Canada’s National Observer sat down with Amita Kuttner, interim leader of the Green Party, to talk about the party’s future and why they took on the challenge. With the Nov. 24 appointment, Kuttner, 30, is the youngest person, the first trans person and the first person of East Asian descent to lead a national political party in Canada.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What are your main priorities as interim leader?
Definitely uniting and strengthening the party, making sure we're all on the same page with a common vision, fundraising, putting on an awesome leadership race to find the next leader, supporting caucus as much as possible, making sure their work in the House is going well and I'm doing everything I can for them and … just making sure everything's running smoothly.
Q: The past year has been undeniably divisive for the party. What factions need to be brought together?
I am still trying to get a lay of the land. I'm trying to sense the system, like what is happening? And from what I'm feeling, the majority of people have not been involved in these conflicts. The majority are just like, "Can we please get back to work? We just want to be able to move forward and just do whatever is next." But I know there's a lot of hurt, whether that's just from what's happened or things people said to each other. It's also difficult to tell whether there are actually groups or factions or just people with lots of different opinions and hurt feelings that we just need to say, “Hey, we're moving past this. Here's what's next. And these are all the things we agree on. Let's go.”
There are a lot of different people, and a variety of backgrounds … And I think almost no one feels like things are what they want them to be. And so when you have that, no matter what groupings or opinions anyone has, no one feels welcome, no one feels good about it. We need to make sure we renew our agreements and how we work with one another. We need our own kind of internal security and sustainability. Everything we hope for the world, we have to reflect on the inside.
Q: And how do you plan on fostering this understanding and trust?
It's impossible to tell people what to do — it's not the way I feel comfortable going about getting people to do something. So, what I'm doing is: I'm taking the first step saying, I'm going to trust everyone, I'm going to show up, ready to engage, ready to listen, to be there, to help people unpack what they've been through. But also, if I get a sense of people not seeing the same thing and they're not agreeing, I’ll actually try to have those conversations. I'm hoping to travel the country, pandemic depending, of course, just meeting people to hold the space.
Q: Is the Green Party’s participatory democracy sustainable? How do you get a coherent platform?
Green Party interim leader @amitakuttner talks about the party’s future and why they took on the challenge. "Everything we hope for the world, we have to reflect on the inside," they say. #cdnpoli #GreenParty
There have been two schools of thought about this. One, we need to control people, and the other, we need to trust them. I'm on the “trust everybody” side of things. But you have to do it in a way that makes sense. The idea that you just put everything to a vote makes very little sense to get any sort of cohesion. What we need to do is actually strengthen the membership process and consensus-building so it actually works and produces great results. That means trusting the membership and everybody involved to have the discussions necessary. It's actually like, OK, let's go get you background evidence for this, let's talk to experts about how to phrase this in a way that's effective and always brings it back to our principles, put it through a rigorous policy development process with experts, and then put it forward for discussion.
I've seen the larger consensus process work. If there's enough disagreement, you listen to the people who are disagreeing. You hear what they have to say, try to address it, and then you take it back to them to see if you took care of their apprehensions. It's amazing what 150 people in a room can actually completely agree on. People will say, “Consensus is impossible. You should just be voting.” Consensus is possible. I think leaning into it and strengthening the process makes more sense than changing the structure because if done wrong, you're not getting participatory democracy, you're getting the people who have the privilege to be able to participate and their opinions.
Q: There has been a lot of coverage about the party’s financial trouble, lawsuits, membership and donor loss. How long can this realistically go on?
I think it has already turned around. Certainly, this was a tough year. And if people don't feel like they're going to get something out of it, they're not going to give you anything. Now that we're getting things back on track, it's turning around. It was just like a holding of breath and we're all exhaling. Like, OK, we can do it. When you have litigation going on, nobody wants to pay for litigation. But that's done. We had great fundraising at the VGM (virtual general meeting), we're getting messages from across the country, people renewing their memberships, starting EDAs (electoral district associations) that have never existed without any party action to make that happen. People saying, “I'm donating again.” I don't have the numbers yet, but the indication is it's turning around. I was, of course, expecting this to be difficult, and I think some of it will be. But this first week has been overwhelmingly positive.
Q: What would be the consequences for Canadian politics if the Green Party went under?
We're the only party that isn't extractivist. We're the only party whose economic policies are not based on consumption. We’re the only party that understands humanity is a part of nature. And we're the only ones who are willing to always tell the truth no matter what. That's what we lose from Canadian politics. If you don't have people completely dedicated to truth-telling, even if there's only a couple of them, you lose the sense of accountability in the House and that would have a profound impact across the board.
Q: How will your work with the Moonlight Institute, gender identity, and background as an astrophysicist inform how you approach your role as interim leader and the challenges facing the party?
With everything that's going on, the fact I went through a really analytical field is really important because I just like analyzing all the different pieces, looking at them, piecing them together and sensing all the pathways forward. That’s the practical aspect of having done scientific research, you just approach the whole thing like a project to learn about and solve the problems one by one. The Moonlight Institute gave me experience in organizational direction, fundraising, policy projects, and a background in governance.
My identity, I carry it with me and it certainly influences how I look at policy, how I look at internal organizing. We need to work on discrimination, obviously. But I also see that those issues of discrimination are just a reflection of society and exist in the other parties as well. We have the chance to stop denying it, take it seriously, work through it, and become a good place to be for people that is actually built for everyone of different backgrounds, rather than being a colonial white supremacist structure that we're shoving people into because that's what you get by default in our political system. I'm certainly putting myself out there as a trans person in the middle of transition, which is weird. It's like cutting open your cocoon and showing yourself to the world before you finish your transformation.
Q: Why, especially at this point in your life, did you decide to step up to this significant challenge?
I don't know that I can answer why I was willing to do it at this point in my life because it doesn't make any sense to me. I've got a lot on my plate personally, so it is a huge sacrifice and a risk. But I decided to do it because after this last year watching everything and caring about what the party exists for, I really wanted to help. And I felt like the skills I have are right for it since I went through the leadership contest last time. I have a pretty good sense of what we shouldn't do for the next one.
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer