You have to feel for Green Party of Canada Leader Annamie Paul. Last week’s English language federal leaders’ debate was her biggest and best opportunity to introduce herself to the millions of Canadians who didn’t know her yet, and she probably performed better in it than the other four participants.
But that performance was buried beneath the mountain of criticisms about the debate’s format and moderation, and only 14 per cent of Canadians actually stuck around to the end.
For Paul, this first impression may have also been her last chance to salvage her leadership of the Green Party. Her tenure has been marked by internal strife and conflict over everything from her choice to run in the riding of Toronto Centre in an October 2020 byelection (where she came in second) to her decision to stand behind an adviser who criticized her own MPs of discrimination and anti-Semitism earlier this year.
During a recent interview, Paul even says she considered resigning multiple times after Green MP Jenica Atwin crossed the floor to the Liberals in June. “There had been times that I thought about stepping down,” she told the CBC’s Rosemary Barton.
Those internal disagreements that have defined her time as party leader have now broken out into the open during this election campaign, and it includes some of the national Green movement’s highest-profile supporters. Andrew Weaver, the former leader of the B.C. Green Party, came out earlier in the campaign with his enthusiastic support for the Liberal climate plan, snubbing the Greens. And in the riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, a group of high-profile environmentalists including David Suzuki formed a group called “Greens4Avi” in order to support NDP candidate Avi Lewis.
Paul probably didn’t help herself here with the decision to run for a third time in the riding of Toronto Centre, a longtime Liberal stronghold, rather than somewhere safer. And where the party once ran a full slate of candidates and planned to do so again in 2021, it fell short by nearly 100 — the lowest total it has fielded since 2000.
Now, as the Greens fight for their survival, some of the party’s candidates don’t even want their leader to visit their riding. It seems increasingly likely that their first elected MP, Elizabeth May, could also be the last federal Green MP standing — and that the three seats they won in 2019 could be the party’s electoral high-water mark.
But while the Greens are staring down a major setback in this election, the cause it was founded to serve back in 1983 could still emerge as the biggest winner of all. Depending on who you ask, climate change is either a defining issue or the defining issue in this election, and all three major parties have platforms that actually take it seriously. And while the Green Party has received some poor marks from economists and academics for its climate plan, the very fact that other parties are competing with and beating them in this space is a victory in itself.
So, too, is the fact that the Liberal Party of Canada seems most determined to win this competition. Borrowing ideas and policies from progressive parties is a key part of its brand, and a big reason for its continued electoral success, and the Liberals have done it on everything from health care in the 1960s to same-sex marriage in the 2000s. And while they can ask the federal NDP how it feels to get outflanked on an issue it spent years pushing, the reality is that environmentalism and climate change have moved from the fringes to centre stage in our politics.
Paul will almost certainly go down to defeat on Sept. 20, and she will probably be joined by all but one of her party’s candidates. But in a way, the 2021 election will be the Green Party of Canada’s biggest victory yet. As its members consider the prospect of yet another leadership race, they may want to ask themselves whether Canada still needs a Green Party. After all, in many important respects, the battle it was created to fight has already been won.