Today was a very busy day on Parliament Hill, and that went well beyond the extended sitting hours in the House of Commons. We’re full on into silly season in Ottawa and while naturally the eyes of politicos would want to be gazing to the House, it’s the drama playing out with the Green Party that has captured the attention. Yesterday we heard that moves were being made to remove Leader Annamie Paul, as troubles within the party seemed to be coming to a head.
That led to news later last night of a resolution of sorts from the Green Federal Council, which basically amounted to an ultimatum for Paul; the council passed a motion to ask Ms. Paul and MP Paul Manly to organize a joint statement and press conference, where she would repudiate attacks against her caucus by one of her main staffers and explicitly support the Green Party caucus. If she did not, the motion stated that would trigger “a vote of non-confidence in the leader”, which would take place on July 20, 2021. So when the news came that Ms. Paul had a 4:30 press conference booked, everyone was waiting to see what would happen. And folks, what happened was something:
Long story short, it appears that Paul called the councils motion-backed bluff. While during questioning she expressed her support in a back-handed way for her caucus colleagues, she outright refused to repudiate that staffer (which I’ll come back to in a bit). She launched attacks in all directions, some of which were warranted and on point, and others that felt more like the typical deflection attempts you’d see from any federal leader under attack from within. But the end result was not what the federal council called for, and was a direct attack on many of them.
Coming out of this press conference, I have to admit my torn feelings about what resulted and what this all means. When you read all the reporting out there, it’s clear that all sides are now leaking to their hearts content about what happened, trying to spin this story in their favour (which I will also come back to). With all the information that is out there, I can see truth in both sides that are being presented. Can I see the racism and sexism that Paul launched at some of her fellow party members today? Yes, because as an Indigenous person I’ve seen some of that stuff in politics over the years. These are systems that were not designed with people from different cultures and backgrounds in mind, so I can see some of that structural problem there.
But can I also see rightful blame in Paul’s alleged conduct and leadership style? Yes, I can see that too. In the piece I wrote on this yesterday, I cited a story from The Tyee that gave some details that just struck me as leadership mistakes. In that story the story is told of Jenica Atwin’s attempts to talk to Paul. At one point, she reported asked “for an active email that would work in her attempts to reach the leader.” According to the story, “multiple sources who were at that meeting have told The Tyee that Paul told Atwin that her email accounts received Atwin’s requests, but the leader chose not to answer them.” The report ended this story by saying that Atwin was brought to tears over that. For me and my experience working on Parliament Hill, it feels extremely odd that a caucus member couldn’t directly reach their leader via email, text, phone or otherwise. In my experience in the NDP, with every leader I worked under, MPs could and would contact the leader directly. Under Layton, Turmel, Mulcair and Singh, all the same. There never would have been a situation like that described above, where the leader would just simply ghost a caucus colleague.
All those leaders managed to do that with caucus ranging from 24 members to 103, yet Paul couldn’t see fit to do it with a caucus of three? That’s a decision and choice that I would assume rests with Paul herself. The same also goes for her refusal to repudiate her staff whose comments on Facebook set off the saga with Atwin. As a party staffer, there is an old saying; if you’re in the news, you’re doing your job wrong. The whole point of such positions is to be in the background and if you’re doing anything that’s getting bad public attention, that right there is immediate grounds for firing. That’s even more the case when those public comments involve promising to work to defeat the majority of the members of your small caucus.
Yet in this case, that simply hasn’t happened and despite facing the ultimatum that Paul was given last night, she still did it. Heck, the guy’s contract is done at the end of the month and is leaving his job, and STILL she refuses to do this. So it forces one to wonder why she won’t do this. In my view of two things that she was told by the council to do, this was the easiest, especially considering the fact that he was already leaving. So why is that the case? Well speaking of leaks, another one has come out tonight that started to circulate around Twitter and it’s a recording that helps to give some extra context on this:
That above is a recording of a meeting that Paul held with Green staffers the day after Atwin defected to the Liberals. The fact that this leaked in the hours have Paul spoke is something that speaks to just how bad things seem to be getting. In this record, Paul makes some comments that are concerning on their face, especially given the circumstances they found themselves in at that moment. First, when it comes to how she deals with this situation with the staffer, she clearly says “Being transparent is not always the way to go”. Yikes, I know what she’s trying to say, but that just sounds bad.
When explaining her approach with said staffer, she goes to pains to credit him for a lot of the things that her office is doing, but what she said next was very telling. She told the group that “I can’t stop knowing someone or caring about someone abruptly like that.” It’s clear that Paul has a strong relationship with this staffer and is not willing to let them go. To some that might be admirable, or might think that’s naïve, but I’ll leave that to others to judge. I’ll just state that leaders of political parties don’t always get to do what they might want to do in these ways, and that can involve firing people like this. In the end, the decision that she has taken around this staffer lies completely with her, and that is something that as leader she needs to answer for. So her unwillingness to do so in this case is something in this that is hers to wear and no one else’s fault.
Long story short, the more I learn about this story, the more I’m left with two conclusions that may seem contrary but are accurate here. Firstly, I believe that Annamie Paul has faced the challenges to her leadership that she laid out at the beginning, and I accept that they are a part of what is at play here. But at the same time, Ms. Paul is not without blame or without actions to account for. What I am seeing here is a new leader, with a small team, trying to take on this new challenge and little background for doing it. Winning a leadership race is a far different task then running a party after you win, and experience with one doesn’t necessarily help with the other. I don’t doubt the sincerity in their efforts, but what I see is a lot of small mistakes that have been allowed to pile up and fester. That’s added to the mixture of that other side and created the confusing toxic brew that we’ve seen spill out into the open over the past week or so.
And that leads me to what I would have suggested that Ms. Paul should have done today. In my opinion, I would have suggested that she apologize for her mistakes, pledging to do better and calling on her opponents to do the same. She spoke eloquently about no one being perfect and people making mistakes, yet at the same time she refused to admit to any of her own mistakes in this whole saga, and she has made some. That sounded a lot like a normal politician, most of which made many of the same mistakes in their first year or so of leadership under far less difficult circumstances than a global pandemic. A refreshing difference would have been to own her mistakes, lean into that common experience for all new leaders, vow to learn from it and use that momentum to put her opponents on the spot to do the same. That to me would have been much more effective and honestly, would have done something positive to get them out of this mess.
But instead, she didn’t do that. She called their bluff, and this game of green chicken is going to continue. Ironically, it looks like unless something changes in the next month, it might not be the worst call to hold onto her position. As Global’s David Akin pointed out on Twitter today, the math seems to be in her favour to hold onto her position. While that would put off the immediate threat before her for the time being, it will still create ongoing damage to the party and its brand before going into the next campaign. In the end, this is all one big bitter mess and I don’t see how this all gets put back together. It seems like the chance to reverse course and fix this mess has been missed, and that will lead many to wonder if the Green Party makes it out of this experience in one piece.