For someone whose political party is teetering on the brink of irrelevance, Green Party MP Elizabeth May remains her optimistic self.
Yes, Annamie Paul’s tenure as leader was a disaster. Yes, the party’s showing in the recent federal election was a giant step backward and left morale throughout the organization in the dump. And yes, it may take years for the party to regain the credibility it once had, if it does at all.
But where some might see a darkening horizon and even political oblivion, Ms. May simply sees a challenge.
“Look,” she said in a phone call this week. “There is no sense in denying what’s happened. It hasn’t been good. Even the current situation with the leader is untenable. But we have to remain true to our principles and get busy turning this around. I believe it can be done and it will be done.”
But then, what else is she going to say? She can’t be seen throwing in the towel, although her commitment to the party surely has been tested in the past year. But while she may be willing to work hard to give voters a reason to once again vote Green, she has no desire or plans to reclaim the job of leader – one she held from 2006 to 2019 (otherwise known as the party’s heydays).
“No, not in the cards,” she said.
It must be pointed out that while Ms. Paul appeared to announce her resignation on Sept. 27, after her party’s disastrous election results, she still remains in the position. Everyone says she’s on her way out, yet she’s still calling the shots – including insisting no one in the party speak to the media without her permission.
Ms. May is now ignoring that edict, after agreeing to it throughout most of Ms. Paul’s tenure.
We shall assume for the moment that Ms. Paul eventually leaves, perhaps kicking and screaming, who knows, and a new leader is chosen. But the party will still be in the same miserable position it is now: financially destitute and in search of an identity.
The Greens managed to get only two MPs elected, while seeing their share of the popular vote drop to a measly 2.3 per cent in the 2021 election – down from 6.5 per cent in 2019.
It’s fair to ask: Are the Greens still relevant?
When the party was founded in Canada in 1983, the environment wasn’t much of a priority for the federal government. Certainly, climate change was not the dominant issue of humankind like it is today. The Greens deserve enormous credit for loudly beating the climate drum long before it became fashionable. They forced every federal party in the country (except for the conservatives) to take the issue seriously.
And for the most part, they have.
The Liberals have one of the most aggressive climate plans in the world. The environment is a top issue for the NDP and the Bloc Québécois. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just named Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as his new Environment Minister. The government introduced a carbon tax that will climb to $170 a tonne by the end of this decade.
Where does this leave the Greens? Yes, Ms. Paul’s leadership likely had something to do with the party’s showing in the recent election, but it may also be that the party doesn’t have ownership over the environment the way it once did. The Greens were a place for Canadians angry at mainstream political parties for their lack of action on climate change to park their vote. There’s less incentive to do that now.
Unsurprisingly, Ms. May does not agree. She doesn’t think the Greens are facing an existential crisis.
“There isn’t a political party in this country advocating for the level of change that is required to keep the planet from warming beyond 1.5 degree Celsius,” she said. “We have to be prepared to go off fossil fuels, we need to ban fracking. This is why the Green Party is necessary.”
Perhaps. However, she will certainly find it far more difficult to unnerve the Environment Minister with questions about climate than she did previously. Ms. May admitted to being thrilled that Mr. Guilbeault has been handed arguably the most contentious dossier in government. She is also prepared to be disappointed in him, too, she said.
Either way, his appointment is a sign of the times. The Greens will have to adjust or risk becoming even more inconsequential than they currently are.
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