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The Grass Is Always Greener: Looking Beyond Elizabeth May | Op-Ed

Despite receiving little attention from mainstream media, the race to replace outgoing leader Elizabeth May has exposed infighting within Canada’s green movement that threatens the ongoing growth of the party.

  • May announced her departure from the post, a position she has occupied since 2006, after the last federal election, sparking a leadership race with nine candidates in the running.

In Short: The next Green leader must reform the party to address serious concerns surrounding ideological direction, grassroots representation, and systemic internal racism. An opportunity exists to claim more seats and potentially gain official party status, but only if internal divisions are properly addressed and a more inspiring national vision is presented to the public.

Pragmatism vs. Ecosocialism: Green political parties all around the world go through the same internal debate at some point.

Should they move to the left to reflect their base, or centre their policies to broaden appeal?

Despite the outwardly progressive image of the party under May, some Canadian leftists feel that the party has shifted too far to the centre under her leadership.

  • The issue of decolonization continues to be under-addressed in the party’s electoral platforms, the last one of which included a vague promise to “set a date for the Repeal of the Indian Act, ideally in less than 10 years.”
  • Outrage emerged in 2016 after the party base endorsed a resolution supporting the polarizing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a vote that the leadership later repealed and condemned.

Ecosocialism is an ideology that condemns the expansion of capitalism and advocates for a green politics rooted in common ownership.

This is in contrast to the more liberal-environmentalist, or even conservative green, positions taken by the party during May’s tenure.

  • Alex Tyrrell, the 32-year old leader of the Quebec Green Party, identifies as an ecosocialist.
  • During his now-defunct leadership campaign, Tyrrell heavily criticized May for “consolidating power within the party” by having her spouse serve on the party’s federal council.
  • Tyrrell later dropped out of the race citing May’s interference and slammed the party for running the least diverse slate of the 5 major parties in the 2019 election.

Further Reading:

The Iron Fist: Elizabeth May’s friendly leadership style hides an undercurrent of criticism from some parts of the base about her tight grasp on decision-making.

  • Nova Scotian candidate Judy Green has described a “lack of transparency in the process that the membership has a right to demand” within the leadership race.

The international Global Greens Charter to which the Canadian Greens subscribe lists participatory democracy as a key principle of green politics.

  • This refers to grassroots participation of the public in all decision-making.
  • Green political parties have long advocated for collective policy and platform formation among the membership, rather than by the leadership.
  • Many in the party applaud May for a shock third-seat victory in Fredericton with MP Jenica Atwin last October, but earlier in the campaign, the party was polling ahead of the New Democratic Party (NDP).
    • The lack of greater success galvanized critics of May’s leadership style, who argue the party could have been viable to win 12 seats.
    • This would allow the Greens to gain official party status, which would offer perks like increased funding, office space for MPs and their staff, and more research opportunities.

Under May’s leadership, the Greens are often criticized for being a party of older white environmentalists. Lately, some of the candidates running have expressed frustration with internal discrimination.

Systemic internal racism: Despite a statement that there is “no room for racism” within the Green Party from May last September, the Greens have been criticized for having a white-centric approach to campaigning.

  • The Greens allowed several provincial NDP defectors from New Brunswick to join their federal election slate, even though those candidates had expressed views that Jagmeet Singh would struggle to win areas with “racist undertones.”
  • The short tenure of the first Green MP from Quebec, Pierre Nantel, saw him question Singh’s “compatibility with Quebec values.”
  • Leadership candidate Glen Murray, a former Ontario cabinet minister, was recently quoted as stating “we’re past sexism, ageism, and racism.”

Leadership candidates Meryam Haddad and Annamie Paul faced anti-Semitic, racist, and sexist comments during a virtual town hall focused on the Prairies.

Paul later described how “as a black Jewish candidate, I’ve been subject to months of anti-Semitic & racist attacks. Party silence emboldened hate. It ends when I win.”

  • Use of the word silence indicates base anger towards a supposed lack of action from May and the leadership to adequately support minority candidates.
  • Haddad told candidate Dylan Perceval-Maxwell, infamous for stating that “police should be forced to pay $20 to every person of colour they stop,” that his comment was “super racist.” He was later ousted by the party executive from the race.

Going Forward: The Greens have a lot of work to do. It’s clear that the membership is eager for a new outlook and vision, but interference from May and resistance from the older base to more radical change pose challenges to this.

  • As a party, the Greens need to recognize that effective climate policy is not possible without comprehensive institutional reform that takes an intersectional lens into account.
  • The choice is clear – stick to centrism and remain on the fringes or present a bold progressive platform to challenge the NDP and Liberals as a truly national party. 


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