Don Martin: Without a quick resolution to their leadership crisis, the Greens will fade away
OTTAWA -- From the hospital bed where she is having a knee replacement, former leader Elizabeth May must be requiring extra medication to keep her blood pressure down as she watches her beloved Green Party implode.
The threatened reign of successor Annamie Paul is the most bizarre, messy and unfortunate political drama among many raging on Parliament Hill as MPs prepare for what sounds like an election campaign launch in late summer.
Ironically, a Green Party built on a crusading mandate to save an overheating planet is suffering internal combustion over another Middle East spat, which had been calmed down, at least until incendiary balloons started flying yesterday, by Israel and Hamas itself.
Yet that faraway feud seems to be at the heart of a Canadian party meltdown after pro-Palestinian Green MP Jenica Atwin quit to join the Liberals last week, this after the top aide of her pro-Israel leader attacked her “appalling anti-Semitism” and vowed to defeat her in the next election. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.
But that was just the beginning of this sordid drama as the Green Party’s national council this week gave Paul five weeks to denounce that aide, this before going all-out to attack her ‘autocratic attitude" "hostile superiority" and “aggressive monologues”, not to mention multiple failures of leadership in style and conduct.
You get the idea. Ouch. When even the minority of a party’s national governing council delivers that sort of furious tirade against their own leader’s behaviour after just eight months on the job, there’s serious trouble ahead. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
After her rebuttal news conference on Wednesday, you’d have to conclude the primary cause of Paul’s misfortune is Paul herself.
Too harsh? Let me count the ways.
To insist that the reaction by a majority of her own governing council, a group now decimated by resignations to the point of having no representatives east of Ontario, is rooted in prejudicially rejecting her as a black, Jewish, female leader seems incompatible with the attitude of Green members who, in my experience, tend to be the most inclusive of all political activists.
And to denounce their views as sexist and racist while refusing to discuss specifics raises questions about her handling of this existential crisis.
Meanwhile, she still refuses to condemn her former aide’s unfathomable attack on the party’s MPs over Middle East politics, surely knowing this must be done if she wants to remain as leader.
Then there was her declaration that the Green Party’s core priority is the transformation to diversity that she personifies. This apparently overshadows the party’s founding purpose, which is to advocate for ways to contain the damage of climate change, to foster the green economy and to advocate for cool-down planetary repairs.
It all seems hard to accept that a few individual prejudices are behind serious internal allegations of lousy leadership made by those who have seen her up close.
After all, we’re probably three months from an election. For determined Green supporters to toss out their leader at this stage is to accept their party’s death sentence at the polls.
What’s also concerning was how Paul revealed a startling disconnect from how things operate in the dirty world of politics at her news conference.
She denounced the Liberals for not being Green allies and being “hellbent” on winning a majority. What on Earth gave her the impression the Liberals and Greens were allies? Politics is a blood sport and winning an election, preferably with a majority mandate, is all that matters. With the Greens as an obstacle to Liberal majority ambitions, the gloves are off in their anything-goes bid for a knockout.
Mix together the council’s caustic views of their leader’s performance and the election-eve deadline for her to show behavioural remorse in order to avoid an ouster with that oh-so-strange news conference and you have the time-lapse of a political train wreck with no sign of survivors.
Annamie Paul could’ve and should’ve been the best thing to happen to the Green Party of Canada since the Arctic started melting and climate change became an urgent political priority.
Her racial and religious diversity as a woman leader are dream assets, not electoral liabilities, to inclusive-welcoming voters.
And the current electoral dynamics favoured her as a fresh-faced ballot box alternative as Justin Trudeau’s optics-only act grows stale, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s leadership fails to gel into wider electoral approval and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s campaign for government-provided everything-for-everyone positions become tiresome.
In a vote where “none of the above” sentiment about the major federal parties appears set to become widespread, the Greens under calm, competent, adult supervision may well have made scored gains.
But no more.
The overarching impression from the last two weeks is one of seriously-flawed leadership over a two-seats-and-falling, internally-fractured Green Party which will, unless things improve very quickly, need more than Elizabeth May campaigning on two good knees to carry it back.
That's the bottom line.
An earlier version of this story suggested the majority of the party’s governing council delivered a tirade. Instead, it was a minority.