The Green Party’s deputy leader resigned Tuesday for personal reasons, leaving 70-year-old Elizabeth May alone at the helm as party leader.

Jonathan Pedneault’s surprise resignation came more than a year and a half after he and May ran a successful campaign to be co-leaders in the Green Party’s last leadership contest. But before their shared leadership could take effect, party members had to agree to change the constitution to allow a co-leadership structure, a process that was delayed several times.

Pedneault said it has been “the honour of a lifetime to serve alongside Elizabeth May and Mike Morris to outstanding members of parliament who dedicate their every waking hours to Canadians, in a way that sadly, partisan politics today in Ottawa doesn't quite exemplify.”

May is “heartbroken” Pedneault is resigning but remains committed to the concept of co-leadership. She will be looking for a co-leader to campaign alongside in the next election, assuming party membership votes to change the constitution.

“Jonathan's decision is his decision. I respect him. I love him. I couldn't have asked for a better partner, a better sounding board, a better voice for so many core issues that face Canadian society,” May said at the press conference in Ottawa on July 9.

Don Desserud, a University of Prince Edward Island political science professor, said being co-leader in name alone doesn’t make a leader.

“You're not a leader because someone says you're a leader … you're a leader because there's this one person that eventually people start to pay attention to, respect, admire, and are willing to follow,” Desserud said in an interview with Canada’s National Observer. “That's an intangible quality that some people have and some people don't have. Names don't do it, you need a lot more than that.”

The federal Green Party is going to need a Jack Layton type as their next leader, said Desserud — someone who is popular and trusted.

In the specific case of Pedneault, Desserud said, “the old problem of being a leader without a seat” has hindered the co-leader in establishing himself in the position with the media, party members and public.

Jonathan Pedneault's resignation as deputy leader of the federal Green Party didn't surprise political analyst Don Desserud. "The old problem of being a leader without a seat” is its hard to get enough attention to maintain a public profile, he said

“I just don't think he's ever had any traction,” Desserud said.

Pedneault ran in the by-election for Montreal riding Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Westmount and came fourth with 13.3 per cent of the vote. May said this was the best performance any Green MP has managed in a Quebec riding.

Desserud said a barrier in May’s search for someone to pass the torch to is that these days, being a national party leader is a thankless job, regardless of how large or small the party.

“It is no longer the rewarding job that it was 25 years ago. Leaders are vilified, the social media campaigns against them are legendary now, and when you're in a small party like the Green Party, they have to work within a system that is not kind to small parties,” Desserud said. “It's frustrating to work and work and work away at trying to get somewhere only for it to not get translated into anything tangible like seats in the House.”

He suspects there aren’t many people eager for the job, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t viable options.

P.E.I.'s former Green Party president Anna Keenan ran in the last leadership race and came second to Elizabeth May on the ranked ballot. Desserud threw Prince Edward Island MLA Matt MacFarlane’s name into the conversation, but noted that MacFarlane is not interested in pursuing leadership roles within the provincial or federal party.

He thinks P.E.I. Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker has the “charm, charisma and smarts” to be a “fantastic” national leader and “would really capture the attention of the imagination of the public.” But after winning a record eight seats in the 2019 provincial election, the party only managed to secure two seats in 2023. The election left Bevan-Baker wounded and uninterested in pursuing national leadership, Desserud said, but “people like that stepping forward could make a huge difference for that party.”

With the destructive effects of climate change playing out now more than ever before, Desserud said there may be an opportunity for the Greens to get back to basics and win more support than in previous elections, should they choose that route politically, instead of their 2019 strategy of playing up their non-environmental credentials.

“The Green Party probably has a far more solid base than people think,” Desserud said. He predicts a “major shake up election” where disillusioned voters may look to other parties they haven’t historically voted for.

Both Canada and the U.S. are predicting a very active hurricane season on the east coast, many regions in northern Canada are experiencing a multi year drought, and heat domes and wildfires occur across the country. Environment and Climate Change Canada analyzed four recent heat waves in Eastern Canada and concluded human-caused climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, made these heat waves “much more likely.” These heat waves clocked temperatures between 7.4 and 10.7 degrees hotter than the regional average for June.

The Green Party constitution allows May to appoint two deputy leaders. Her remaining deputy is Rainbow Eyes (Angela Davidson), a Kwakwaka’wakw land defender who received a jail sentence in April for her activities in the Fairy Creek protests.

B.C. currently has two Green MLAs out of 87, but Green MLA Adam Olsen recently announced he will not seek re-election. P.E.I. is a Green stronghold with three Green MLAs out of 27.

The federal Green Party has struggled financially in recent years. At the press conference, May said the party intends to run a full slate of candidates at the next election.

— With Files from John Woodside

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
July 12, 2024, 10:53 am

This article was updated to correct the spelling of Matt MacFarlane's name and the number of Green MLAs in P.E.I.

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"At the press conference, May said the party intends to run a full slate of candidates at the next election."

I understand some of the basic optics of this statement, and Ms. May has held this commitment as a talisman for several election cycles. However, running candidates in every riding should not be the objective. Rather, winning seats sufficient to have leverage in the House and, through that, building the party's reputation in governance (not to mention, saving the biosphere as we know it) ought to be the goal.

Running a full slate means that voters, across the country, must consider what would happen if, by some fluke, the Green Party gained the plurality. As much as I admire Ms. May's work and commitment, the party needs to be bigger than one (or two) person(s). And Canadians must be able to trust it. At this juncture, the Green Party is in no place to offer itself as the governing party. I cringe at the thought, frankly, which sentiment necessarily becomes a consideration in the voting booth. (That said, I realize that cringe-worthiness is sadly becoming de rigueur in Canadian politics, as elsewhere.)

Logistically speaking, a full slate of candidates will also require a full slate of riding organizations (unless the "every riding" sentiment is performative and names are merely phoned in). That's a challenge.

The alternative?

Selecting solid candidates in a limited subset of strategically selected ridings, and support them with focused volunteers from across the country making use of today's technologies for outreach into the selected ridings.

Is the first instance of a Green caucus of, say, 15 MPs more likely to result from "a candidate in every riding", or from a considered slate of, say, 50-75 (just to pick some numbers from the passing wind) serious and articulate candidates?

Personally, I think the latter has the best shot.

PS. If we had proportional representation, the calculus would change and *a candidate in every riding" would, I think, become viable and desired. But, we're not there yet

Great comments. I couldn't agree more with your analysis.

My riding usually has very competitive races between the Liberal, NDP and Conservative candidates. The Greens have never received more than a smattering of votes, which are taken away from other progressive voters.

In 2015 the NDP ran an unknown candidate (except in activist circles) that was heavily promoted by progressive organizations. She was ahead in the polls until one week before the election, at which point the freshly minted Liberal candidate pulled up even. In the seven days following, the compendium of local polls indicated Jody Wilson Raybould (then a Liberal) opened a wide two digit gap. Because we badly wanted to be rid of the Harper government, we were very happy to help make that happen.

The NDP promoters were humiliated because they based their recommendation on the same polls, which they utterly failed to interpret. Polls are best read as frames within a moving stream of real time events, not as a frozen moment. A few days can make a big difference.

Four years later, there was voter regret and anger with Trudeau's treatment of JWR. It was party machine and the protection of corporate donors over principle with respect to her treatment. She won as an independent in the next election, and JT has never had a majority government since as the result of his and his party's arrogant attitude and fence-sitting policy platforms.

During that election campaign the Greens ran "one candidate in every riding" and as the result spread themselves too thinly without caring about the qualities of who they chose in some cases. The Green candidate running against JWR was a West Side Vancouver real estate agent in Canada's highest housing value market, and her environmental credentials were too thin to remember. She was a candidate on paper only, which alone is an insult to voters. Elizabeth May admitted it too, and went on to mention that the Green's election office staff in our riding were in fact working on JWR's campaign, who happened to be a personal friend of May.

Confused? We certainly were.

Then it was the NDP's turn. In the second last election they ran an attractive young candidate who seemed to have a bright future in progressive politics. She came within 4% of winning, and could have stuck it out and built up some experience as an elected MLA (or even as a city councillor) as a stepping stone to Ottawa. Instead, she allowed herself to be swayed by radicals who give the Left a bad reputation, not all deserved, and tried to perform a home invasion on the BC NDP's last leadership campaign by gathering a mob to take a run through the back door at the premier's chair. It failed because the NDP is an old, very experienced warhorse that was able to quickly change the membership rules to close the door on mobs of instant members, many of whom already held BC Green membership cards or who preferred direct action over legitimate political processes.

I think proportionality has the promise to change most of the above crap that too often emanates from political parties or egotistical and naive candidates.