Where, oh where, has Elizabeth May gone?

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Amid infighting and challenges to Annamie Paul’s leadership, Green MP Elizabeth May has been mostly silent. May’s return as leader would allow the party to limp through the next election with a known quantity.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on July 19, 2021.

OTTAWA—In the Green Party mashup, the voice of reason that guided the party for years is steeped in silence.

This week the party executive will be seized with a non-confidence vote on leader Annamie Paul, which needs 75 per cent support to carry.

May’s partner John Kidder quietly resigned from the executive in June before the internal feuding broke into the open following the June 10 floor-crossing of Green MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals.

Paul publicly defended May’s silence at a press conference last month, claiming family issues prevented the former leader from tweeting a statement of support.

The same code of silence appears to hold true for fellow British Columbian Green MP Paul Manly.

However, news reports also suggested that Paul threatened May to defend the leader publicly, or else there would be consequences.

The infighting has been described by some in the media as akin to the petty politics of a condo board or a book club.

One thing is certain. The damage being done to the Greens on the eve of a potential election is incalculable.

How can Paul run a campaign when her own executive has already made moves to limit party funding for the leader’s local riding race, in downtown Toronto?

Meanwhile, May herself has encouraged Paul to invite recalcitrant Atwin back into the fold and to make a public apology for a staffer’s attack on the New Brunswick MP.

No apology has been forthcoming, and the temperature rose again last week when the party executive began a move to strip the leader of her membership.

The proposed membership revocation only requires a simple majority vote of the executive committee, a much less onerous bar than the three-quarters vote required to oust a leader mid-stream.

The executive has also been reduced in the number because of departures, so it appears as though Paul’s status as leader will not be overturned.

So, the Green team has resorted to the extreme measure of actually kicking her out of the party.

In the midst of pre-election planning, the party could be leaderless and rudderless, leading to the question as to who might replace Paul in the short term.

May is the logical choice.

She spent years as the only recognizable face of the Green Party, in Parliament and across the country.

She has already participated in multiple campaigns, with decent showings at the leadership debates where she was allowed to join.

But the Green Party under Elizabeth May was a nascent party with hope and idealism. Many Canadians wished them well, sharing their passion for grappling with the global issue of climate change.

They would also consider supporting the party in the hopes that it might prod the established parties to move on climate change.

In the past few weeks, climate change has taken a back seat to the politics of Green power, in a way that is very reminiscent of traditional parties.

Back during her tenure, May once posited that her success was largely due to the fact that she was not a politician. Rather, she was a dedicated environmentalist who saw politics as a way of making the changes required to tackle issues.

Back in 1977, May was instrumental in getting Nova Scotia to ban aerial spraying for the spruce budworm.

And she has been working on environmental issues ever since.

But during her 13 years as leader of the Green Party, she was unable to add more than two other members to the House of Commons cohort.

And now one of them has joined the Liberals.

The promise of the Green movement has stalled.

Not only is the current leader facing party expulsion, but the environment has not even played a role in disagreements that, instead, revolve around party members’ contradictory positions on the Middle East.

The return of May would allow the party to limp through the next election with a known quantity.

But there is no way she will be able to convince Canadians that hers is the party to make real environmental change.

The implosion of the Greens has, instead, opened the door for other parties to woo environmental voters.

A May-led party will not prevent an exodus of support. The past two months have sealed the Greens’ fate, with or without a leader.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.