The fight against Covid-19 has sidelined many things that we would normally be worried about, and rightfully so. It’s amazing to think about some of the things our political circles were all focused on before the global pandemic struck, that are now simple after thoughts. Included in long list of things would be very partisan matters, specifically leadership races.
The big one that had everyone talking before and into the pandemic was the Conservative race to replace Andrew Scheer. Given the timelines originally involved in that race, the stakes of it and the continued stream of scandalous behaviours, it drew all kinds of attention, mostly of the worst kind. And even after the race was mercifully suspended, that’s continued to happen because of some candidates’ apparent inabilities to go a short time without saying something outrageous. And as a result, the Conservatives are falling in the polls due to looking so tone deaf.
But we cannot forget there is another federal leadership campaign going on, one that’s been decidedly quieter. The Greens have a campaign on the go to replace Elizabeth May as leader, and unlike the Conservative one, it’s still actually ongoing. Part of that is due to the fact that they weren’t supposed to vote until the fall, so the timing of things hasn’t really pushed them to change things yet.
You could be forgiven for not knowing that it hadn’t been suspended, as this race has been happening so far below the radar that it’s gotten precious little attention. A lot of that has had to do with a total lack of candidates that most Canadians would know. To this point, the apparent front runner has been David Merner, a former Liberal turned Green who ran on Vancouver Island last election in one of the Greens most coveted ridings, but lost. In fact, of all of the candidates who have stepped forward or indicated their interest in running to date, none of them has ever won a general election or really ever been close to being competitive. Heck things have gotten so bad that the party even needed to lower the entry fee to help get would-be candidates in the race.
To this point this race has looked like the beginning of the end for the rise of the Green Party, as the party that was built around Ms. May has had no one running could possibly compare to her name and stature. Well today something changed on that front, in a big way, as a bolt from out of the blue struck down, in the form of a new candidate in this race that will take many observers by surprise:
Well if you had this candidate on your “Green Party Leadership Bingo Card” you’re the big winner today. Glen Murray has been a relatively big name in Winnipeg and Ontario politics for a long time. He served as Mayor of Winnipeg for a long time, then moved to Toronto and got elected to the Ontario Legislature as an MPP in the McGuinty then Wynne Liberal governments. He served as Minister of Transport and Minister of the Environment in that period, times when both files were hot button ones for those governments and full of controversy. Murray was Environment Minister when Cap and Trade was introduced in Ontario, making him a lightning rod for conservative politicians. He even ran for the leadership of the Ontario Liberals, failing in that attempt.
While Murray has been known by some to rub many people the wrong way, he’s someone whose environmental credentials are solid. Having served in governments that made progress on that file in Ontario brings him credibility. But having served in governments that were plagued by all kinds of scandals and allegations of mismanagement also means he brings some serious baggage along with him, something that the Greens have never really had to deal with before.
But for the Greens, the announcement of this candidacy has to be the political equivalent of manna falling from heaven into their laps. Murray has a name that is not huge on the national scene, but he has a track record and political brand that none of the other candidates in the Green race can come close to touching. Furthermore, giving his long-standing ties to the Liberal Party of Canada, it’s an interesting development to see him make this leap. I look forward to hearing his explanation about why he’s not running for the Liberals because even with his name and track record, running to become the Green Party leader amounts to a huge bet of his own political capital with little chance of return. Despite everything that Ms. May has done to build her party, become Green Leader, even for Mr. Murray, is far from being a guarantee winning a seat in the House, let alone having other Greens to join them. So this is a big bet on his part.
Having Mr. Murray run for this leadership will also force a true choice in direction for the Greens; will they try to push towards the centre and try to actually win seats, or will they listen to the loud fringes in their party & let them continue to rule the day. Before this announcement, the Greens didn’t have a strong enough candidate from the more moderate side of things to truly force that choice. But now with Murray, he has the clout to make this race all about being a party that wants to be serious or a party that wants to yell and scream from the sidelines.
This announcement today is the kind of thing that can determine the longer-term future of a party. Even though I don’t think he’s equivalent, this feels to me like when Tom Mulcair chose to run for the NDP in Quebec and the effect that had on the trajectory of the party after that. While I don’t think that Glen Murray will ever form a Green government, Official Opposition or ever even have enough MPs to be an official party in the House of Commons, I do think that he could be the saviour for the Greens in this moment. He’s a credible, bilingual politician with a track recording in governing in two provinces and environmental cred. That’s more than Elizabeth May ever brought to the table and she got them to this point. Murray might not be able to take them much further, but before today it looked like the next Green leader would be leading their party to a complete wipe out and oblivion. When compared to that fate, Murray could very well be the Green saviour with a lot of room to grow.