Alex Tyrrell is pressing ahead with his plans to reshape the Green Party of Quebec — and potentially its federal counterpart — in the face of a petition demanding a vote of confidence in his leadership.
Tyrrell wants the Green Party, which he sees as a “right-left coalition” in its current form, to make a sharp turn to the left and appeal to the growing “youth-led climate movement.”
But while Tyrrell is working to reshape the GPQ there are party members working to remove Tyrrell from his role. The petition against Tyrrell calls for a special general assembly to consider removing the Green Party of Quebec leader, claiming “numerous irregularities” in his conduct and an “authoritarian management style.”
In the wake of the 2018 provincial election, in which the party failed to pick up any seats, the petition organizers accuse Tyrrell of isolating the GPQ from the province’s green movement and “alienating potential allies” in the rest of Canada. They also question the integrity of Tyrrell’s salary.
Tyrrell has denied any wrongdoing and sees no issue with being paid a “living wage.” He called the petition “defamatory,” saying he never broke any laws or acted unethically, and is warning of consequences for those tarnishing his name.
The petition was launched Nov. 7, 2019 by former GPQ candidate Chad Walcott, who joined the party last January.
“In that time I saw some pretty disturbing behaviour from the leader,” said Walcott. He said Tyrell’s “divisive leadership style” is causing rifts in the “green movement” locally and Canada-wide.
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“It’s a history and a tendency of lack of transparency, opacity and an authoritarian style of managing a party that I don’t think will translate to success of the Green Party of Quebec ... Even less so on the national level,” he said.
No stranger to controversy
Tyrrell suspended Walcott’s party membership for a year on the day that the petition went live. Walcott says he is keeping most of the names on the petition — well over 100 have signed now, he says — anonymous because Tyrrell’s critics fear similar reprisals.
Tyrrell isn’t a stranger to controversy. Not long after being elected leader in September 2013, he dissolved the party’s eight-member executive council for allegedly trying to overthrow him. A new executive council was elected. Members protested, accusing Tyrrell of overstepping his authority and replacing them with his friends.
“His election to the party was highly contested. Nevertheless, he brought in lawyers to defend his election and subsequently kicked out the entire executive [council] of the Green Party of Quebec," said Walcott.
Since then, Walcott says, Tyrrell has been “operating in the shadows” through an executive council of acolytes that had dwindled to only four members until six were added in 2019.
On Nov. 1, 2018, the four-member elected council approved Tyrrell’s $47,000 salary. Tyrrell was one of the members, though he abstained.
Executive council members were not permitted to take a salary from the GPQ at the time unless passed by resolution. Those rules were changed on March 1, 2019 in an online vote that Walcott says didn’t announce the salary approval. It is unclear how these rules applied to the leader of the party.
Elizabeth May’s starting salary as leader of the Green Party of Canada (GPC) was $50,000 in 2006 and rose to $70,000 in 2010. May stopped taking a salary from the party when she was elected to the House of Commons in 2011.
Walcott thinks the provincial party needs a new face.
“It’s time for someone that has a bit more of a positive outlook and an ability to mobilize around positive aspects as opposed to being a divisive presence in the green movement,” said Walcott.
Tyrrell, however, accuses Walcott and the rest of the GPQ rebels of undermining the party’s progress.
“To go out there and accuse [me and the executive council] of breaking laws that don’t actually exist for an ulterior motive, which is to damage the image and reputation of both myself and the Green Party, I think that that’s why they’re anonymous,” said Tyrrell.
Tyrrell doesn't regret stripping Walcott of his membership for starting the petition. Tyrrell said that he follows the rules when expelling members and was already planning to revoke Walcott’s membership over a perceived lack of involvement. Others who signed should be wary as well, he warned. He is considering legal action over the attacks on his credibility.
“They should be afraid of repercussions because what they’re saying is false,” he said.
The leader did acknowledge some resistance to his vision for Quebec. “I’ve worked to implement a certain level of party discipline here,” he said.
Vision for the party
Tyrrell has a vision to build the party into a better option for left-leaning “eco-socialist” voters. “I think that all in all, throughout the time that I’ve spent here, we have really built the Green Party up into a very serious option, and I think it’s unfortunate to see people trying to take it down,” said Tyrrell.
Tyrrell claims to have solidified the GPQ’s “ideological foundation.” He vetted candidates thoroughly, making sure that none of them showed support for Quebec’s controversial Bill 21, for example.
“We’re running a tight ship here, and sometimes there are people that are unhappy,” he said.
Those people, he believes, include Elizabeth May and other members of the Green Party of Canada (GPC). His theory is that federal party brass have engineered the petition to oust him before he runs for the GPC leadership.
“It’s unfortunate to see that the Green Party establishment is pushing forward this kind of a smear campaign in a direct response to my name surging in the national media as a potential successor to Elizabeth May,” he said.
After her resignation in November, Elizabeth May told reporters that she would stay neutral in the upcoming leadership race, but Tyrrell isn’t buying it.
“I think that what we’re seeing now is the exact opposite. I think that Elizabeth May through her vice-president [Joey Leckman] is actively intervening in a leadership race. As it stands now advancing defamatory statements based on false information in order to influence the federal leadership race,” said Tyrrell.
The Green Party of Canada has denied any part in the petition. Joey Leckman, vice-president of the federal council of the Green Party of Canada, signed the petition after it went live and spoke publicly about his decision. He called Tyrrell’s allegations of collusion between himself and May “completely false.”
He said that in all his years at the Green Party of Canada he has “never witnessed a single meeting that talked about what to do with Alex Tyrrell. That’s absolutely delusional, ludicrous, preposterous — pick your adjective.”
Tyrrell has butted heads with the federal Greens in the past. In 2016, he disagreed with May’s stance against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that targets Israel. May asked her deputies not to associate with Tyrrell in an email dated August of the same year.
More recently they clashed over May’s support at the time for continued extraction in the Alberta oilsands with a full transition to renewable energy by 2050.
“This [petition] is revenge for the criticisms that I made of Elizabeth May on the tar sands,” said Tyrrell.
Tyrrell sees the conflict as a divide between left- and centre-leaning Greens over the direction of the party. “I’m definitely advancing a left-wing agenda in a party that’s traditionally in the centre,” said Tyrrell.
He said the Green Party of Canada needs to “move to the left,” as he has done with the Green Party of Quebec. “Should I go forward for the leadership [of the Green Party of Canada], that’s what I’ll be advocating for.”
Challenging the challenge
Former GPQ candidate Catherine Polson, Leckman and Walcott are the only people who signed who have spoken publicly so far. The others wish to remain anonymous. Alex Tyrrell disputes the validity of the petition. According to documents provided by Tyrrell there are a total of 137 signatures. However, Tyrrell says that some are not members, either because they are not registered or because they were expelled. Others joined very recently.
“Out of the 137 signers 89 are members, out of that more than 50 of them took out free memberships within the last 4 months or less. Their [the petition organizers] anonymous Facebook page was openly calling on people to join the party in order to sign the petition,” said Tyrrell.
Leckman claims that Tyrrell has been revoking membership from people who challenge him, such as Walcott. “Other people had their memberships revoked when they spoke out against Alex Tyrrell, and that has happened before,” he said.
Leckman said that Tyrrell promised to call a vote of confidence in his leadership after the 2018 election, but when that didn’t materialize Leckman felt a “moral obligation” to add his name to the petition.
“He was called out for being undemocratic by people, and right away they had their membership revoked. It’s a recurring theme, and I had to do something about it,” said Leckman.
Tyrrell responded that he does not expel members arbitrarily and gave examples of petition signers who were kicked out of the party because of support for Bill 21, which he called “racist” and “islamophobic.”
Others, he said, were members of competing political parties. Tyrrell said that a vote of confidence is held once per election cycle. A requirement that he said was met.
“I told him [Leckman] at the time that the confidence vote for the 2014-2018 election cycle had been held and that there would be another confidence vote in the next election cycle,” said Tyrrell.
Green Party of Canada interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts told National Observer that both she and Elizabeth May were unaware of the petition until it was launched.
Roberts denied any co-ordination between May, Leckman and Walcott over the petition. “I’m afraid he’s tilting at a windmill here,” said Roberts. “Just be clear that there’s no truth to that allegation.”
Roberts said it will be the membership that decides the political direction of the federal party by selecting the next leader. “We welcome Mr. Tyrrell to go ahead and make his bid,” said Roberts.
The Green Party of Canada’s leadership election happens on Oct. 4, 2020. Tyrrell has yet to officially announce whether he will run.