What is going on with Canada’s Green Party?
It’s never a good thing for a political party when headlines about you blast words like “imploding” or “tearing itself apart.” It’s even worse when there might be an election on the way.
But that’s exactly what’s happening to the Green Party of Canada.
In this case, “implosion” may be too mild. As Royce Koop wrote in his excellent column for The Hub, “Think not of a standard fire on the side of the road, but rather of a flaming fuel truck crashing into a mobile missile launcher then crashing into a fireworks store.”
When heat domes, wildfires, and heat-related deaths drive people’s concern about global warming to an all-time high, the Green Party is consumed by internal fighting that threatens its future instead of preparing for a breakthrough election.
This leaves people to wonder:
Who, exactly, is to blame for creating this dumpster fire?
There’s lots of blame to share around, but the easy answer is the newly elected leader, Annamie Paul.
As we said in our previous take: “leaders need to lead, and many of Paul’s problems are self-inflicted wounds.”
However, the Green Party’s Federal Council isn’t completely innocent.
Here’s a list of just a few things they have been responsible for: refusing to renew Paul’s Chief-of-Staff’s contract, threatening to hold a vote of non-confidence on Paul’s leadership, laying off almost half the party’s paid staff, declining to provide funding for Paul’s constituency campaign in Toronto Centre, and threatening to revoke Paul’s membership in the party.
Together these actions are the neutron bomb of conflict resolution. The structure may still be standing, but everybody inside is dead.
How did things self-destruct so quickly?
This is where the leadership — or lack thereof — of Elizabeth May needs a closer look.
May is a renowned Member of Parliament. She has won the equivalent of the Grand Slam for her skills as a legislator, having been named by fellow MPs as Parliamentarian of the Year 2012, Hardest Working MP 2013, Best Orator 2014, and Most Knowledgeable 2020.
But May was a terrible party leader. She left no plan for succession and a party that is so fragile that it is cracking under the weight of this self-inflicted fight with its new leader.
Why is it fragile?
Because May never spent the time or the energy to build the party into anything other than a platform for herself.
This isn’t the first time May failed to build an organization to endure beyond her leadership. For example, the Sierra Club of Canada never became a formidable force under May’s leadership instead it was just a soapbox for May.
And after May left? When was the last time you remember the Sierra Club of Canada being on the pointy end of anything substantial?
Most Canadian political parties are run by strong leaders with unelected party officials doing their bidding.
In theory, the Greens are different. They’re governed by a democratically-elected, independent Federal Council that speaks for the party.
But in practice, May spoke for the Greens on anything she felt was important. However, when there was controversy or tough decisions were needed, she’d hide behind her executive.
Strong party leaders always hire a political buzzsaw that will stand up to them on policy and politics and will play bad cop within the party. Think of the role Jenni Byrne played for Stephen Harper.
Elizabeth never hired a buzzsaw. She always had flatterers.
The same is true of the Federal Council.
The council has a history of being dominated by idealists, policy wonks, and May’s minions; it lacked demonstrated experience in organizing, “successful” election campaigning, and skilled political strategy. May was party leader for 13 years and did little if anything to fix this.
Because she apparently liked having an easy-to-manipulate Federal Council to do her bidding.
May hid behind her supposedly independent Federal Council whenever it suited her. For example, when Greens continued to run a full slate of national candidates even though they only had the finances and experienced personnel to run a handful.
If you need any more proof of the Council’s false independence, May’s husband, John Kidder, remained Vice President until he stepped down last month. Can you imagine anyone being less independent?
But worst of all, given her role as the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, Elizabeth May has remained publicly silent throughout the meltdown.
It’s telling when a former leader — whose husband is number two on the governing body picking a fight with her replacement — has almost nothing to say when the party is literally and publicly tearing itself apart.
One has to wonder what May really thinks and why she isn’t behaving like a leader who wants her legacy to survive.
Instead, May’s actions and inaction have set the stage for the great Green Party dumpster fire of 2021. May should be putting out the flames rather than watching them grow from the shadows.
Will the party recover?
Right now, it is difficult to see how that would happen.