National Indigenous Peoples Day
First, let me address the elephant in the room: Fair Vote Canada scheduled this debate on June 21st - which is National Indigenous Peoples Day. Without question, this was a completely tone-deaf move on Fair Vote Canada's part. Frankly, it should have never happened. While Fair Vote, the moderators, and especially the leadership contestants, all tried to address this situation, it still fell flat in my opinion. This was the wrong day to be having a discussion about democracy in Canada. In the future, if things like this happen again, it is my hope that the leadership contestants themselves have the courage to stand up to organizers and say, "Thanks, but No - we have to consider the greater good here".
Look, I know that's not an easy thing for any leadership contestant to do. I'm reminded of a situation that happened here in Sudbury in 2008 at an all-candidates debate that was organized by a student group at a local highschool. During that debate, one of the candidates, and Independent, remarked that gay people should be rounded up and shot. The other candidates didn't quite know what to do. I'm sure that none of them supported this position, but rather than call out a fringe opponent - or do the right thing and walk off the stage so as not to be sharing a podium with the homophobe - they did nothing (including our Green Party candidate). But the people watching the debate did the right thing - they called out the candidate, they decided to leave the debate. Clearly, they didn't have any 'skin in the game' that might have left them questioning what was the smart thing to do - continue to engage in the debate because of the potential of securing a few votes? No, they left because it was the right thing to do.
And that's why I have to fault all of the candidates who participated in tonight's debate - while also acknowledging that not participating would also have been a problem. But from where I sit, those that participated tonight all made a blunder - siding with doing what was expedient for their campaigns, versus doing what was right, moral and just.
All of the 10 leadership contestants participate tonight except for Andrew West. It was not mentioned why West wasn't there - perhaps we will find out the explanation from West's campaign at some point. Also, Courtney Howard was not able to participate in person, and debate organizers indicated that it was because she was working. Howard did pre-record responses to a few questions, as well as opening and closing remarks. So 9 out of 10 opted to participate in this debate, held on National Indigenous Peoples Day. Shame.
My Personal Winner
There were several candidates that did quite well, which didn't surprise me. For example, I've been following Glen Murray's career for some time now. The fact that he was able to provide meaty, cogent responses that differentiated himself from the other contestants in a thoughtful and deliberate way was absolutely no surprise to me. I believe that all Greens need to take a serious look at Murray - and even though he's an outsider to the Party, there's no question in my mind that he really should have been a Green a long time ago. As Minister of Environment and Climate Change in what was unquestionably the "greenest" government in Canada's history (under the leadership of former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne), and as former head of the Pembina Institute, Murray knows very well what Canada needs to do to get its act together to combat the challenges of climate change. So his performance in tonight's debate was no surprise to me. Frankly, there was really no one else who was able to step up onto the same plain as Murray - with one exception.
And that exception was David Merner - and I'm going to pick David as my personal winner in tonight's debate. Holy cow, where did this guy come from (I ask knowing full well that Merner has been a political force for years now - first in the Liberal Party and most recently as a Green candidate in Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, where he nearly won a seat in parliament in 2019). Merner came across as professional, responsible and completely in touch with the issues that are top-of-mind for so many today. His presentation was genuine, engaging and ready for prime-time in a way that frankly only former cabinet Minister Murray was able to compare to.
I can't say that Merner "won" the debate. Really, there weren't any winners (although there were a few losers - see below), but Merner, who has never been elected to anything, was a stand out for me, so I'm going to name him my personal winner.
There were a few losers tonight - some bigger than others. Here are my top three:
If anyone was seriously thinking of ranking Perceval-Maxwell as their first pick in the leadership contest (and frankly, other than his friends and family, I have my doubts anybody was considering this anyway), tonight he put on a display that was sure to convince Greens just not to bother. Entering the debate wearing a 19th Century-style top hat already made him look so far from the type of professional leader that the party needs now, it wasn't even funny. And his responses to questions were clearly not very well thought out or rehearsed. In short, if Dylan hasn't already raised the $20k needed to stay in the race, I sincerely hope he does not bother and saves himself some grief and heartache, because it was quite clear to anybody watching that he did not belong on this virtual stage with any of the other candidates.
I don't think that I was the only one that found Haddad to be a little offensive. She clearly has her own vision of what it means to be the leader of the Green Party of Canada - and frankly, about what the Green Party of Canada should be, in order to conform itself to her vision. Haddad is a proud socialist, and her responses to questions were clearly influenced by that. But unlike Dimitri Lascaris, who also self-identifies as being on the left-wing of the Party, Haddad just came across as too radical for the Green Party in a way that Lascaris didn't. It wasn't clear to me at all that Haddad had a decent understanding of what it meant to be a Green. What did come across is that Haddad, if she ever found herself to be a leader of the Party, would try to impose her will on the party over that of the membership.
Beyond that, Haddad proved to be a pretty ineffective communicator. There was a bitterness to her responses that was missing from all of the other candidates (save one). She seemed angry and oppositional - rather than someone who appeared willing to work with others. If you were considering Haddad because you support the ecosocialist side of the party, I think that it's pretty clear that Lascaris made a far better impression tonight. Although I will never suggest to any Green that they should ever cast a ballot for Lascaris, given some of the public statements he has made over the years that are just so deeply problematic.
I think Greens just need to give Meryam Haddad a pass.
Tonight's biggest disappointment for me was Amita Kuttner. This is a candidate that I really want to like. I've been following them for some time now, and I really like what they have to say. They've clearly positioned themselves to be on the progressive side of politics, and have a pretty good understanding of what it means to be Green. So this "quick impression" isn't based on their approach to policy or anything like that. It's completely about personality and their ability to represent the Party as leader - which the Constitution defines as being a "spokesperson for the Party".
Kuttner just seemed angry and pissed off throughout the night. There was barely a smile. There was no engagement with anybody - moderators, fellow contestants - that let the real Kuttner shine through. Instead, we ended up with a scowling leadership contestant who appeared more than mildly irritated with the state of the world. And this is exactly not the sort of "leader" aka "salesperson" that the Party needs right now. Kuttner was clearly out of place on tonight's stage, doing little better than Perceval-Maxwell to convince voters to give them a try.
And this isn't unusual for Kuttner. Recently, they released a video about how they would not be accepting the Party's equity-seeking special provisions for the leadership race. The message was a good one, I suppose - but the messenger was problematic for the same reasons: Kuttner just appeared to be pissed off, carrying around a giant chip on their shoulder. And that's not at all what the Green Party needs right now if we're going to attract new voters and win new seats.
Dr. Courtney Howard
This isn't a knock on Howard's pre-recorded responses (although they were quite unmemorable), but rather on Howard's absence. Frankly, I don't care whether one has to work or not, if you're going to bail on leadership debate, at least do it for the right reasons (like, "National Aboriginal Day - you can't be serious!"). I get that Howard probably has a pretty important job - but you know what? I took the time tonight, as did many other Greens, to tune in to see the leadership debate. And Howard couldn't be bothered. Sorry, being the leader of the Green Party is also a very important job. So Howard is my biggest loser of tonight's debate.
Strong Second Tier Performances
Without question, going into tonight's debate, Merner, Murray and Paul have to be the odds-on favorites to win the contest. Each of these candidates have a strong team in place, and are raising a lot of money - doing the sorts of things that you have to do if you want to win the race.
But tonight's debate left me with the impression that there is a strong second tier of candidates that perhaps Greens should not overlook when it comes.
Green had a solid performance. She was able to remind Greens that she is coming from a different place, having served in the armed forces, and being from the Maritimes. Greens ought not to count Green out of the race, as she is the only candidate from Atlantic Canada, and if she plays her cards right, she could yet end up as a bit of a force in the contest. She certainly has a great grasp of party policy, and she's fairly personable. I'd likt to see more of her personality shine through in the same way that those who have attended one of her virtual "Kitchen Parties" have seen.
Those who follow me on social media know very well that I am no fan at all of Dimitri Lascaris, and I sincerely wish he was not in the leadership contest. That said, there is little to fault Lascaris for in tonight's leadership debate, so I'll have to give him well-deserved kudos. Lascaris came across as a personable and knowledgeable - while offering a viewpoint that was slightly different than the status quo candidates. Say what you want about Lascaris, he is clearly in touch with the zeitgeist of today. And given that he has his own little power group in the Party - well, no, it probably doesn't matter, because most still aren't going to give Lascaris their preferences, no matter how well he comes across in debates like tonight's.
Here is my ranking of the leadership contestants' performance in tonight's debate. This is not representative of my own personal feelings towards the candidates, or what I feel their electoral chances are in general. This was just about tonight:
1) David Merner
2) Glen Murray
3) Annamie Paul
4) Judy Green
5) Dimitri Lascaris
6) Meryam Haddad
7) Amita Kuttner
8) Dylan Perceval-Maxwell
9) Courtney Howard
One Last Thing...
Who out there watching tonight's debate wasn't thinking this very thought: it's too bad that Elizabeth May stepped down as leader. She exudes charisma, charm, knowledge and political acumen with everything she says and does. And tonight was no exception. May absolutely shone in her role of co-moderator with former Party leader Jim Harris (who was also very good). I tell you this - if I had my druthers, I would surely like to see May lead the Party into the next election. I know that's not going to happen - but it was pretty clear to me tonight that even with the excellent tier-one candidates that we have in this party, no one - and I mean NO ONE - can hold a candle to Elizabeth May.
(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)