Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Disappearing Green Party

With massive disruptions taking place across Canada in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, it may seem a little trite for me to sit down and write a critique of the Green Party - a party that I've been a member of for over 12 years now.  Surely there are better things that I could spend my time writing about.

And yet, it's because Canada is experiencing these disruptions that writing about the Green Party is prescient - or rather, writing about how the Green Party has figured out a way to absent itself from the national discussions which are taking place in government, in the mainstream media, on social media, and even at the Tim Horton's here right in downtown Sudbury.  


The Disappearing Green Party
For all intents and purposes, the Green Party has disappeared.  And not just with regards to the Wet'suwet'en - but on just about every major issue of our times.  OK, sure, Elizabeth May had something good to say about rejecting Teck a little while back (see: "Elizabeth May calls on the government to reject the Teck Frontier mine," Elizabeth May MP, January 27, 2020), and this piece on the soaring costs of the Trans Mountain pipeline was pretty good (see: "Elizabeth May asks, ‘At what cost, Canada?’ Elizabeth May MP, February 14, 2020 - and it's also available at the National Observer so long as you don't view more than 7 of their posts a month). and I know that Paul Manly and the Green Party apparatus have been busy tweeting about land defenders, pipelines, uhm, indigenous rights, pipelines, and I think pipelines.  So yes, people are busy.  But is anyone noticing?

I frequent the National Newswatch news aggregator website.  I don't always have a chance to read everything that's linked there, but I tend to get a good feel for what's making the news just by reading the headlines.  It's kind of like a barometer for figuring out what stories are important to the mainstream media.  It's fun to watch as stories I've been following through other media start to percolate in the MSM sometimes days or weeks after they've broke elsewhere. 

In the lead-up to the 2019 federal election, the Green Party was getting some serious (well, "serious" for the Green Party) coverage in the mainstream media.  News stories and columnists were taking the time to write about a good number of different things related to the Party, Elizabeth May, and provincial Green parties.  With two weeks to go in the election, though, coverage of the Green Party dried up.  It sputtered on and off again (mostly off) for another month or so.  And after Elizabeth May made it known that she was stepping down as leader of the Party, coverage just vanished.

The Elizabeth May Party

What good is a political party that no one is talking about?  Sure, the Green Party of Canada is going through a bit of a renewal at the moment.  And by "renewal" I mean I'm seeing and hearing about long-time committed Greens like myself either openly questioning whether they should continue on with the Party, or are just leaving, packing it in.  The 2019 election sure as hell left a pack of disillusioned members behind.  
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Greta Thunberg

For those keeping score, that would be the fourth general election now where the Party anticipated a serious breakthrough but failed to deliver.  Arguably, the electoral dynamics in 2019 were the best we've ever seen: a lacklustre Liberal Party trying to hold on to the reins of government; the NDP a sinking ship; and the Conservative Party doing all that it can to alienate what remains of the progressive political right.  With climate strikes going on around the globe, with Greta Thunberg telling centrist politicos that they weren't doing enough, and with the mainstream media talking up the Green Party in a way that it never has before, it should have been fairly easy to elect a handful of Greens to parliament.

But instead, we stunk out the joint.  We released policies that committed us to supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure - maybe as an attempt to get a few votes from Alberta (because seriously, there was no other reason for our refinery policy to ever have seen the light of day in an election - much less as part of a 20-step plan to fight climate change.  We welcomed former NDP candidates into the party, despite many of those candidates never having agreed to join the party (see: "Some former NDP candidates in N.B. say they weren’t part of exodus to Greens," Global News, September 5, 2019).  And then we got embroiled in a discussion about whether those candidates were racists.


Federal Leaders Trainwreck Debate
Elizabeth May just didn't seem to have fire in her belly the same way that she did in previous elections.  While she had a pretty good debate performance that no one saw at the Macleans National Leader's Debate, she still took a hit from the NDP's Jagmeet Singh, who rightly questioned why she would continue to trot out the idea of having SNC Lavalin pay for water systems on First Nations reserves.  Unfortunately, May was all but invisible in the horrendous nationally televised English-language trainwreck "debate". 

And it would have been nice had May maybe not brought up the fact that, as Leader of the Green Party, she doesn't actually have the authority to tell other Greens in her caucus what they can and can't bring forward as private members bills - so if someone ever wanted to limit a woman's right to choose, while May was clear she'd oppose that bill, as Leader she couldn't kill it.  That kind of nuance did not go over well with the mainstream media, and it gave the NDP ammunition to convincingly make stuff up about the Green Party's and May's commitment to women's issues.  

The Green Party Has Lost Its Way


That damn cup.
May can't take the fault for the Green Party's lacklustre performance in the last election.  Or at least Greens aren't going to blame her.  What most engaged Greens have been complaining to one another about for the past few months hasn't been May - it's about how the Party has lost its way.  This was exemplified in the election by the infamous coffee cup episode, where a backroom staffer fiddled with a photo of May holding - well, originally holding a coffee cup, but the cup was photoshopped out in favour of a reuseable mug.  Thing was, the coffee cup that got photoshopped out was actually a biodegradable cup (see: "Green Party Leader Photoshopped With Fake Reusable Cup and Straw," Vice News, September 24, 2019). 

So much for doing politics differently.

All in all, May and the Green Party spent a lot more time during the 2019 election explaining themselves to the media, rather than talking about the issues.  Granted, discussions about actual issues by all political parties were noticeably absent during the 2019 election.  But as Ronald Reagan once said about something or other, "If you're explaining, you're losing." When all of your media oxygen is taken up trying to convince the media that you're not a racist or anti-choice or that you don't go around photoshopping every picture you can get your hands on - well you're losing. And we lost. Big-time.
We sure did do it.

Or did we?  The Party initially tried to spin the fact that we elected 3 Green MP's as some sort of huge victory.  Either that didn't go over well with Greens like me who have been paying attention and were expecting a few more in the "win" column in 2019, or the disappearance of the Party and its growing irrelevancy since about mid-November led the spin-doctors to call it a day.  Clearly, 2019 was no victory for the party.

Leadership Contest


Alex Tyrrell in a canoe.
With May's departure as leader in early November, the "race" to replace her was on!  Almost immediately, Green Party of Quebec leader Alex Tyrrell announced that he was going to throw his hat in the ring  (well, actually he announced his intention to replace May even before May resigned - see: "Quebec's Green Party leader eyeing federal job if Elizabeth May steps down," CBC News, November 3, 2020).  For a few days in early November, Tyrrell got his name in the news. But since then there has been little but silence in the mainstream media about the Green leadership contest (even though Alex has now released what has to be standard gear for any national political party leadership aspirant - a photo of themselves alone in a canoe).

Now I know it might not be fair to contrast the Green Party's leadership contest with that of the Conservative Party - especially in terms of coverage given the two parties by the media.  But at the same time, I just can't help but notice that every day, a Conservative leadership candidate is making national headlines.  Sure, they're not always positive headlines.  And ok, so the Cons have 121 seats to our 3.  And they've got gobs of money.  And they've got former cabinet ministers vying for the top spot.  And - well, let's just say that they seem to have their act together, at least when it comes to the contest itself - even though Andrew Scheer stepped down as leader over a month after May resigned.  And Scheer has stayed on as interim leader, hogging some of those headlines (er, again, often not in a good way), whereas May has handed the reins of the Green Party over to interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts whom no one has ever heard of (at least not in the context of being the interim leader of the Green Party).

Today was the deadline for leadership contestants to clear the first hurdle of the Conservative Party's nomination process.  The Cons have been right eager to elect a new leader (and with Andrew Scheer staying at their helm until a new one is elected, who can blame them?).  But the Green Party has decided to take a more leisurely approach - I guess because we're not going to have to struggle with getting our new leader's name out there to the public before the next election.  Who knows.  Anyway, the same day that May stepped down, the Party announced that the leadership contest would take place in Charlottetown, on October 3, 2020 - 11 months away.

No bodies and Nobodies

Here's what I have to say about an 11 month leadership contest.  It's probably the right amount of time for the Green Party to pick a new leader - although I can see why the Conservatives decided to compress their contest into a much shorter timeframe given that we are in a minority government situation.  But the real think about the Green Party's 11 month leadership contest is that it isn't.  Isn't 11 months, I mean.  The Party only got around to releasing the Rules for the contest on February 3, 2020 - leaving just 8 months for contestants to campaign (see: "Green Party leadership race officially launches today in P.E.I." CBC News, February 3, 2020) and to raise the $50,000 entry fee.

That's right.  You want to be leader of the Green Party, you've got to pony up $50k.  Oh, not all at once, though.  There's a staggered submission process.


GPC Leadership Contest Rules - Section 11

Potential leadership contestants have until June 3rd to apply.  So we'll know in another few months exactly who has thrown their hat in the ring - just as the mainstream media is taking off for the summer.  Good luck to all of the leadership candidates getting their names out there to Party members via the mainstream media!

Ah, but who am I kidding?  The mainstream media wasn't going to be paying any attention to this leadership contest anyway.  Why would they waste their time reporting on the Green Party now when they haven't wasted their time reporting on the Green Party since the election?  At least people have heard of Elizabeth May - she still commands a bit of a media following, despite no longer leading the Party.  But - this is not to denigrate those who have currently expressed interest in the Green Party's leadership - why would the media write about any of the would-be leaders?  It's not like Green Party members have expressed any degree of excitement about them, so why should the media?

Especially since it's not clear that any of them are going to be able to raise the $50 grand needed to officially register as a candidate.  This might be the leadership contest where the only bodies anyone could find to run were nobodies.

Alternatives?

Could there be others waiting in the wings to announce their candidacy?  God, I hope so.  It's not that those who have signaled interest would make bad candidates, it's just that nobody's ever heard of them, and I fear that the Green Party is going to spend years in the wilderness trying to build up a little name recognition.  I get that the Green Party is not a leader-driven Party in the same way that the old-line parties are, but I will say that until the media figures out how to report on the Green Party (should they ever show any interest in doing so again), it's important that our leader at least be known by, oh, maybe 1% of 1% of Canadians.

If a big name doesn't step forward to lead our Party, I can't help but think that our Party is going to remain invisible throughout 2020 - and maybe into 2030.  And I don't know that I've got the appetite to stick around and build (rebuild?) the Party with the hopes that one day we might elect enough Greens to actually be able to influence something that's important to us.  

I've been of the opinion for some time now that the Green Party ought to seriously consider merging with the NDP, because our two parties are not actually all that far apart on the issues (see: "Is This All That Stands in the Way of NDP-Green Electoral Co-operation?" Sudbury Steve May, May 14, 2019). It had been my hope that at least one leadership contestant might grab ahold of that idea and run with it.  But no one is going to pay $50k to try to merge it with the New Democrats.

If a merger wasn't going to be a thing, I've expounded on the need to recruit a household name as leader (see: "Who Will Be The Next Leader of the Green Party?" Sudbury Steve May, November 5, 2019).  I offered up former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne - but I presume that she remains otherwise engaged.  I suggested maybe Rick Mercer or Pamela Anderson - but I suspect that they might have other things on the go, too (see: "OK Greens, Where Do We Go From Here?" Sudbury Steve May, November 13, 2019). 


Glen Murray on Twitter
Who Can Save Us?

So who does that leave?  I've been watching with interest the recent tweeting habits of Glen Murray, Ontario's former Minister of the Environment and the former Mayor of Winnipeg.  His tweets have stirred a slight flutter in my curiosity.  But I don't think we Greens can count on that former Ontario Liberal to ride in and try to save the day.  So who really does that leave?

In all seriousness, I'd like to offer up one final suggestion - even though I suspect the chances of her going for it are slim to none.  But she does have a seat in parliament, and she commands a degree of respect from the media.  

You know I'm talking about Elizabeth May.
  
Yes, Elizabeth May.

And why wouldn't I be?  Faced with what might be (yet even more) years in the political wilderness, and with a minority government situation that could send us to the polls on a moment's notice, why not turn back to May?  She certainly has the capacity to turn our party opaque from its present invisible status.

Think about it: if May ran, she would win.  You know it's true.  And that says a little something about the Green Party of Canada that some don't want to hear.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)




4 comments:

Bill Malcolm said...

Well, as a Green voter in this past election, I have to agree that the party seems to have sunk completely out of sight. What a waste of time it was, not helped by the FPTP uselessness we suffer under. When May announced her retirement, I had hoped that new MP from Fredericton would step up, but not a peep so far. About time to give up.

Meanwhile I am subjected to monumental bullcrap from Alberta, the defenders of a dying industry, who seem intent on passing illegal legislation, and quite happy to poison us while bleating how unfairly they get treated. Surely a target for Greens if ever there was one.

One last thing - you use "reign" incorrectly twice in your essay. "Reign" applies to monarchs. "Rein" is the term for horses and general use.

BM

Sudbury Steve said...

Thanks for those comments, Bill. And I've updated the post as per your suggestion.

James said...

A couple things...
1) National Newswatch is run by Liberals. I know the editor. If you want to see more environmental stuff from MSM, follow the Unpublished Ottawa Facebook page that I manage.

2) We’re in a leadership contest. When you’re in a leadership contest, the party is loath to speak up because it might take a position that is contrary to where the next leader might want to go, or not go. Do I agree with it, no. But, it’s a standard position to take. Also, Joann Roberts is just getting her feet on the ground. The party also doesn’t have an Executive Director, which makes it pretty tough to do much other than keep treading water. This was also the case in 2006 during our last leadership contest.

3) Your assessment of the election campaign is missing one very important piece of information... the former leadership of the party and HQ were not on the same page. In fact, I think you could even say HQ was working against Elizabeth. It’s what lead to her resigning as leader so quickly afterwards and the ED being fired a couple days later.

Long story short, we’re not in a position to engage right now. It’s ok that things are quiet right now since it’s unlikely there will be an election until next year at the earliest. If you’re really concerned, start writing OpEds and posting policy blogs to sites like UnpublishedOttawa.com so I can share them with interested Canadians for you. My sure is free to use. I created it for us, so you may as well take advantage of it.

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