Elizabeth May: Annamie Paul told me to stay silent.
But now I must say something.
The nature of leadership is at the core of how democracies function when they function well — or when they function badly.
With Greens, leadership is markedly different from other parties. It is deep in the bones of Greens around the world. Leaders of parties are necessary to compete in the world of politics, but our wiring is anti-hierarchical.
Until the recent experience with Annamie Paul, the leader had no power. No party staff reported to him or her. The leader could not set policy, but represented the policies passed by the membership. Our rules say the Greens leader cannot reject candidates without the support of a super-majority of the federal council, operating like a board of directors. The leader is an equal member of the federal council of roughly two dozen elected volunteers, with power only for selecting deputy leaders and a shadow cabinet, and for acting as the party’s “chief spokesperson.” Phrases like “at the helm” have always been inappropriate.
The tragedy of Annamie Paul as leader stands out for a number of reasons. Of course, it is tragic in the Greek sense of hubris and nemesis. A brilliant woman became the first Black leader of a federal political party, finds her expectations unmet, and resigns in less than a year. The promise of a fresh start and a bright future for Greens lies in ashes.
I had loved working with Annamie Paul in the 2019 election. I stepped aside as leader at a point when the party was still popular and our election results had been great. I did so to create space for more diversity in Canadian politics. I had hoped we might be the first party to elect an Indigenous leader. No Indigenous Green candidates, of whom there were many strong leaders, offered to run.
But when Annamie Paul decided to run, I was thrilled. Despite not making any endorsements, it was clear that she was my first choice. Other candidates and their teams have been angry. Mea culpa.
Her leadership style clashed with party culture almost from the beginning. Leadership responsibilities established in the constitution, such as to appoint deputy leaders and a shadow cabinet, were not exercised. None of the leadership contenders was drawn into a revitalized party, nor did any run in the election. In fact, inexplicably, one leadership candidate was denied the right to run, in contravention of the party’s constitution. On the other hand, Ms. Paul negotiated and still maintains complete control over party communications.
Looking back, I wonder if Ms. Paul just did not believe my explanation of the role of Green leader. I shared with all leadership candidates the reality of the position. From where I stand now, having supported her in the leadership contest, having done everything I could to support her once she became leader, including campaigning in Toronto in her by-election, offering to stand down in Saanich-Gulf Islands riding so that she could run here, accepting her instructions that I not give media interviews nor participate in press conferences, to shrink my role and shrink some more, except to support her by fundraising for her Toronto Centre campaign in my own riding, I wonder what more I could have done. Clearly, despite my support for her as she won leadership, I have failed to meet her expectations.
It appears to me that Ms. Paul expected her role to be similar to that of a CEO/chair following the American business model, and that she demanded relatively autocratic powers along those lines. The federal council resisted, but in the event were ground down and acceded to almost everything Annamie Paul requested. She was granted many of those elements of top-down leadership and authority which Green leaders do not customarily get. She alone controlled the choice of campaign manager. She controlled many key decisions in a non-transparent campaign working group.
It may have been the clash in culture created by her having more authority than any previous leader, yet far short of her expectations, that led to a very unpleasant relationship between the elected leader and the elected volunteers on council.
In May, her senior adviser Noah Zatzman attacked as anti-Semitic several MPs including Jagmeet Singh and Green MPs: “We will work to defeat you and bring in progressive climate champions who are antifa and pro-LGBT and pro Indigenous sovereignty and Zionists!!!!”
I begged Ms. Paul to instruct Zatzman to apologize to Jagmeet Singh, Paul Manly and Jenica Atwin. My pleas fell on deaf ears. When Jenica left the Greens on June 10, Paul Manly and I issued a two-line statement to express our deep sadness that the actions of Mr. Zatzman had lost us our Green colleague from Fredericton. This was our first and only public communication since October, 2020 issued without her permission. In effect, Annamie Paul’s loyalty to a contract adviser outweighed her duty to an elected Green Member of Parliament. Several members of council resigned as a direct result.
We need to know how a party that has run full slates in every election since 2004 (that is in six federal elections) managed in 2021 to put a Green candidate on the ballot in only 252 of the 338 ridings, and to see our popular vote drop from 6.5 per cent (1,189,631 votes) in 2019, to 2.3 per cent (398,775 votes) in 2021. Losing elected MP Jenica Atwin because of a misguided staffer, and subsequently losing close colleague and extraordinary MP Paul Manly in the election is crushing. Our results in Québec were horrific.
No one should assume they know, prior to a full review of the election planning and execution, what lessons we must learn. It would, of course, be very wrong to cast blame for these layers of poor election results on any one person or any one decision. We need to do a lot of soul-searching.
On September 28, Annamie Paul held a press conference, viewed by all national media as her resignation. She said she had notified the council. She had not. That same day, she told the federal council that she has not resigned. She remains in control of the party’s communications. She also has had her staff remind me I am still under her directive that I not speak to media. Feeling a bit gaslit by being attacked by her staff for my silence while being told I am not allowed to speak, I was still refusing all interviews. But Thursday last, I realized I had to say something.
Our newly elected president, Lorraine Rekmans, is Indigenous — Anishinaabe from Serpent River First Nation. The new executive council members had prepared a press release in August to talk about this historic breakthrough. The president of a major party is Indigenous. As well, the vice-president (English) Dr. Lisa Gunderson, is Black, whose vote was more than the total for the three white men also running for the position, while the v-p (French) is a brilliant young Quebec Green, Clement Badra, who is part of the diverse abilities community.
The leader refused to allow this news to be released. No one knows that the new, more diverse executive has just started. Their inboxes are getting hate mail calling them racists. Then, on the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, the leader refused to allow the Indigenous president to make a public statement on behalf of the party. The communications director told the party’s president that he only takes instruction from Annamie Paul.
Clearly, it is time for Ms. Paul to step away. She has resigned. People have been questioning why the Green Party is the only party that has not thanked Ms. Paul for her service. It is because only Annamie Paul can approve statements. She alone controls what Canadians hear from our party.
We must move forward, but not without a full investigation. We need to know what Ms. Paul experienced. She has made serious charges that require serious independent inquiry.
I made mistakes as leader. I hope that I learned from mistakes. Ms. Paul made mistakes too, but this is not all on her. As for my future and the future of the party, I remain a dedicated Green MP, and a loyal member of the Green Party of Canada. It is not appropriate for me to fill a leadership role.
I invite Canadians who hope for better in Canadian politics to give us the benefit of the doubt, to join, to help as we rebuild. Greens are much needed in our Parliament. I hope that with my brilliant new colleague, Kitchener-Centre MP Mike Morrice, we will prove this through collaborative work across party lines and through dedication to equity, social justice, truth and reconciliation and immediate action to address the climate emergency.
We have no time to waste.
Elizabeth May has been the Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands since 2011. She is a former leader of the Green Party of Canada.