortion debate and then saying frankly it’s a good thing,” Singh said on Monday evening. “That’s not a mistake, that is a clear statement of value.”

May, however, says Singh is continuing to talk about abortion in a “desperate” attempt to sway voters. But according to her, the opposite is happening. She claims NDP voters are calling Green campaign offices to complain about how Singh and the NDP are taking jabs at the Greens. 

“It never occurred to me the smears and lies thrown at the Green Party would be coming from the NDP,” May said.  “I guess he is desperate.  That is not a fact. That is called a lie ...Our platform, if he chooses to read it, calls for expanding access to abortion services in those parts of the country that are inadequately serviced.”

According to the latest Nanos tracking for CTV News and the Globe and Mail, the NDP is at 13.2 per cent in third place, while the Greens are close behind at 12.6.