This site has been relatively quiet over the past week or so as I’m back home trying to take some slower time with my family while working at a distance. As a result, I haven’t written as much as I’ve been recharging my batteries after a year that has been harder than most of us have experienced in a long time. Lots of people are doing that this summer and with an increasingly likely election on the horizon, so are many others.
That would normally make for a quieter time around #cdnpoli, yet somehow, someway another story that I was talking about a couple of times has managed to pick up more steam when it would be so easy for it to be forgotten; the saga of the Green Party. Two strange developments took place in the past week that left me just shaking my head and resurrected our attention to the happenings there. The first came over a week ago, with these two media stories:
The Globe and Mail reported that Green Leader Annamie Paul said that the Green Federal council told her that “she no longer has to follow through on an order of her party’s federal council that directed her to repudiate a former advisor who criticized members of caucus.” She followed that up by stating that “I really believe that our members, and also most of our councillors, too, want us to just move on as quickly as possible, try to recover as quickly as possible. So that’s what I am going to do.” It all felt very odd, especially given the source with no follow-up from the Federal council itself.
Yet, as if almost on time, the next story came just a few hours later Liana Cusmano, interim president of the party’s federal council, came out in a media interview with the Canadian Press and said that wasn’t the fact at all. She even went so far as to ask Paul “to retract comments to media that suggested she no longer has to go through with the disavowal.” This whole exchange was bizarre, even by the standards of this particular saga. It also struck me as very amateurish, as if somehow the plan for Ms. Paul was to say this and that no one would call her out on it. Otherwise it doesn’t seem to make any sense why you would trigger this, as it just revived the story and brought more attention to the Greens troubles. But that attention didn’t end there, as over the past couple of days this story just got wilder:
These two interconnected stories just blew my mind on a couple of levels. Firstly, how in the sweet Hell does a party leader get “muted” by party staff? Seriously. I know that the Greens like to say that they “do politics differently”, but that isn’t different, it’s just downright rude and crappy behaviour. Then you add to the story the fact that this was all around laying off half of the party’s staff, just as an election is coming around the corner. Just as all parties are ramping up and hiring as they get ready for the campaign to come, they are slashing their staff and clearly undercutting the leader’s ability to fight that next campaign.
But the details to these cuts also speak to the situation, as some of the staff let go are staff directly staffing Paul herself, essentially cutting her legs right out from under her. Again, this is insane and unprecedented, that a party would basically kneecap their own leader like this, right before an election no less. It looks even crazier when you consider the rationale; lack of funds. As some of the media reporting notes, Elections Canada filings show the party raised $3.4 million in 2020 and so far in 2021, the party has raised $677,539 in the quarter, about $100,000 more than it raised during the same period last year. Yes, they aren’t the richest party on the block, but they at least seem to be no worse off than before.
Other stories quoting Ms. Cusmano pointed to dwindling membership figures, along with funding, as problems brought about by Paul’s leadership and playing into a defense of cuts like this. But as anyone who has been involved in a leadership campaign knows, it’s quite typical for membership numbers in a party to fall in the year after a leadership. That’s because many people sign up to support a specific candidate and when that candidate doesn’t win, they go away. All parties go through that and it’s an ongoing challenge for parties to try to convert those new leadership campaign members into permanent ones. And who does most of that work? The kind of party staff that just got laid off.
So what does this all mean? A bloody mess, that’s what. As I mentioned the last time that I wrote about this saga, “I can see truth in both sides that are being presented”. These recent events drive that impression home, that both sides in this dispute have things that they need to answer for, and the answers that have come so far are quite lacking. And like most civil wars that take place, the further you get into the dispute, the harder it becomes to get back to the start and reconcile.
Taking actions like literally trying to hamper your leader’s ability to win a campaign or be prepared to fight it shows just how far down the rabbit hole of this dispute that they have gotten. As of right now, there’s no way the Greens are ready to fight the next election and these developments from the past week just show that they are more focused inwardly than on the election to come. Heck, right now things are so bad for the Greens that Max Bernier’s PPC has almost twice as many candidates nominated than the Green team does. And when you look at what’s happening here, that doesn’t seem likely to reverse itself anytime soon. At this point you have to openly wonder who will end up leading the Greens into that election and if they will manage to even come close to having a full slate of Candidates. They are about 300 candidates short of that target now, with at best 2 months to go.
All told, this has gotten uglier and faster than I ever expected. I can’t remember a situation like this rising to this level before in Canada, to the point where good staffers have lost their jobs as a ploy, merely casualties of a party civil war. Things are probably too far gone now for the Greens to pull out of this before a Fall election, so the question now becomes if they even make it out of that campaign in one piece. This story is becoming less about the future of the Green Party and more about what it might mean in many ridings across the country if there is no Green candidate to take 5-7% of the vote. In a campaign where a potential majority government sits on a knifes edge, that could make the difference in enough places to have a bigger impact than whatever the future of the Green party might be. We’ll see where this all goes going forward but this story doesn’t seem to be coming to an end anytime soon, regardless of what comes of Ms. Paul after the July 20th vote on her leadership.