Skip to main content

The Federal Council is holding a confidence vote on Annamie Paul July 20, after issuing a letter of indictment of her leadership.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

When Annamie Paul became the Green Party’s national leader last October, the plan was to make it a national force in electoral politics. Now it is crumbling.

The Green brand should, you would think, be rising in politics: More and more people see climate change as the cause of our times. But the organization itself can’t get over its petty squabbles.

How can this have happened? On the outside, the Green Party seems to be a national party. On the inside, it has been run with the small-time politics of a condo association or a book-club executive.

The Greens have had a board, its Federal Council, whose members collectively didn’t have a lot of savvy running a political party, but increasingly stuck their fingers into operational details.

Even before Ms. Paul came into the party last October, the council was increasingly demanding to get its way. When Ms. Paul arrived, it argued with her over her salary, campaign funds and the appointment of staff.

Then, Ms. Paul herself mismanaged the internal politics that are a big part of her job, failing to tend relationships with MPs and party officials, or in some cases to return calls or e-mails, and, tellingly, blundering over a dispute between her aide and MPs. Even some Greens on her side in the intraparty war think she made the worst of an impossible situation.

It’s hard to imagine it can go on. The Federal Council is holding a confidence vote on Ms. Paul July 20, after issuing a letter of indictment of her leadership. The party is laying off staff, though it’s hard to understand why: up to April 1, at least, the party’s fundraising was better than last year. When Ms. Paul tried to speak against the layoffs on a Zoom conference call last week, the party’s executive director, Dana Taylor, muted her.

In theory, the Green Leader is only a spokesperson for a membership that makes policies. There’s the Federal Council to speak for members between general meetings. The executive director, who oversees money and staff, reports to the council, not the leader. The leader has little power, in theory.

That’s ironic because for 13 years, the party revolved around Elizabeth May, who mostly got her way. Still, after Ms. May, there was a move to have the council assert its role. Also ironically, some who ran for council promising to do that were close to Ms. May, including her husband, John Kidder.

The council started getting involved in details, rather than just oversight, in the time of interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts. When Ms. Paul won the leadership last October, and went straight into a Toronto Centre by-election, the council provided only $50,000 in campaign funds. Short-changing your leader’s campaign is short-sighted self-harm. Then the council hired Mr. Taylor over Ms. Paul’s objections.

But Ms. Paul, by many accounts, withdrew rather than building relationships. That’s dangerous for any party leader, especially in a small party. Jenica Atwin, the Fredericton MP who crossed the floor to the Liberals in June, reportedly complained in a meeting that Ms. Paul didn’t return e-mails.

It’s hard to unravel all the finger-pointing about Ms. Atwin’s departure, but there’s no doubt Ms. Paul blundered along the way.

After Ms. Atwin complained on Twitter that Ms. Paul’s statement on the recent Mideast conflict did not blame Israel, Ms. Paul’s aide, Noah Zatzman, went on Facebook to accuse unnamed MPs of antisemitism, and pledged to defeat them.

At that point, after a declaration of war that had effectively come from the leader’s office, Ms. Paul only had two viable options that amount to leadership: publicly back her aide and fight, or publicly repudiate and fire him. But Ms. Paul didn’t speak out, leaving her own party wondering, while Mr. Zatzman quietly left later. The thing festered.

What’s next? Surely, you would think, this group of small-time squabblers will pull back from the brink before they bring the whole thing down. Surely the council will not stop its new leader, the first Black and Jewish woman leader, from taking the party into one election, no matter what mistakes she has made. Right?

But after a shallow show of unity, you can expect Ms. May and Paul Manly will run local campaigns in their Vancouver Island ridings without much mention of Ms. Paul. Ms. Paul herself is likely to lose again in Toronto Centre, and then she will have a hard time winning a leadership review.

This was supposed to be the time when the Greens would ride the cause of climate change to become a major national political organization. Instead, they squabble as they run the party into the ground.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.