EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story said Steve Dyck was the Green provincial candidate for Guelph in 2019. He was the Green provincial candidate for Guelph in 2011, and the Green federal candidate in Guelph in 2019.
The latest bout of infighting between Green Leader Annamie Paul and party officials is fuelling growing speculation about whether the feuds will clip the party’s wings ahead of a looming federal election.
Internal leaks over the past month have put the spotlight on Paul and her relationships with the party’s elected MPs, its federal council and other officials as she fights to establish herself as the new leader.
Thomas Trappenberg, former leader of the Nova Scotia Green Party and a member of both the provincial and federal party, told Global News he has concerns about how the turmoil may be perceived by voters.
“I see what is going on on social media, and I’m quite worried about that,” he said.
“I’m worried that people are, at the moment, too heated to really think about the bigger picture.”
Polling by Ipsos for Global News pegs the party at seven per cent of popular vote support last month, up from five per cent in May. Whether they can stick the landing through a federal campaign and make real gains in terms of elected seats, however, remains the perennial question for the party.
Paul lost her first bid at winning a seat in the House of Commons last year and has since faced criticism over her handling of a high-profile fracas in which one of her staffers vowed to try to defeat one of the party’s three federal MPs over criticism of Israel. That MP, Jenica Atwin, later joined the Liberals.
The loss came after Atwin — a rising young voice within the party and on Parliament Hill — had won her Fredericton riding in a major breakthrough for the party in the 2019 federal campaign.
Paul now faces a non-confidence vote on July 20, which comes after her refusal to denounce that staffer’s remarks and after a public insistence that such a vote was off the table. Her insistence prompted the party president to publicly contradict her and call for Paul to retract her comments.
Paul has described attempts to oust her as leader as “so sexist, so racist,” and accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland of undermining her by recruiting Atwin.
“We all knew that they were going to have some hiccups when they changed leadership because the party had been led by the same person for so long,” said Lori Turnbull, director of the school of public administration at Dalhousie University.
She said what has been playing out does not appear to be the normal bumps of a party in transition, but more similar to an “implosion” with no signs of getting better.
“It seems that rather than try to sort that out over the past month or so, it seems to only be getting worse,” Turnbull continued. “It’s hard to watch in a way.
“I’m not sure how they put the toothpaste back in the tube after this.”
Green MP Elizabeth May was elected as the party’s leader in 2006 and became its first federal MP in 2011, five years after winning the leadership. During her tenure as leader but particularly since becoming an MP, she garnered broad respect among fellow parliamentarians and has been central in shaping the modern face of the party as it made historic gains over recent years.
May stepped down as Green leader in 2019 but remains the MP for Saanich–Gulf Islands.
At the same time, the party is grappling with how to transition from one primarily focused on climate change and green economic solutions to one increasingly trying to chart a new balance between the core focus on climate and the growing conversations happening around broader social injustice.
“There is no climate justice without social justice as well,” Paul frequently says.
That presents both opportunities and challenges for the party, said Steve Dyck, a candidate for the Green Party in 2019 in the federal riding of Guelph, and for the provincial party in Guelph in 2011.
“That was who we picked as our leader. So it is difficult for each of us to look carefully at our own experience of power and control and to make opportunities for our new leader to learn to make mistakes. Annamie’s made some mistakes,” said Dyck, adding he’s proud the party picked her.
“I totally give her the support to make mistakes and to learn. I know as a candidate — wow, steep learning curve.”
Dyck said while May handled the position and relations with the federal council having years of experience and trust from the party officials, Paul is learning on the job.
“She’s somewhat isolated. She doesn’t have the years of, you know, people on council knowing her, understanding why she’s making the positions,” he said, noting he’s been impressed by her so far but that “there’s learning to be done.”
With a federal election appearing increasingly likely within the coming months, the question facing the party now is how that transition could spill over to how voters perceive the party.
Dyck said he plans to campaign for Paul in any federal election, but added the party needs to show voters they are ready and able to tackle the task of governing if they want to make gains.
“We do need to come together and show a solidness in how we run ourselves,” he said.
Turnbull said Paul faces a “particularly tough” task by not having a seat in the House of Commons, figuring out a new path forward, and facing what appears to be “broken” trust between herself and senior leaders within the party — all ahead of a possible campaign.
“The last thing a political party wants in politics is having their own divisions, their own conflict become the story. Nobody’s talking about what the Green Party stands for or why it’s important to have a Green Party,” said Turnbull.
“They’re talking about why the leader can’t get it together and whether she’s going to be able to get through this or not.
“It’s exactly the opposite of what they want.”
With files from Global National’s Ross Lord.