Green Party Leader Annamie Paul announced today she is stepping down as leader of her party after its disastrous showing in the recent federal election, prompting a search for a new leader less than a year after the last one concluded.
Paul said she is leaving now because she can’t bear to go through a fractious leadership review, a process that was formally launched Saturday by members eager to replace her after the party’s poor showing in the 44th general election.
“I just asked myself whether this is something I wanted to continue, whether I was willing to put up with the attacks I knew would be coming, whether to continue to fight and struggle just to fulfil my democratically elected role as leader of this party,” Paul told reporters at a Toronto press conference. “I just don’t have the heart for it.”
Paul, a bilingual former diplomat, was picked by members to take the reins of the party last October, becoming the first Jewish woman and Black person to lead a major federal political party.
She pushed to make the party more diverse and reflective of contemporary Canada but her time at the top will be remembered most for the internal squabbling that undermined her leadership and the party’s electoral fortunes.
After posting its best result ever in the 2019 election, the resignation of its former leader Elizabeth May prompted soul-searching among the party’s ranks as an ethnically and ideologically diverse group of candidates lined up to replace her.
Paul, a relative moderate, narrowly beat out an opponent who described himself as a “radical” and an “eco-socialist.” Paul promised aggressive action on climate change and policies to address systemic discrimination.
Leadership tainted by infighting, policy disputes
But Paul was hampered by party infighting and a dispute over the party’s policy on Israeli and Palestinian issues.
During the last Middle East crisis in May, Paul called for de-escalation and a return to dialogue — a response that was seen as insufficiently critical of Israel by some in the party, including one of its then MPs, Jenica Atwin.
Atwin, who eventually joined the Liberals and won re-election under that party banner last week, said Paul’s response to what she called an ongoing “apartheid” was “totally inadequate.”
Another then-Green MP, Paul Manly, said the removal of some Palestinian families from East Jerusalem amounted to “ethnic cleansing.”
The caucus pushback led one of Paul’s advisers, Noah Zatzman, to accuse politicians, including some unspecified Green MPs, of discrimination and antisemitism.
“We will work to defeat you and bring in progressive climate champions who are antifa and pro LGBT and pro indigenous sovereignty and Zionists!!!!!” he said in a May social media post.
Paul did little to distance herself from Zatzman, which angered some members who saw the leader’s inaction as a sign that she endorsed her adviser’s call to replace two incumbent Green MPs. The Zatzman post and Paul’s reaction prompted Atwin’s floor-crossing — a devastating blow to a party that had only three MPs.
Paul then faced several calls for a leadership review. At one point, party executives even tried to rescind her membership — an extraordinary move only weeks out from a widely expected election call.
Paul blamed the party’s poor showing on unnamed senior party members who, she said Monday, “took great pleasure in attacking me.” She said the party’s national council stymied any chance of her doing well in the election because it held back some of the resources needed to run a winning campaign.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when you head into an election without funding for your campaign, when you head into an election without the staff to staff your campaign, when you head into an election without a national campaign manager, when you head into an election being again under the threat of a court process from your party, it’s going to be very hard to convince people to vote for your party,” Paul said.
‘It has been the worst period in my life’
Paul said she had thought of quitting before all the votes had been cast because her time as leader has been such a miserable experience.
“What people need to realize is that when I was elected and put in this role, I was breaking a glass ceiling. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was breaking a glass ceiling that was going to fall on my head and leave a lot of shards of glass that I was going to have to crawl over throughout my time as a leader,” she said.
“This was not easy. It has been extremely painful. It has been the worst period in my life, in many respects.”
Paul spent nearly all of the recent campaign in the riding of Toronto Centre, where she was running for a third time.
Paul justified the limited itinerary by saying some Green candidates didn’t want her in their ridings during the election. She ultimately finished a disappointing fourth place in her bid to become an MP.
Under Paul’s leadership, the party’s vote dropped from a high-water mark of 1.1 million votes and 6.5 per cent of the national vote in 2019 to less than 400,000 votes and 2.3 per cent of the vote share in the most recent contest.
‘Set up for failure’
In an interview with CBC News, Victoria Galea, Paul’s executive assistant, said the leader was “absolutely pummeled” by the national council and other party brass during her time at the top.
“She was not set up for success in this election. She was absolutely set up for failure,” she said, adding that Paul was “not given a single penny for the Toronto Centre campaign, which is wildly unprecedented.”
Galea said some of the party’s national council members are holdovers from May’s time at the helm — and they’re still loyal to the former leader.
“Every previous leader has a responsibility to a new leader, to allow them to grow in their new roles and allow them to have a smooth transition,” she said, adding May bears some responsibility for the internal disputes.
“Every single day the party has set her up for failure, and that includes the former leader of the party.”
Lori Turnbull is an associate professor of political science and the director of the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University. She said it was always going to be difficult for May’s successor to put her stamp on a party still so closely tied to the woman who led it for more than 13 years.
“For so long, it was really Elizabeth May’s party and her brand was the party. People built trust in it largely because of how she performed. She was the face of the thing,” Turnbull told CBC News.
“They’re a small party. It’s really difficult to try and manage a transition when you don’t have the machinery, the institutional memory, the money and all the rest of it.”
As for who the Greens should pick as their next leader, Turnbull said it would be good idea to pick someone who has a seat in the Commons. While the party under-performed nationally, Green candidate Mike Morrice won his race in the Ontario riding of Kitchener Centre.
“There is some forward momentum to build on,” Turnbull said.