Annamie Paul could survive by recanting the threats tweeted by her former staffer. But it is hard to see how the internal strife is going to do anything but consign the Greens to the scrap heap of political history.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on June 21, 2021.
Internal party battles are the ugliest part of politics. And when they spill out into the open, everyone gets hurt.
The current debacle in the Green Party may fatally damage the leadership of Annamie Paul.
She could survive by recanting the threats tweeted by her former staffer.
But it is hard to see how the internal strife is going to do anything but consign the Greens to the scrap heap of political history.
One of the most important jobs of a leader is to keep their caucus happy.
In Paul’s case, she only had three members to worry about and last week she lost one of them.
But instead of standing down and spending some time in personal reflection on what went wrong, she concocted a crazy theory that it was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the anti-feminist, who worked against her to convince Fredericton Green Party MP Jenica Atwin to cross the floor to the Liberals.
Meanwhile, the two remaining MPs did not back Paul when the fight went public, with former leader and Green dean Elizabeth May calling on Paul to apologize to the floor crosser.
After a fiery press conference in which Paul blamed the internal turmoil on racism and sexism within the Green Party national executive, not a single caucus member came to her defence.
According to Paul, it was a busy day.
But the party executive decided that Paul’s only path to survival is to organize a joint press conference with British Columbia Green MP Paul Manly, in which she repudiates attacks on caucus members by her former chief adviser Noah Zatzman.
Zatzman is seen to have played a crucial role in Atwin’s defection, having responded to her pro-Palestinian tweet with a Facebook accusation of anti-Semitism against unspecified Green MPs.
Zatzman vowed in a post on Facebook to defeat them and replace them with “progressive climate change champions who are antifa and pro-LGBT and pro-Indigenous sovereignty and Zionists.”
The substance of his tweet should have been raising eyebrows even before Atwin bolted the tiny caucus.
Most Canadians currently believe that a vote for the Greens is a way of putting climate change at the forefront of the political agenda.
But when it is mixed with antifa and Zionism, the message gets a lot more muddled. And those Canadians who might have cast their ballots in principle for the Greens will likely decide to park their votes elsewhere in the next election.
If Paul cannot even manage a caucus of three, how can she possibly expect to run the country?
Instead of following the advice of elder Green statesman May by trying to get Atwin back into the fold by apologizing, Paul simply dropped another verbal bomb, accusing members of her own national executive of racism and sexism.
Two Atlantic Green national council members resigned last week. In a written statement to The Globe and Mail, departing Nova Scotia representative Lia Renaud said the subject of the national council meeting was “Annamie Paul’s leadership approach and relationship building skills.”
Renaud called the claims of sexism and racism against council members as “just another example of the toxic relationship and work conditions.”
There is no doubt that as a black Jewish woman, Paul is facing the kind of scrutiny that would not have been levelled at a middle-aged white man.
In Paul’s own words, the Green party’s historic vote for her leadership was intended to change the current Canadian gender and race dynamic.
Even if Paul is successful in repairing the recent damage done to the party’s reputation, how will she respond to her own accusations of Green Party racism and sexism?
With an election expected within the next two months, this fight has done irreparable damage to Green chances across the country.
And environmental supporters who previously parked their votes with the Greens will definitely be looking elsewhere.
According to an Abacus poll published last week, the Green Party is sitting at six per cent. The front-running Liberals are at 34 per cent with the Conservatives closing in at 29 per cent.
The New Democratic Party, following a Prairie uptake, is sitting at 21 per cent.
The Conservatives are not likely to benefit from this Green implosion. A fragmented status quo on the left is their path to victory.
The majority of loose Green votes could deliver a majority government to the Liberals.
Atwin’s move could prove prescient.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.