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New Green party Leader Annamie Paul holds a press conference in Ottawa on Oct. 5, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Despite a sometimes-husky voice, brought on by days of speeches and interviews, Annamie Paul gave an impressive debut press conference as Green Party Leader on Parliament Hill, Monday. The Toronto-based human-rights advocate would be a tremendous addition to the House of Commons.

But Ms. Paul will have great difficulty winning a seat, which puts her political future at risk. If ever there were an argument for electoral reform, it could lie in the new Green Leader’s expected challenges in entering the House.

Ms. Paul is a candidate in the Oct. 26 by-election for Toronto Centre, which came open after Finance Minister Bill Morneau resigned.

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The Greens are calling on the NDP not to run in the riding, just as the Greens didn’t field a candidate in Burnaby South to help NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh enter the House.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul to face full slate of candidates in bid to win Parliament seat

But even if the NDP did pull their already-nominated-and-campaigning candidate out, three weeks before the vote, it wouldn’t help Ms. Paul much. Toronto Centre is one of the Liberalest ridings in Canada. Mr. Morneau took 57 per cent of the vote in the 2019 election. Ms. Paul, who was the candidate there last year, took 7 per cent. The NDP candidate took 22 per cent.

“There’s an outside chance that the Greens could win by really investing in that riding over multiple election cycles,” said Amara Possian, who teaches government relations at Seneca College. “But I think she needs to focus on winning a seat as soon as possible, which means going elsewhere.” (Prof. Possian was an NDP candidate in the last Ontario election.)

The riding of Guelph, just west of Greater Toronto, is a possibility. Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario Greens, won there in the 2018 provincial election, and the Green candidate captured 25 per cent of the vote in last year’s federal election. But Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield, who has won the riding twice, won’t be easily dislodged.

Another possibility is Kitchener Centre, further down the road. The Greens took 26 per cent of the vote there last year, coming second to the Liberals. But Kitchener is 100 kilometres from Toronto. Ms. Paul criticized the Liberals for parachuting a candidate into Toronto Centre. She’d be parachuting into Kitchener Centre.

If former Green leader Elizabeth May decided to retire, Ms. Paul and her family could pull up stakes and she could run in Ms. May’s riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands in B.C. She wouldn’t be parachuting so much as transplanting. But Ms. May has said she intends to run in the next election so that’s that.

“Elizabeth May is such a force in the party,” observes Prof. Possian. For as long as the new leader remains outside the House, “there will be two centres of power within the party, one in Parliament, led by Elizabeth May, and another outside Parliament, led by Annamie Paul.”

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The situation is politically perilous for Ms. Paul. Because she will almost certainly lose in Toronto Centre, her real goal must be to find a winnable riding close to her home base of Toronto. Then she will need to devote every ounce of energy to securing that riding in the next election. Failure could end her career as leader, even as Ms. May carries on as the face and voice of the party.

Politics isn’t fair, but this situation is particularly unfair. The Green Party of Canada took 6.55 per cent of the vote in the 2019 election. The Bloc Québécois took 7.63 percent. Yet because the Green vote is spread nationwide, while the Bloc vote is confined to Quebec, the Bloc saw 32 MPs elected and the Greens only three.

Under a system of proportional representation, the Greens would be entitled to 22 seats and the Bloc to 26. (The NDP would have taken 54, rather than 24, seats; the Liberals would have had 112 rather than 157; and the Conservatives, who won the popular vote, would have 116 rather than 121.)

This is not to endorse voting reform. But it is worth noting that Annamie Paul, the young and vibrant new leader of the Green Party, may see her promising future dashed on the shoals of first-past-the-post. What a shame that would be.

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