Annamie Paul says there’s a fight over the future of the Green Party, and she’s not up for any more punches.
On Monday morning, after months of infighting and a federal election campaign that saw the party’s support drop to 2.3 per cent of the popular vote from the 6.5 per cent it recorded in 2019, Paul announced she would begin the process of stepping down as leader.
“Please know this was not easy. It has been extremely painful, it has been the worst period of my life in many respects,” Paul said Monday.
Paul said she broke the glass ceiling but didn’t realize how much glass she’d have to crawl over as a result. She said by the time she reached the debate stage, she was “spitting up blood.”
“There is a struggle that is going on for the soul of the party,” she said, following months of infighting that led to accusations of racism and sexism, and eventually spilled into the courts, reportedly costing the party about $100,000 in July, and another $100,000 set aside for August’s legal fees.
Speaking to her detractors, Paul said they may take comfort in her departure, but that there were “many more people like me than there are you … and I will look to those other people to take up the baton, and to move the party in the direction that I still believe it can go in.”
University of Prince Edward Island political science professor Don Desserud says it’s important to keep in mind that a small party taking a big tumble isn’t as bad as it looks.
“The 'collapse' of the Green Party is not equivalent to what would happen if the NDP collapsed or the Conservatives or the Liberals,” he said. “There's a huge difference, and the huge difference is the psychological blow that comes from when you're a major party — or even a strong opposition party — and you believe that in one more election or two, you're going to get back in power.
“The overall vote looks much worse, but they didn't have that far to fall, and so, therefore, the pain is not nearly as strong.”
When the dust settled, the Greens’ seat count held at two, but with significant asterisks. Elizabeth May was the only incumbent Green to be re-elected. Paul Manly lost his re-election in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, and Mike Morrice of Kitchener Centre won his seat in a contest where the incumbent Liberal candidate stepped down over sexual harassment allegations.
On top of that, nationally, the Green Party didn’t crack 400,000 votes with Paul steering the ship, representing a far cry from the nearly 1.2 million Green votes in 2019. It didn’t help the party fielded only 252 candidates out of the 338 it could have.
Earlier this year, climate advocacy group 350 called for an alliance between the NDP and the Greens to elect climate champions, and in this election, it endorsed candidates it believed to be strong on climate. May, Manly, and Malpeque candidate Anna Keenan were the only Greens to land an endorsement from 350 this year, leaving Paul noticeably absent.
The group’s Canada campaigns director Amara Possian said the Green Party should use this opportunity to reorient itself around realistic goals.
“They aren't going to become the governing party, certainly not on the timeline that's needed to tackle the climate emergency,” she said. “So whoever runs (for leader) needs a plan for how to advance their agenda that goes beyond electing just a few more MPs.
“The Green Party needs to be looking at the kind of power they have access to. What are their resources? Who are their people? Where do they have influence?
“This is an opportunity to sit down and say … How can we turn what we have into the power that we need in order to make the change that we want?” she said.
Pointing to the recent German election where the Greens are expected to play kingmaker in a coalition government, Possian said the Canadian Greens need to be realistic that that type of opportunity is unlikely to be available in a first-past-the-post system.
“What if they stopped trying to win in this game that is rigged and instead turned their entire movement into a mass movement pushing for climate action and proportional representation?” she said.
A similar question was on the mind of Green Party members during last year’s leadership race that saw Paul narrowly beat Dimitri Lascaris, a Montreal-based eco-socialist.
“Even if we hadn't gone through this very difficult period where we've seen a precipitous drop in our support nationally … we would still be a long way away from having any realistic prospect of even being part of a coalition government, let alone winning a majority of the seats,” Lascaris said. “So, as Greens, we must ask ourselves this question.”
He says the main contribution the party can make in the time frame to meaningfully deal with the climate crisis is expanding the boundaries of political debate. By that, he largely means challenging the capitalist economic system.
“One thing that's abundantly clear is a system … designed to maximize the profits of a small number of persons, at the expense of the planet and the vast majority of the human population, is going to end up destroying the planet,” he said. “So we have to have a conversation in this country about a dramatic transformation of the economic system.
“I have no illusions just expanding the boundaries of political debate is enough, but if we're not even starting with that, it's a certainty reforms will never occur.”
John Woodside, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer