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Greens eat themselves (Updated June 22)

Left JAB by John Bell

June 16, 2021

It appears that the Green Party of Canada has begun the process to remove Annamie Paul from the party leadership role she won less than a year ago. According to reports, the GPC executive will hold a meeting in July, and a non-confidence vote of 75% is required to oust Paul.

The party is flailing desperately to right itself after a month of disasters, in expectation of a fall federal election.

Paul, a young, appealing figure of Caribbean heritage and Jewish faith, was counted on to broaden the GPC appeal and increase their parliamentary caucus of 3 MPs (former leader Elizabeth May, Paul Manly and Jenica Atwin). Instead inner party feuding has resulted in Atwin quitting the party and crossing the floor to join the ruling Liberal Party.

In a starry-eyed article in The Tyee only a month ago, Michael Harris wrote: “The new leader wants to draw the partisan venom out of the current system, and replace it with a spirit of co-operation and collegiality. She believes people are tired of politicians fighting with each other, rather than solving problems for their constituents.” 

Paul has been unable to apply those words to her own party, let alone the parliamentary process.

What happened?

The Greens are essentially a small “c” conservative party who look to market solutions within capitalism to address crises like climate change. So former leader Elizabeth May was the ideal figurehead, espousing measures like stiffer carbon taxes and tariffs to sour the market on fossil fuels and steer capitalism in a more sustainable direction.

In the last federal election campaign, May made her position on the tar sands clear when she called for a ban on “foreign” oil. “As long as we are using fossil fuels we should be using our fossil fuels,” she told the press. She opposed projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline, not on principle, or because they violate the sovereignty of Indigenous Nations, but because they would carry unrefined bitumen. “We” should be exporting “our” made-in-Canada oil and gas.

Following an historic gain in Green seats in the 2019 PEI provincial election, Green leader Peter Bevan Baker said: “…central to all of that is the proper and smart implementation of the carbon tax in a way that nudges us toward better behaviour.”

Yet in spite of this essential conservatism at the core of its ideology, the GPC continued to attract young (and some not-so-young) environmental activists disillusioned with the lethargic approach to climate change and environmental crisis on offer from the more established parties. These were people who were marching behind the broad slogan: System Change Not Climate Change.

Their numbers increased and posed a threat to the bureaucracy controlling the GPC direction and purse strings. That threat was manifest in the 2020 leadership race to replace the retiring May. A strong, explicitly eco-socialist challenge was mounted behind Dmitri Lascaris, who ended with about 45% of the members’ support. Annamie Paul prevailed because she represented the conservativism still deeply rooted in the party, because of strong support from the still (inexplicably) popular Elizabeth May, and some downright dirty trickery.

Remember that, in a desperate bid to stop the rising “red menace”, the Green Party executive tried to change the rules of the game in the middle of the leadership race.  They raised the entry fee for the race from $1,000 to $50,000, hoping to hamstring eco-socialist candidates with few big-money, institutional supporters. Campaign spending limits were also raised to $500,000.

The outrage and protests were deafening and the executive backed down. Had they not, the splits and convulsions wracking the GPC today might have happened sooner. Instead the old party leadership pulled every string to elect Paul, effectively kicking the impending inner crisis down the road.

To today. Political reality – in the form of the Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and its illegal occupation of Gaza – has intervened to expose the gaping contradictions in GPC politics. The crisis may not be of Paul’s making, but her inability to manage it exposed her leadership as a paper tiger.

Maybe it was the growing political radicalism within their ranks that emboldened GPC MPs Paul Manley and Jenica Atwin to come out strongly in support of Palestinian human rights. When Paul issued a milktoast statement on behalf of the Party, calling for de-escalation and dialogue, two of the three GPC MPs publicly broke with their leader.

Atwin tweeted: “I stand with Palestine and condemn the unthinkable airstrikes in Gaza. End apartheid!” Paul Manly described the forced removal of Palestinian families from their homes in Jerusalem as “ethnic cleansing”.

The party old guard responded with the voice of Annamie Paul’s senior advisor, and self-described media strategist and consultant, Noah Zatzman. Zatzman’s political experience rides on being media chief for former Ontario Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne during the last, lost election. A staunch defender of Israel, Zatzman called out “anti-Semitic” MPs and wrote on social media: “We will work to defeat you and bring in progressive climate champions who are antifa and pro LGBT and pro indigenous sovereignty and Zionists!!!!!” When asked by the press to clarify, Zatzman said, yes, that included two thirds of his own party’s caucus.

This reignited the simmering rift in the party. Calls came, not to censure Atwin and Manly, but to fire Zatzman. Did his use of “We” imply he was speaking for GPC leadership? Rather than confront the issue, Paul tried to dodge it, saying: “There are differences of opinion that come up naturally within parties.” She fell back on blanket statements condemning all anti-Semitism.

The turmoil grew. Paul dithered. Finally it was announced that by “mutual agreement” Zatzman would be leaving his advisory position when his contract ended in July. What a cowardly out.

Maybe that was the final straw for MP Jenica Atwin – she defected to the Liberals. That her first act as part of Trudeau’s team was to issue a statement watering-down her criticism of Israel, and that she now must support an environmental strategy which includes buying bitumen pipelines, are hard to reconcile with her Green activism. We must leave that job to Atwin and her conscience.

Then the entire Quebec wing of the party threatened to withdraw unless Paul stepped down as leader.

The knives are out for Annamie Paul, who may become the shortest-lived party leader in Canadian political history. She is recently on record complaining that she has been disrespected and undermined by the very party executive that got her elected. Speculation is rampant that Elizabeeth May simply is unwilling to relinquish her hold on the levers of control.

Is replacing the leader the answer to the crisis in the GPC? No such luck – the chickens are coming home to roost. The party executive are not about to hand the reins over to the likes of Dmitri Lascaris. Will Elizabeth May rescind her retirement and return to try and close Pandora’s Box? Don’t bet against it. How ever the next act plays out, the party must pay the price for decades of ideological incoherence and the intellectual dishonesty of its entrenched leadership.

Update - June 22

According to the Journal de Montreal: "She is now threatening to sue her party's federal council if they insist on forcing her to publicly apologize or face an impeachment vote next month." (translation)

The slow-motion car wreck that is the Green Party of Canada continues.

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