While not officially declared, the 2021 federal election campaign is now well underway. Sources close to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expect him to visit Rideau Hall this weekend and ask the Governor-General, Mary Simon, to dissolve the 43rd Parliament. In anticipation of the election, party leaders, including the Prime Minister, Erin O’Toole, and Jagmeet Singh, have spent the past few weeks visiting a variety of crucial battleground ridings, mostly to announce funding commitments or to detail their party’s political visions in campaign-style venues. Just a couple of weeks ago, Trudeau announced $1.3 billion for the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain extension in B.C., as well as an agreement with the province to provide $10-a-day childcare. This same week saw O’Toole visit Alberta to promote changes to Canada’s Fiscal Stabilization Program, and Singh tour indigenous communities in Northern Ontario to discuss modernized infrastructure.
Notably absent from the spotlight of the unofficial campaign trail has been Annamie Paul, leader of the Federal Green Party. Despite opening a campaign office in Toronto Centre — where she will be running for the third time — the majority of Paul’s media appearances as of late have centred around the Green Party’s ongoing internal strife.
The party hit a crisis point in May of 2021 when Paul issued a de-escalation statement regarding Middle Eastern violence between Israelis and Palestinians — a statement which Green MP Jenica Green Atwin described as “totally inadequate.” Following Atwin’s critique, one of Paul’s advisers, Noah Zatzman, accused sitting Green M.P.s of antisemitism on Facebook and vowed to “bring in progressive climate champions who are antifa and pro LGBT and pro indigenous sovereignty and Zionists!!!!!”
The Federal Council, the Green Party’s most powerful governing body, gave Paul a choice to publicly repudiate Zatzman’s accusatory remarks or face a non-confidence vote. She refused to punish the advisor, leading Jenica Atwin to defect to the Liberal Party, as described by Elizabeth May. This explanation is disputed by some within the party. The Green Party Federal Council also blamed Paul for the loss of Atwin and was subsequently slated to hold a non-confidence vote — one which an independent arbitrator cancelled in late July. While this debacle was unfortunate for a newly minted leader, especially because it was entirely preventable, the arbitrator’s decision provided an opportunity for the Green Party to move beyond the grievance, reach out to grassroots members, and refocus for the widely anticipated federal election. Any rational party that was serious about governing would have made this choice. Instead, several senior Green Party officials launched a legal challenge of the arbitrator’s decision, prolonging an already expensive and politically damaging feud. As the Globe and Mail editorial board put it, “the Green Party has discovered an inexhaustible source of self-destructive energy.”
According to Green Party executives, $100,000 was spent on legal fees in July, with another $100,000 set aside for August. This waste of resources comes amid an existing cash crunch stemming from poor organizational management, namely the retention of an expanded staff after the 2019 election. Douglas Tingey, the recently departed President of the Green Party of Canada Fund, stated that the party would have around $300,000 in the bank if an election were called in the near future, compared to $1.9 million in 2019 and $3 million in 2015.
Canada’s Green Party is clearly in crisis. This is troublesome, as a healthy democracy, much like a healthy economy, is contingent upon competition. Despite being the ‘environment party’ at a time when the majority of Canadians want bold climate action, the Green Party looks ill-suited to make any inroads.
It’s a travesty that in the age of the Anthropocene — and in a country that’s warming at twice the global average — the Federal Green Party is too preoccupied with internal party politics and power struggles to offer a meaningful contribution to Canada’s democracy. The ironic part of this situation is that the issue that initiated such a damaging series of events for Paul isn’t even environment-related, nor is it domestic or impactful to Canada’s electorate. After all, most Canadians don’t know about the Israel-Palestine conflict or foreign affairs in general — and it’s seldom covered during election cycles.
Like other leaders of contemporary Green Parties, Paul has a golden opportunity to scale her vision, thanks to the ongoing mainstreaming of environmentalism. Capitalizing on it, however, will require a resetting of party egos and relationships and a re-evaluation of priorities, as a party at war internally cannot represent a competent force externally. Perhaps the Green Party will learn to cooperate again, but I wouldn’t count on it before the next writ drops.
This article was written by Brett Porter, a student of Professional Communication at Ryerson University and a former political staffer for Annamie Paul. To view more of his work, please visit www.brettporter.ca.