Monday, January 27, 2020

No New Airport in Pickering In a Time of Climate Crisis

Could 2020 be the year that the federal government decides once and for all that building a new airport northeast of Toronto is simply not compatible with achieving Canada’s climate targets?  

The Pickering airport has long been a political football, punted down the road by every government of the day since it was first announced in 1972.  At that time, it was believed that a new international airport was needed to address capacity issues.  Farms, businesses and two whole villages were expropriated by the federal government in the early 1970s to make way for the airport’s grand opening, scheduled for 1979.  But over 45 years later, with air travel rates in the Greater Toronto Area never having lived up to expectations, those lands remain vacant (see: "Pickering airport? Time to hit reset,” International Airport Review, March 1, 2017).
  
In May, 2019, the aviation sector’s consultant, KPMG, submitted an assessment report to Transport Canada that many believe lays the groundwork for the federal government to greenlight the project (see: "New year sparks renewed interest in Pickering Airport,” the Oshawa Express, January 14, 2020).  However, just a month later, the House of Commons passed a motion declaring a national climate emergency (see: "House of Commons declares a climate emergency ahead of pipeline decision,” CBC News, June 18, 2019).  Constructing new aviation infrastructure like the Pickering Airport is seen by many as incompatible with achieving Canada’s long-term emissions reductions targets.

Air travel generally produces more greenhouse gas emissions per traveled kilometre than just about any other form of transportation.  And unlike road and rail transport, the technology doesn’t yet exist for wide-scale electrification.  While jet fuel efficiency has helped reduce net emission per flight, the incredible growth of air travel has seen emissions grow by over 80% since 1990 (see: "Air travel and climate change,” David Suzuki Foundation, October 5, 2017). Air travel now represent about 2.5% of all global emissions, thanks to cheap passenger fares and the rise of online shopping (see: "After decades in limbo, 2020 could be a critical year for the Pickering Airport,” CBC News, January 3, 2020).

A growing awareness of the out-sized impacts that air travel has on global climate has led to a phenomenon known as “flygskam” or “flight shaming”. Some European air carriers are citing this growing environmental awareness for a decline in domestic air travel rates (see: "Air travel is a huge contributor to climate change. A new global movement wants you to be ashamed to fly.” Vox, November 30, 2019).  As consumers continue to connect the dots between rising temperatures and air travel, where alternatives to flying are available, the trend toward ‘slow travel’ is expected to continue (see: "Canadian airlines feel the pressure of flight-shaming and the 'Greta effect',” CTV News, January 19, 2020).

As difficult as it is true, growth in the global aviation sector is simply not compatible with holding global heating to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius as Canada and almost every other nation in the world has committed to doing.  This commitment requires a complete rethink of how passengers and freight are going to move between locations, and how governments invest in transportation infrastructure.

This need to rethink transportation priorities provides our federal government with an exit strategy for the Pickering airport.  Land Over Landings, a local activist organization fighting to protect prime farmland and watersheds in Durham Region from unnecessary airport development, has been keen to point this out to local governments and Transport Canada.  They’ve been working at the local level with other citizens groups towards getting their regional government to acknowledge the climate crisis (see: "Durham’s Climate Change Emergency Declaration,” Land Over Landings, January 17, 2020), as so many others have already done, including Greater Sudbury’s.  

With polls showing a growing public awareness of the climate crisis among all Canadians, politicians and decision-makers at all levels of government would do well to listen to activist groups like Land Over Landings (see: "Durham Region taking action on climate change,” Durham RadioNews.com, December 9, 2019).

No one is suggesting that it would be prudent to close down Canada’s aviation sector. Vulnerable citizens, many of whom live in remote areas, rely on air travel.  With an historic lack of investment in other forms of lower-carbon transport, like bus and rail, alternatives to flying can be expensive or non-existent.  But with the climate crisis upon us, it’s unacceptable to invest in new infrastructure that locks us in to growing our emissions at a time when we must start shrinking them.

(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)

Originally published online and in print as, "May: No new airport in Pickering in a time of climate crisis," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday January 24, 2020 - without hyperlinks.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Implementing UNDRIP will Fundamentally Change Canada For the Better

What we call “Canada” is about to change.  In the recent speech from the Throne, Prime Minister Trudeau’s government promised to introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) (see: “Liberals promise to table UNDRIP law within one year,” the Nunatsiaq News, December 6, 2019).  This will fundamentally alter the legal, institutional and political systems that have long tilted the balance of power away from indigenous communities, and to the benefit of settlers and the Crown.

We’ve already started to rebalance the relationship between indigenous peoples who have always been here and the settler state that imposed itself upon them. We’ve begun to finally recognize that Canada is a colonial nation, founded and built upon racist principles of cultural superiority, to the detriment of indigenous communities and culture.  We are starting to come to terms with the role that institutional racism has played in the history of our country, and how it continues to impact our laws, policies and programs today. 

UNDRIP explodes several of the foundational assumptions that underly the creation of Canada as a nation-state.  The Declaration calls for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (see: “Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery,” The Assembly of Frist Nations, January 2018) and the Doctrine of terra nullius, which together gave rise to the concept that European Kings had the exclusive jurisdiction over ‘discovered’ lands – despite the presence of indigenous inhabitants (see: Ditching the doctrine of discovery (and what that means for Canadian law),” Senwung Luk, Olthuis Kleer Townshed – LLP (undated)).  

King George III set out how the North American continent was to be settled by Europeans in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 – which many legal scholars cite as the genesis for the concept of ‘aboriginal title’ and ‘aboriginal rights’ that are now protected in our Constitution as per the Supreme Court.  The Proclamation established a monopoly over indigenous lands for the benefit of British Crown (it’s where the term “Crown Lands” is derived from).  Although the Proclamation required treaties between the Crown and First Nations prior to taking land and resources, it was nevertheless developed in absence of indigenous input and cultural practices. Historically, the Proclamation has been unevenly implemented – to say the least (see: "Royal Proclamation, 1763," indigenous foundations.arts.ubc.ca (undated)).

British Columbia has already legislated the implementation of UNDRIP (see: "BC Bill 41: A Promising Start to Implementing UNDRIP,” Larry Innes, Matt McPherson and Oliver MacLaren, Olthuis Kleer Townshed – LLP (undated)), and the Northwest Territories is about to do the same (see: "What does 'implementing UNDRIP' actually mean?” CBC News, November 2, 2019).  With Canada poised to follow suit, it won’t be too much longer before all Crown governments (hello, Ontario!) are forced to confront their own colonial legacies and determine how best to structure a framework for future reconciliation and decolonization. 

These changes to Canada’s underlying structures will create challenges for our national and provincial governments.  One significant challenge is sure to involve the development of non-renewable resources (see: "Aboriginal rights, conservation and Canada’s future – the far reaching implications of the Tsilhqot’in case,” Larry Innes, Olthuis Kleer Townshed – LLP (undated)). UNDRIP requires the ‘free and prior informed consent’ of indigenous peoples when new resource development projects are being considered. That’s a higher standard than the ‘duty to consult and accommodate’ established by the Supreme Court – a standard that the government of Canada failed to meet when it approved the Northern Gateway pipeline project (see: "Court overturns Ottawa’s approval of Northern Gateway pipeline,” The Globe and Mail, June 30, 2016).  Canada is presently defending its decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline at the Federal Court of Appeal, where several B.C. First Nations are arguing that Canada didn’t uphold the honour of the Crown (see: "Trans Mountain pipeline expansion approval 'unlawful,' First Nations argue as new court challenge begins,” CBC News, December 16, 2019).

Critics claim that ‘free, prior and informed consent’ would lead to an indigenous veto for resource development.  This claim isn’t supported by Canadian or international law – and it would not be in keeping with Canada’s commitment to reconciliation.  Instead, responsible decision-making will be an obligation shared by Crown and indigenous governments (see: "Distinguishing consent from veto in an era of reconciliation,” Jason Tockman, Policynote, April 10, 2017).

Make no mistake: power-sharing with indigenous nations poses a serious threat to those who want to continue to develop fossil fuels. Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of the climate emergency, fighting for justice against unwanted fossil infrastructure. The implementation of UNDRIP will almost certainly force our governments to finally make science-based decisions that leave most of our coal, oil and gas safely sequestered in the ground. That will be good for all of Canada’s communities – and for the planet.

(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)

Originally published online and in print as, "Steve May: Implementing ‘UNDRIP’ will change Canada for the better," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday December 22, 2019 - without hyperlinks.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Community Energy and Emissions Plan Sets Sudbury on Course for Transformative Change

What will be called one of the most important and visionary plans to guide change in the City of Greater Sudbury received preliminary approval from Council earlier this month. The Community Energy and Emissions Plan (CEEP) is a comprehensive strategy to reduce the use of fossil fuels. With a net-zero emissions target for the year 2050, the plan calls for normalizing transformative change in how we shape, build and get around our communities.

Positioned as part of the response to the City’s recent declaration of a climate emergency, the CEEP has actually been in the works for a couple of years. It’s been the subject of considerable public and stakeholder engagement (see:“May: PowerUp to cut energy use, carbon pollution in Sudbury,” the Sudbury Star. October 6, 2018), and it’ll be heading back out to the public, with the final plan expected to go to Council in the early new year.

Not surprisingly, the CEEP is data-heavy. It establishes a baseline for emissions, and projects where Greater Sudbury might end up if we do nothing for the next 30 years, through what it calls a “Business as Usual” scenario. Greater Sudbury can still expect to see an 11% reduction in energy use by 2050. What’s driving the decline is the on-going shift to electric personal and commercial vehicles and (importantly for Sudbury), industrial vehicles used in mining operations. But a warming climate itself also gives us a bit of an assist, as the number of days needed to heat our homes, mostly with emissions-intensive natural gas, is decreasing due to shorter winter seasons.

Transportation is responsible for the largest share of emissions in the City. By 2050, the CEEP is calling for 35% of all trips to be made through active transportation – also known as walking and cycling. Today, that number seems highly aspirational in a City that at times appears to go out of its way to cater to cars. But Greater Sudbury isn’t alone in needing to re-engineer a largely suburban built-form so as to better accommodate the needs of pedestrians and cyclists. After all, with or without the CEEP, there are going to be many more people getting around on bikes and on foot in the future.

Rachelle Niemela, chair of Bike Sudbury (formerly the Sudbury Cyclists Union), identifies the City’s budget process, which is about to get underway, as a crucial time to flag needed improvements. One of Bike Sudbury’s priorities is the completion of a minimum grid of safe cycling infrastructure, connecting neighbourhoods to each other and to employment areas.

“This is coming along,” says Niemela. “We fully support the work that is being planned for the Paris/Notre Dame bikeway, and routes that are recommended in the TMP (Transportation Master Plan). The TMP however has some missing links and missing

infrastructure on high-volume, high-speed roads what we’d like to see addressed. The TMP’s timelines indicate that a safe and complete network can only be competed in 15 to 20 years. We need to develop an action plan to more quickly implement that network and build the grid.”

Municipalities are used to moving at the speed of incremental change. But the CEEP is clear that transformative change, which requires significant upfront investment in infrastructure and programs, will save citizens and the municipality money, while creating jobs and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Waiting another 20 years to be able to safely bike around the City just isn’t in the cards, given the climate emergency.

If you’re interested, the next Community Energy and Emissions Plan workshop takes place at 6:30 PM, Thursday, November 28th, at the Northbury Hotel and Conference Centre, 50 Brady Street. And Bike Sudbury is hosting a social at Spacecraft Brewery, 854 Notre Dame Avenue, on Wednesday, November 27th, starting at 7:00 PM.

(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)


Originally published online and in print as, "May: Plan sets Sudbury on course for transformative change," at the Sudbury Star, Saturday November 23, 2019 - without hyperlinks.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

OK Greens, Where Do We Go From Here?

"Greens might take some solace in seeing Elizabeth May returned to the House accompanied by two new B.C.-based MP's (and having had a few other candidates show strong second-place finishes in B.C. and New Brunswick).  But 3 MP's will prove a disappointment for a Party that sees Green fortunes rising around the world, but can do little to tap into the same sentiment here in Canada, in part thanks to our antique First Past the Post electoral system.  Before the year is out, May will announce her pending departure as Party leader in 2020, although she will stay on as MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands." - From: "Crystal Ball Gazing: (Mainly) Political Predictions for 2019," Sudbury Steve May, December 31, 2018. 


OK.  So here we are, with a bittersweet election behind us, an interim leader in place, and a leadership contest coming up quickly.  I guess nobody would have thought that we'd end up here at the end of 2019....

Ahem.  Anyway, here we are.  Perhaps it's time for the Green Party of Canada and its engaged members to give some serious consideration about where we go from here.  

I think we have several options - some of which are admittedly pretty bold.  Let me lay them out for you.

We can opt to continue to muddle along as we've always done.  I expect that's the most likely route that we're going to take, even though this option is going to likely lead to disappointment during the next election, as well.

Change, though, is never easy - and that's especially true for engaged Greens who are, like every other partisan, pretty set in our ways.  Add the fact that we haven't been asked to change much over the past 13 years, and you can see how our complacency has become fairly intractable.  I don't think that Greens are going to opt to shift gears in any significant way over the next year - but if we were to think about doing it, clearly now is the time.

We do have some other options.  Rather than muddling through, Greens could boldly choose someone from outside of the Party with a high profile on whom to pin our hopes for success.  Forget about policy and all that - let's run on the basis that our leader is golden - or at least better than the other leaders - and let's see Greens elected because of her (whomever she may be).

Alternatively, maybe it's time to rethink just who and what our Party is.  Perhaps the way to success lies not in emulating the NDP or the Liberals, but instead using the Bloc Quebecois as our model.

Or maybe it's time to acknowledge that the Green Party of Canada simply does not have the time to elect enough Green MP's to create the change that we need in Canada right now, because of the climate crisis.  With the clock ticking, maybe we ought to be looking around for a wagon to hitch ourselves to that can carry a few more of us over the finish line - even if that means that the Green Party of Canada as we know it, ceases to be.

Merge with the NDP

Let's explore that last option first, as it's the one that I think we ought to seriously explore - even though the NDP and its present leader Jagmeet Singh opted to burn bridges with our Party during the recent election.  I know some New Democrats have simply shrugged about that and said, "Hey, Politics" but the fact of the matter is the NDP has some serious issues with ethics that make them a very undesirable partner for a merger.

I like to describe myself as the Green Party's most partisan Partisan - and I've been writing for years about how the NDP is a) just not serious about the climate crisis; and, b) infected by a culture of winning to the point that it no longer stands for much of anything.  With recent bridges burnt, why the hell am I suggesting that merger with the New Democrats is in the interest of Greens?

It all comes back to timing.  The IPCC gave us just 12 years to get our act together on the climate crisis - and that was last year.  We just went through an election where the other three national parties were running on climate action plans that were woefully inadequate to achieve Canada's weak targets.  The NDP's plan was a little better than that offered up by the Liberals, but even that plan wasn't good enough.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh


But the NDP, under Singh, have moved the ball in their own party over the past several years.  I know, I know: I can hear Greens now saying that this was just to get elected - that the NDP would do or say anything to win votes, but at the end of the day, they're not serious climate champions.  Look at how Singh caved to Trudeau in his list of "demands" that failed to include beefing up Canada's emission reduction targets.  

Look, I get it.  And I'll throw in a John Horgan who continues to pimp out LNG, and a Rachel Notley who never saw a pipeline she didn't like.  I get it.  But the NDP has upped its game enough that they are now closer to the Green Party on many issues - closer than they've ever been before.

And if we're simply going to keep electing a number of MP's that we can count on a single hand (and that seems to be the direction the Party is heading in), what is the point of wasting more time and effort, treasure and sweat, in ridings like Sudbury and Central Nova and Kelowna?

Greater than the Sum of Our Parts

If we worked with the NDP instead of against them, we will have a much greater chance of electing MP's that are a little more serious about taking action on the climate crisis.  What I'm talking about doesn't have to be an outright merger with the NDP - but that's probably the cleanest way of proceeding, given the media's ability to misconstrue and muddle any intentions that aren't a binary black/white choice.

The NDP is not exactly the healthiest political party out there at this time.  There are elements in that party who would be open to a merger.  Sure, like we Greens, there are New Democrats who would be appalled at the notion of merging - but if talks could take place first at high levels, and the memberships of both parties be presented with, I don't know, some sort of values-based agreement in principle - I bet we could pull off a merger before the next election.

And elect more MPs together than we would have separately.

Regional Green Parties

Alternatively, the Green Party of Canada could just pack it in throughout most of the country.  Fact of the matter is, we're pretty sparse on the ground in most of Canada's regions anyway.  I've often wondered what I'm doing here in a no-hope riding, just waving the flag when it's like pulling teeth to find someone, anyone, to help grow our presence here.  I'm sure I'm not the only one, and that Sudbury isn't the only riding where this is happening.

Fact of the matter is, national campaigns cost money.  What if we didn't do that, because there was no longer a national party?  What if we focused our efforts on electing Greens just in certain regions, like Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and the Maritimes?  Dissolve the Green Party of Canada, and from its ashes see two or three regional Green Parties rise up - each with its own member-approved mandate and policies, tailored for regional success.

Sure, those parties might not receive the same level of national exposure as a single Green Party of Canada would.  But now that Elizabeth May is gone, how much exposure do you expect the Green Party of Canada to receive over the next few years?  What level of success have we experienced so far, doing what we've been doing, and what are our expectations going forward?  They're not great.

Regional parties are actually very much in keeping with our values for participatory democracy - in a way that, say, a full national party in a nation as regionally divided as Canada is, isn't.  Yes, it might mean that Greens like me are left homeless in some of the regions - but maybe we'd have to find new homes and work from inside the other parties to create the changes that we want to see.  It's not ideal, but we don't have time for ideal.

PR-Driven Leader

I understand that dissolving the Green Party of Canada probably isn't high on anybody's list of "things to do" right now (even though it really ought to be), so the best that we're likely to do if we want to see more Green MP's elected (and that's a big "if" for many in our party) would be to find a leader with a high profile who can stay in the media's eye until the next E-Day.  Yes, I'm talking about winning on the basis of public relations.  A leader that looks and sounds great, who people know, and trust (and maybe even like).  They wouldn't have to be a policy heavy-weight.  They'd just have to be able to deliver the goods.  Think about how Ben Mulroney's name is being floated right now in Conservative circles.  Or how Svend Robinson's name might have been floated in New Democratic circles had he won a seat.

Pamela Anderson
Even this is a tall order.  There isn't anyone like that in the Party right now.  And the membership would probably hate that concept just as much (or more) than a merger or a dissolution of the national party to create regional entities.  We'd have to find somebody from outside of the Party to step in and take on this role.  Jody Wilson-Raybould might be the most obvious choice, but I've seen some Greens floating names like Naomi Klein and Megan Leslie.  I myself keep floating Kathleen Wynne's name (although I can't seriously imagine she'd want the job - but then again, I can't imagine Klein or Leslie would, either).  Some have even suggested Pamela Anderson.  In all seriousness, I'm not actually sure how I feel about that idea - there is a hell of a lot of merit to finding a celebrity like Anderson to lead our Party.

Rick Mercer
If he wasn't such a Liberal, I'd totally suggest Rick Mercer.

Anyway, point is, these are the types of leaders that we really ought to be thinking about right now.  I understand that their own values may not always be in keeping with the values of the Party, but if they can bring themselves to take on the role of spokesperson that our Party's Constitution mandates our leaders to adopt, that might just be enough for, let's say, more ideologically-driven Green candidates to find themselves winning seats.

After all, election campaigns aren't about policy.  They're about being able to deliver a message of confidence and competence.  The Green Party just got through running an election campaign that (where anyone noticed it at all) was largely based on fear - it wasn't a good look for us, despite the fact that the world is going to become one hell of a scary place if we don't get our act together.  Mostly, though, Elizabeth May was left having to explain why Greens weren't anti-choice, racists, in bed with separatists, and really did do politics differently despite Warren Kinsella and photoshop.  There was little opportunity to tell voters why having a plan to tackle climate change sorta kinda mattered.

And that's not going to change.  

Jagmeet Singh probably salvaged losing a half dozen seats on the basis of "Mr. Deny and Mr. Delay" alone.  Two-second zingers in leadership debates count for more than a fully-costed climate action plan that would still see the economy grow by 1.3%.

And no, I'm not being facetious here.  I wish more Greens understood this.  We can have all of the policies in the world to save the world - but if we don't have the media's attention, it won't matter.  

But Greens don't want to hear this.  I can't really blame them - it's cynical and it's crappy.  It doesn't necessarily have to be, though.  Think about all of the people NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has inspired - just don't contrast that number to the number of people that Singh has turned off with his touchy-feely hope-y whatever.  A lot of people like that lightweight stuff.  It sells.  It's not something that any Green could have ever asked Elizabeth May to do - but it works.

Muddling Through

Most likely, we Greens will do nothing.  We'll be offered up a smorgasboard of nomination contestants that most of us don't know, and we'll have little opportunity to find out who, exactly, these people are, and what they stand for.  Their own vision won't matter all that much anyway - for if anyone does start talking about taking the party in a 'new direction' they're going to run into the ire of the membership, which is the unit of the party that sets policy (not the leader).

Sure, they'll each talk about organization - and maybe this is how they'll set themselves apart from one another.  Engaged Greens will love to hear about how a new leader is going to rebuild the Party from the inside out, and about how they'll work with the administration to find the funds for a more robust organizing team.  

I won't be looking for any of that.  There's just not enough time.  Yes, if we're going to function as a national party, we need better organization on the ground - especially at the EDA level.  But that's going to take years.  And we don't have years.

Better to elect a strong leader who can motivate voters with her speaking style, her charisma, her passion, and (best yet) her experience.  Let our #elxn44 candidates ride her coat-tails in a dozen (or a couple of dozen) ridings.  Our focus, going forward, has to be on winning more seats.

But it won't be.  It will continue to be a mish-mash of priorities which see maybe one or two things getting done, while most of the rest are half-assed while a few important things prove to be just too big or too intractable to tackle.  And we'll just continue to muddle along.  Sure, maybe our national support level will drop back down to 3% in the next election - but with a new leader at the helm - someone whom voters have never heard of - well, 3%'ll be pretty good, won't it?

The Clock is Ticking

Muddling through is a legitimate path for any organization to take. In normal times, I might even be an advocate.  But with the clock ticking and time for serious climate action growing short, these aren't normal times.  I continue to believe that we can achieve so much more if we opt to work with the NDP.  And if that's just not on, then let's focus our efforts on building regional powerbases rather than trying to keep a truly national organization afloat.  But if we are going to try to hack it out nationally, let's at least find a leader whom everyone knows and get behind them as they talk about no more than three-to-five bullet points each and every day until E-Day.

Failing that, I guess we just elect whomever and hope for the best.  But if we take that course, let's not kid ourselves about the potential for success.  It's the easy way out, for sure - but it's not going to help our 5th place party.

(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)

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Losing the Initiative: A Deflationary Tale of the Green Party of Canada, 2019-20

"We just lost the initiative."
"It is said that the attacking force, going into a fight, generally has the initiative...But once it becomes a defensive action, then you’re literally giving...over to the enemy and allowing them to determine the tempo of the fight." 

-Mark Bergman, F-16 Crew Chief, "What does Major General Garrison mean by “we just lost the initiative” in Black Hawk Down?"


"If you're explaining, you're losing." 

-U.S. President Ronald Reagan


I know, I know - I really hate it when others use battlefield lingo in the context of a democratic process.  I seriously try to avoid it whenever I can.  But explaining "the initiative" and how the Green Party lost it over the summer of 2019 - and how we might be able to regain it through a leadership contest - and is just so much easier when one views election campaigns as a...well, as a military campaign.

Seizing the Initiative

The initiative is important in an election campaign.  Arguably, for the first time ever, the Green Party of Canada held the initiative throughout April and into May, 2019.  A historic breakthrough in Prince Edward Island, followed by a stunning by-election upset in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, punctuated by Elizabeth May's wedding and speculation that former Liberals Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott might join the Party - all of this made the Green Party the talk of the town for a few weeks.  And the polls were showing it - in fact, the polls, as they always are, were part of the story.

And all of this was happening against a backdrop of the two large federal parties tied in a polling dead-heat, despite the SNC Lavalin scandal which had appeared to take a bit of a bite out of the Liberal Party.  More importantly for Greens, though, the polls showed the NDP languishing in third place, with support bottoming out.  In some regions of the country (the Maritimes), the Green Party had replaced the NDP as the third party.

Heading into the summer, the Green Party appeared to have momentum.  Some polls showed us with support as high as 13% in May.  If we had been able to keep building that momentum throughout the summer, and entered September with 18% or 19% support, October 2019 would have been a completely different election for the Green Party.  

Losing Momentum

Was a support level of 18% ever realistic?  Maybe, maybe not.  There were no elections/by-elections to win over the course of the summer, but there were still MP's that could have been recruited to the cause who might have led the continued building of momentum.  Think about how much more of a splash landing Pierre Nantel might have been for the Party if it had followed on the heels of recruiting Wilson-Raybould and/or Philpott.  

But it wasn't to be.  The Green Party of Canada lost momentum and was put onto the defensive throughout the summer and into the fall.  When you're explaining yourself, you're losing - and that's exactly what the Green Party was doing.

First off, the launch of our pivotal climate action plan, "Mission: Possible" was completely marred by the inclusion of Point 13 in the plan - a call for building refineries in Alberta as part of some quasi-patriotic initiative to wean Canada off of foreign oil.  I get that this has actually been a policy of the Green Party of Canada for some time - but it probably came as a bit of a surprise to many supporters and a few candidates that the Green Party was in fact calling for building new fossil fuel infrastructure.  Whether or not there was any logic to it (and there was) didn't matter - we opened the door to criticism and created doubt among voters.  We didn't have to go there - but we chose to.  It was a bad choice.

NDP MP Pierre Nantel joined the Green Party over the summer, and almost immediately there was cries that the Green Party was welcoming of 'racism' and 'bigotry'.  The Party appears to have been caught off-guard by these assertions - most of which were coming from Nantel's former Party, who appeared not to be too concerned with Nantel's bigotry when he occupied one of their seats.  But the Party ought to have known that picking up Nantel was not exactly a 'win', given comments that Nantel had previously made with regards to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and how Quebecers might not accept Singh.

Hot on the heels of Nantel and his bigoted statements came concerns that Nantel was really a separatist.  Not so, claimed May - at just about the same moment that Nantel publicly declared himself to be a sovereigntist.  For most Greens, there's not really much of a difference - but apparently there was enough nuance there for the Party to hold on to Nantel.  

All in all, Nantel's floor crossing proved to be more of a disaster for the Party than a help.

Elizabeth May came under attack by New Democrats like Charlie Angus over off-hand comments she made where she speculated that companies like SNC Lavalin could be made to pay for new water systems on First Nations reserves.  May's musings on this subject were not in keeping with member-approved policy.  And they were completely distorted by the NDP and an unfriendly media.  But May seemed intent on doubling down on this idea when she brought it up again in the Mclean's debate.  Feeding a discredited idea oxygen was a bad move, and it did not help us in the first week of the election.

A mangled CBC interview that turned a conversation about vote whipping into a criticism that the Green Party was soft on a woman's right to choose was yet another self-inflicted wound.  The interview had apparently been in the can for a few days before it was released, and yet the Party seemed ill-prepared to respond.  

And what should have been a coup for the Green Party - where a number of New Brunswick New Democrats openly declared for our Party - turned into an absolute fiasco that led to more calls that the Green Party was soft on racists.  I'm not going to recount all that happened there - but suffice it to say that the Green Party was busy explaining, and explaining, and explaining that week.

And don't even get me started about that damn photo-shopped cup!

Deflation and Defeat

With the very limited amount of media time that the Green Party receives, it's important that we use this time wisely to build momentum.  But instead, our Party found itself back on its heels, pretty much from June onwards, and especially during the first couple of weeks of the election.  And most of the wounds were self-inflicted.  By the time of the televised leader's debates, the only path forward for a good showing by the Green Party was for Elizabeth May to pull a rabbit out of her hat, knocking out Scheer, Trudeau and Singh with a single blow.

It didn't happen.

Instead, Singh had a couple of good soundbites, which was more than enough to put him over the top in what was arguably the very worst English-language leadership debate in Canadian history.  For the Greens, the NDP finding that it had the initiative heading into the last couple of weeks of the election meant that we were done.

And we were done.  That we held on to what we had on Vancouver Island and picked up Fredericton was probably the best we could have done at that point.

Back to Square One

Now, the Green Party of Canada is heading into a leadership contest that few Greens want and all are ill-prepared for.  While it is true that leadership contests can build momentum for a political party, it is not a universal truth - especially when the leader being replaces is at outsized as the one that the Green Party is losing.

Let me be clear here: no one from within our Party is going to be able to step up and fill Elizabeth May's shoes.  And that is seriously going to hurt our party going forward, as there is no way that the media won't be comparing (at every opportunity) our new leader to our former leader.

But that's not the only hurdle that a new leader is going to have to figure out a way to overcome, to seize the initiative from the other parties, and build momentum heading into an election that could be held at any time.  Let's look at a few of the other factors that are going to tamp down momentum and turn this election cycle into another "building" year (to use a sports analogy).

A Brief Contest

The Party has set October 4, 2020 as the date of the leadership contest.  That's....not a lot of time for potential contestants to put themselves out there.  Especially since just about everyone who might run for the Party suffers from a serious lack of profile.  

Couple that with the fact that the Party hasn't yet identified what mechanisms (beyond earned media) contestants will have to communicate with and influence Party members/voters, and it's likely that only those contestants that can emerge from large voting blocks will really have a chance of winning.  Think Vancouver Island or southwest Ontario here.  If a single candidate emerges from B.C., it's almost inevitable that candidate is going to have a serious advantage over, say, a candidate from Manitoba or Nova Scotia.

A longer contest would allow for our mostly-unknown contestants to become a little more identifiable by the members.  But that's not in the cards.

We've left ourselves a little vulnerable to a popular outsider swooping in to lay claim to the leadership.  And maybe that's not a bad thing (I'll certainly be making that case in a later blog where I take a look at what might be best for the Party going forward).  But it is something that could leave the party faithful a little disillusioned.  

A Constrained Leader

Unlike in other political parties, the leader of the Green Party does not get to decide policy.  Our Constitution is very clear - policy decisions are made by the membership, and our leader is to be a spokesperson only.  Elizabeth May did a very good job of acting in the capacity of constrained leader.  Sure, trying to explain how all of this works to a media that is so used to leader-driven politics was not always as successful as May or Greens like me would have liked it - but without question, for the most part, May understood her role and acted the part.  Sure, there were times where there might have been a little pushback - but over 13 years as leader of the Party, I think May did an admirable job of representing the decisions made by grassroots Greens.

Sometimes, in other parties, leadership candidates might propose a new direction for their party that may really resonate with enough members that they'll get a bit of an edge.  Recall that NDP leadership contestant Guy Caron was proposing a Basic Income at a time when his party had not endorsed the concept.  But had Caron become leader, you can bet that the NDP would have been campaigning on a full Basic Income in 2019 - rather than on a pilot project which they ultimately did campaign on.

But in the Green Party, leaders don't get to make up new policies.  If a leadership contestant wants to campaign on something new, they're going to have to go through a simultaneous process of submitting new policy proposals to the membership for consideration at the same General Meeting which will see them elected.  In other words, there is zero guarantee that a leadership contestant campaigning on a bold, new initiative, will ever be able to implement said initiative.  And that's going to be a consideration for a lot of voters.  If a contestant can't move the Party, what's the point?

And any leadership contestant that tries to spread their wings to take the party in a different direction is sure to be cut down by the other contestants - as well as by our engaged membership.

Which means that leadership contestants are largely going to have to campaign on party policy that's already been approved by the membership.  And where's the fun in that?  

Ultimately, by constraining our leader to the role of spokesperson, we members are going to have to look for who can best fill that role.  And the criteria to be a good PR person is not exactly what I think many Greens want their leader to be (but it is exactly the basis that I'll argue we should be electing our leader on, in a future post).

Ranked Ballot

The way that we will elect our leader in 2020 will also have an impact on momentum.  What I mean here is that if we set out to design a leadership contest decision-day that will produce the least drama and interest possible, we couldn't have done a better job than with our current process.  

Greens across Canada will be asked to submit ranked ballots, which will be tallied in advance of the Charlottetown General Meeting, and likely announced with as much fanfare as possible on either the last day of the meeting, or on the first night.  That may be efficient for the Party, and equitable for members, but it certainly lacks anything in the way of media appeal.

Consider some of the more entertaining and interesting leadership contests that you might remember.  Think about the drama that led to Stephane Dion being declared leader of the Liberal Party.  Even the recent events that saw Andrew Scheer emerge from second place on the 13th ballot to claim the Conservative Party's leadership - wow, there was drama there to be sure.  

The best we're going to be able to do is announce the results of each round of the ranked ballot periodically throughout the day - which the media will totally see through, knowing full well that we could just skip all of that an announce the outcome.

There are a lot of more interesting ways that we could run a leadership contest - but our Constitution is pretty clear about the format that we will use.  It's about as exciting as watching a Facebook algorithm determine which ads will pop up.

Existential Dilemma

With the era of the Elizabeth May party over - Greens are now left to figure out what it is we want to be, and where we should be going.  When May was in the leader's role - despite her role as constrained leader - it was pretty clear to everybody that the success of the Party was clearly tied to May's own success.  When asked about how the Green Party might fare in the October election, I told whomever would listen that we needed to strap ourselves to Elizabeth May's back and go along for the ride.

But with May gone, we're already seeing some of the old tensions rising to the surface.  Loosely put, there are those in our Party that want our Party to be a successful political party, electing enough MP's so that we may exert some influence in parliament.  And then there are those in our Party who are less concerned about winning elections than about driving a political narrative that includes elements that are cutting edge, if presently politically unpalatable on the one hand, and other elements that can be adopted by other parties on the on the other hand.  

I'll refer to this division as the "Party" vs. "Movement", going forward, while recognizing that most Greens probably don't fit comfortably into just one camp.

This type of tension, though, isn't something that the other political parties generally experience during a leadership contest.  Yes, sometimes party members are confronted with choices about whether a particular contestant might be 'electable' - but are they ever challenged by the notion that electability really just doesn't matter?

This is a hard one for me to discuss in a way that does it justice, as I am so very much on the "Party" side that I have a difficult time comprehending just where Movement-types in my own party might be coming from.  Yes, I get that the bar for 'progressive' policy is always moving, and what might have been an unelectable position yesterday is no longer such today.  Let's use veganism as an example here: I acknowledge that it is good and moral and on the right side of history for the Green Party to support far more aggressive pro-animal/vegan policies than we currently have on the books.  But I'm not personally ready to go there because I don't believe that we will experience any success as a political party with an aggressive pro-animal agenda.  However, for others in my party, whether we experience success in electing MP's just isn't as important as doing what's right from a values-informed perspective.

It's not easy.  And any leadership contestant stepping forward is going to have to wrestle with some of this.  The good news for leadership contestants here might be to simply defer to what the Party's Constitution would have them be: a spokesperson only, committed to whatever policies grassroots Greens deem appropriate.

But that's not showing a lot of 'leadership' now is it?

Going forward, we Greens are going to have to figure this out.  I expect we won't - and that we'll just continue to muddle through, trying to be everything to everyone and not doing a very good job of it.  When we had a leader that was bigger than the Party, we could get away with that.  Going forward, I think this is going to be a problem.

Where Can We Find Momentum?

The Green Party of Canada can look for momentum in two areas, I believe. The first is the success of provincial Green Parties. With B.C. and New Brunswick likely going to the polls before the next federal election, it could very well be that success in either of those provinces could lead to national momentum.  It happened before with PEI - it could certainly happen again.  

But setbacks in either region (and especially in B.C.) will be huge obstacles for the national party to overcome.

A second place we might find momentum is in the new leader themselves.  If we elect someone with a big enough profile, you can bet that the media will be more interested than if we opt for someone with a more regional profile.  Think Jody Wilson-Raybould over, say, Adriane Carr.  Or David Suzuki/Naomi Klein over David Merner.  Or Kathleen Wynne over Alex Tyrrell for that matter (will someone please ask Kathleen for her thoughts on all of this, Jo-Ann Roberts!)

And note that in my examples of "big profile people" I've not identified anyone in our Party who would qualify.   With limited time, and an election coming up somewhere around the corner, if we want to avoid years of building the Party - if we want to seize the initiative - we need a leader with a big profile from outside of the Party to step forward.

And if that doesn't happen, with electoral reform on the back-burner for the next decade or more, maybe it's time we Party people give the whole thing a rethink.  After all, how much influence can a 5th-place national party really exert?  How much time will we have to explain ourselves to voters in the next election?  My bet is that it won't be as much as we were given in 2019.

(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)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Who Will Be The Next Leader of the Green Party?

I started writing this blogpost last week, figuring I had a lot of time before Elizabeth May announced that she'd be stepping down from her position as leader of the Green Party - hopefully as a result of her being elected Speaker of the House by her parliamentary peers.  But events have overtaken me - and Greens are in a position like we've never been in before: racing towards what appears to be a wide-open leadership contest, scheduled to end less than a year from now at the already-scheduled Biennial General Meeting of the Party in Charlottetown.  The location doesn't matter - our leader will likely be elected via a ranked ballot - the same way that we elect Federal Councillors, through an electronic vote.  So Charlottetown is really just a backdrop for an announcement.
Elizabeth May with my daughter Veronica May - March 2010

But the timing is interesting. Federal Council had to call the contest within 6 months of the leadership becoming vacant.  It took less than 6 minutes for Council to call this contest.  The Party's Constitution says that a leadership contest must be held within 24 months of it being called.  This contest will be held in approximately 11 months.  One might wonder what the rush is, as it would probably be better for the Party at this point to prolong a leadership contest so that the members have an opportunity to get to know the candidates.

But since we're in the midst of an untested minority government situation, I suppose haste won the day.  And that could be a problem going forward.

Let's face it: 11 months is not very much time to throw a leadership campaign together.  This short time-frame benefits those potential candidates who have greater access to resources and whom already have a bit of a national profile.  And this group is small.  And it's not entirely composed of existing members of the Green Party of Canada in my opinion. 

Let's take a look at a rather lengthy list of whom I consider potential leadership contestants.  Not everyone I've identified here is likely to run - especially since the compressed timeframe is going to be an obstacle for some.  And it's also quite likely that one or two not on this list will crop up - although I expect that they will not prove to be candidates with a lot of hope of winning - especially with these compressed timeframes.

Who is Not Going to Run
Mike Schreiner

But before we get going, let's take a look at who is not likely to run.

Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner and Green Party of PEI leader Peter Bevan-Baker are likely to take a pass at the federal leadership.  Both were just recently elected to important roles in provincial legislatures.  Schreiner has been hard at work building his party for an upcoming provincial election in 2023, and Bevan-Baker, the first Green Party leader of the Official Opposition anywhere in the world, is settling into his new and historic role. 
Peter Bevan-Baker
Recently elected Green Party of Canada MP Jenica Atwin (Fredericton) hasn't even been sworn in yet, but she's already been facing a media barrage regarding what her political ambitions might be.  Atwin has been clear that she will not be seeking the Party leadership - and I certainly have no reason not to take her at her word.

Jenica Atwin
British Columbia Green Party leader Andrew Weaver announced that he was stepping aside as BC Greens leader this past October - but he'll stay on as leader until a new one is chosen by B.C. Greens.  Things could get real interesting in B.C., as Greens there are faced now with holding a provincial leadership contest simultaneously with a federal contest - or holding off and waiting for the federal contest to play itself out.  Unfortunately, B.C. Greens don't have the luxury of time to wait, given the NDP minority government in that province has already grown long in the tooth.  Overlapping leadership contests will not favour a B.C. Green MLA, unless Weaver decides to throw his hat in the federal ring.  He won't.

That said, the entry of any of these individuals into the leadership race will be a game-changer.  Their presence will shape the race itself - as others who might be jockeying for position will decide, instead, to sit the contest out.

Now let's look at who will and who might.

Paul Manly
Paul Manly

This past May, Manly pulled off what, too many, was a surprise upset in the federal by-election in the Vancouver Island riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith.  It was no surprise to those paying attention, as Manly invested years of his time to build a local profile and volunteer base to put him over the top.  The Party also invested in him, and it paid off.  Manly was returned as MP this past October.  Although he's not been in the House long, Manly has a history with the Party, and has proven that he is not afraid of sticking his neck out - especially on issues that resonate with his values - which is why he's a Green today, and not a New Democrat.

Manly is also probably the most well-known Green Party of Canada member after Elizabeth May - but that's not really saying much.  The vast majority of the public doesn't know who he is - and of those who do, most probably don't know his story - or how his convictions led him to the Party.  

Manly's got a decent team in place in his riding, but it's not clear how well he might do in the rest of the country.  And some who worked hard to elect Manly might opt instead to support another B.C.-based candidate, as it's very unlikely that only a single British Columbian is going to throw their hat into the ring for this leadership contest.

Manly will certainly be pressured to run in the leadership contest, but I hope he opts instead to sit it out, and focus on building his profile in parliament. With a leadership contest consuming so much of the party's oxygen over the next 11 months, the Party really needs Manly and Atwin in parliament, keeping the minority government and opposition honest.

Odds of Running: 4:1

David Coon
David Coon

Green Party of New Brunswick leader David Coon finds himself in an interesting situation.  He's led his party through two provincial elections now, so he could be looking for a new challenge - even though there's still a lot of growth potential for the Green Party of New Brunswick.  The NDP has completely disappeared from the provincial scene, and they're not coming back any time soon.  If Coon plays his cards rights, it's quite within the realm of possibility that he could be Premier in an election or two.

And the next election might be coming sooner than anyone thinks, with a precarious minority government under Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs.

Ironically, a federal run by Coon could end up being hampered by the presence of newly-elected Green MP Jenica Atwin.  Atwin's Fredericton riding completely encompasses Coon's riding - so if Coon were to become leader, he'd have to ask her to stand aside (and he won't) or look for another riding to run in if he were to take a seat in parliament - something he might not want to do right away, but with a minority government in place, the riding that they'll run in is something that every leadership contestant needs to think about.

Coon will probably give this contest a pass, and instead choose to focus on continuing building his New Brunswick Green Party.  That would actually be too bad for the federal party, because clearly there is some opportunity for growth in New Brunswick due to the absence of the NDP, and David Coon leading the federal party would be a serious asset in stimulating that growth.

Odds of Running: 5:1

Daniel Green
Daniel Green

Deputy Party leader Daniel Green had a decent showing in the Saint-Laurent by-election in 2017 - gaining almost 8% of the popular vote in a riding in a province where the Green Party of Canada has had, shall we say, not much of a presence.  This past federal election saw Green pull in less than 5% of the vote in the neighbouring riding of Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœurs.

Still, Green is a party deputy leader.  He's bilingual.  I understand that he has a good public profile in Montreal.  And he's made it clear that he's not willing to accept a do-nothing approach over Quebec's racist Bill 21 (see: "Green Party deputy leader calls for federal intervention in Quebec's religious symbols law," CBC News, August 23 2019).

Green could also play foil to the Green Party of Quebec's Alex Tyrrell, who has already announced that he wants the Green Party of Canada's top job.  That Federal Council appointed Jo-Ann Roberts as interim leader over the longer-serving Green suggests to me that Daniel Green will throw his hat in the ring.

Odds of Running: 3:1

Alex Tyrrell
Alex Tyrrell

Tyrrell, the controversial, self-proclaimed eco-socialist leader of the Green Party of Quebec, has been extremely critical of Elizabeth May and the Green Party of Canada for quite some now.  Things came to a head in 2016 with the whole BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) controversy that almost saw May resign as leader.  Tyrrell was back in the news again this summer, attacking Elizabeth May and the Green Party over Point 13 of Mission: Possible, the Green Party of Canada's climate plan.

While I personally think Tyrrell's politics will be toxic for the Green Party of Canada's success (Tyrrell spent almost a decade in fairly high roles with the federal New Democratic Party between 2006 and 2012, before taking over a Green Party of Quebec that was on its death-bed), no doubt his anti-capitalist politics will appeal to a certain segment of the Party.  

Tyrrell, though, has singularly failed to grow the Quebec provincial party - perhaps because there is already another somewhat more successful anti-capitalist party on the ground in that province in the form of Quebec Solidaire.  The Party apparatus will undoubtedly do what they can to thwart Tyrrell, as he represents a position that would take the party back into irrelevancy in the minds of voters.  It's not even clear whether Tyrrell holds a membership in the federal party at this time.  Tyrrell, of course, is not opposed to creating a stink in the media about whatever's on his mind.  So this could all get rather interesting.

Odds of Running: 1:1

Jo-Ann Roberts
Jo-Ann Roberts

Interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts was, apparently, named to this position on condition that she herself not seek the Party's leadership. That's rather too bad, as by all accounts, Roberts would have been a formidable candidate.  She's also from a Halifax riding where having a national profile as party leader might just be enough to see a first Green breakthrough in that province.  Roberts will, however, prove to be a competent and compelling interim leader (that's probably why the Party turned to her in the first place).  Might it be, though, that the Party would bend its own rules if Roberts suddenly finds herself a media darling with the chops to lead the party on a permanent basis?

All it might take is for a few pundits - a Chantal Hebert or an Andrew Coyne - to suggest that the Greens are missing out on a big opportunity by not allowing Roberts to run - to influence our Federal Council to make a change mid-way through the leadership contest.  No offence here to our Federal Council, but they don't exactly have the best track record of sticking to their guns on things.  And in Roberts, it might really benefit the Party to change its mind about the restrictions that came with her new role.  It's not like the there's a strong Executive Director in place now to reign them in, as long-serving ED Emily McMillan has been let go.

I'm not counting Roberts out of the race yet.  Heck, I might even start a 'draft Roberts' movement myself!

Odds of Running: 20:1

Adriane Carr

Me and Adriane Carr - January 2008
Former Green Party of Canada Deputy Leader and current Vancouver City Councillor Adriane Carr was once the heir apparent to Elizabeth May.  She still might be.  Carr has a huge profile in Vancouver, and a strong team in place to go national.  Carr would also be a fantastic option for Green Party voters.  In 1983, Carr was a founding member of the Green Party of British Columbia - Canada's first Green Party.  She's dynamic and will appeal to new Greens. And we Greens that have been around for a while all look back in fondness at her participation in the Party.  No doubt many of us have been following Carr's career since she was first elected to Council in Vancouver in 2011.  Carr has the credentials, the organization and the dynamism to be the next leader of the Party. By my account, she should be the next leader of the Party, and if Carr decides this is a hassle that she needs in her life right now, she's got at least one supporter here in Sudbury, Ontario.

But Carr might have her sights on other things right now.  Maybe Mayor of Vancouver.  Maybe she's content to influence Council by her presence and that of other Greens without challenging directly for the Mayor's chair.  Certainly she's been instrumental in building the Green Party's profile at the municipal level - she might just decide to stay on and carry out those functions, which would be important to Vancouver, B.C. and ultimately Canada.

I hope she runs, though.  Not sure she will.

Odds of Running: 15:1

Sonia Fursteneau
Sonia Fursteneau

B.C. MLA Sonia Fursteneau was elected to the B.C. minority parliament in 2016 in the riding of Cowichan Valley.  She's the BC Green Party's House Leader, and she's been all over the BC NDP government of John Horgan over Site C and other issues.  She is proving to be an effective MLA and an asset to the Green Party of B.C.

It's possible that she might opt to run for the B.C. Green Party's leadership - although I think what we're more likely to see is the BC Greens race turn into more of a coronation for BC Green MLA Adam Olsen.  Fursteneau probably won't throw her hat in the ring to run nationally, either, given that the BC Greens are likely going to have to fight a rear-guard action to hold onto what they have, now that Weaver is stepping down as leader.  I expect Fursteneau to reserve her energy for an upcoming provincial election.  But if she decides to test the winds to see which way they might be blowing provincially in her riding - and if she doesn't like the way they're blowing, Fursteneau would make a formidable national candidate.

Odds of Running: 25:1

Adam Olsen
Adam Olsen

I honestly don't think that BC Green MLA Adam Olsen will be seeking the leadership of the Green Party of Canada - which is too bad, because Olsen would be a wonderful addition to the up-coming leadership contest.  He is far more likely to seek - and win - the provincial party leadership.  But don't count him out yet, even if I'm going to give him long odds of running nationally.

Odds of Running: 50:1

David Merner

David Merner probably should be heading to Ottawa right now, but a disastrous final two weeks of the national campaign probably confounded those plans.  Things were looking so good for so long for Merner in Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, but some NDP dirty tricks combined with a lacklustre national campaign means that Merner has to go back to his day job.  
David Merner

By all accounts, Merner is dynamic and motivated.  He's also demonstrated that he's a very political animal, having run for the Liberal Party in 2015 before changing his red stripes to Green for the 2019 election.  Merner is ambitious.  I expect that he'll at the very least mount an exploratory campaign.  But he's also at a huge disadvantage given the 11 month time frame, because Greens don't really know who he is - and without a bit of a national profile already - or political accomplishments that he can point to - it's not likely that he's going to be able to generate a lot of attention or interest outside of the left coast bubble.  

But a leadership run now could be used to build his profile locally so that the next time voters in ESS go to the polls, Merner may be more on their minds.  With a minority government in power, that could be sooner rather than later.  And of course a leadership run right now might better position him for the next leadership contest - something Greens will probably not waiting 13 years to have again.

Odds of Running: 5:1

Darcie Lanthier
Darcie Lanthier

Well, someone from PEI is going to have to throw their hat in the ring for the leadership contest, right?  Lanthier has to be the logical choice for Islanders to coalesce around - if Bevan-Baker doesn't want the job.  Lanthier has been involved with both the provincial and federal parties for some time now, and she's presently PEI's representative on our Federal Council.  She ran in the Charlottetown riding in 2019 and finished second with over 23% of the popular vote.

Lanthier could inherent a good chuck of the Atlantic province's organizational capabilities if no one else from the region steps up.  This won't be enough to win, with Ontario and BC having the lion's share of Green members.  But it might be enough to put forward a convincing case - especially to Ontario Greens, who may not have many or any local champions to support in this contest.

Odds of Running: 7:1

Lisa Helps
Lisa Helps

The Mayor of Victoria, British Columbia, is not a Green.  But she sure as hell looks and acts like one.  Helps is presently serving her second term as Mayor, having been elected in 2014.  She's been through the political wringer at the municipal level (which can be almost as bad as at the federal level - or maybe even worse, depending on the controversy).  Helps may need some assistance getting to know voters on the other side of the Rockies, but if she has any federal ambitions, the Green Party's leadership contest would be a great opportunity for her.  

Helps would be wise to wait, though, to see if any "big name Greens" throw their hat in the ring first.  If it's looking like Bevan-Baker, Schreiner, Weaver, Atwin and Coon really are going to sit this one out, Lisa Helps might just have what it takes to mount an effective campaign.  

Odds of Running: 25:1

Racelle Kooy
Racelle Kooy

Like David Merner, Kooy might be on her way to Ottawa right now had things broke just a little bit differently in her Victoria riding in this past election.  Perhaps next time, with the title of leadership appended to her resume, she'll experience a different outcome.

Kooy definitely hails from a winnable riding.  By all accounts, she and May are very close - and some have suspected that Kooy was being groomed by May to a position of leadership. And why not?  Someone should have been (and a long time ago), and given that (can I say this) the Party was expecting a Green victory in Victoria, Kooy made a lot of sense to be the chosen one.

Kooy will have a strong team backing her, but with a lack of name recognition on this side of the Rockies, she'll have to figure out a way to make a strong case to Greens as to why she should lead.  A short campaign period works against her - but she still might opt to throw her hat in the ring if some of the bigger names stay away.  

Odds of Running: 20:1

Kate Storey
Kate Storey

Kate Storey has been around the Green Party of Canada forever - the constant bearer of our Party's flag in the Manitoba riding of Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa.  She's been a member of our Federal Council.  She's been the Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Manitoba.  A farmer, she's a Green through-and-through from a part of the country where Greens are a little light on the ground.

Storey's presence in a leadership contest would be valuable to the Party - although I'm not sure what Kate might personally get out of it.  Storey, for all of her involvement in the Party, is no political animal.  It's her values that drive her - and that's one of the other reasons her presence in a leadership contest would be so very important to the Party.  Frankly, we need leadership contestants like Storey to run - those who are clearly just wanting to do good, to make the planet a better place to live.  That's what Storey does every day of her life.  Politics is just secondary.

I hope she decides to run - even if it's just to remind other contestants that our values are pan-Canadian values - and that regions like hers can't be left behind.

Odds of Running: 25:1

Thomas Teuwen
Thomas Teuwen

I have to admit, I don't know Thomas Teuwen.  But a lot of Greens do.  He's spent far more time in the Party's backroom (I don't think we're big enough a party to have multiple 'rooms' are we?), and not as much in the media spotlight.  And that could potentially be to Teuwen's advantage - if leader is a job that he wants.

Teuwen has been affiliated with the Green Party of Canada in various capacities over the past decade, including as something called a 'synergist' which I take to mean a communications person that is actively attempting to bring Greens together.  He's been behind a number of moderately successful initiatives in that field, including the development of something called "EDA 2.0", which brings a number of motivated and connected Greens together via internet bulletin boards (sorry, my age is showing - what do you call stuff like Slack, though, if not a BBS?) and face-to-face meetings.  Most of those that know him really like him.  I don't really know him, but what I know of him suggests to me that he would be the wrong person to lead this party in any capacity at this time.

Teuwen wants the Party to foment a Bernie Sanders-style revolution with voters, rather than relying on tried and true campaigning methods.  He forgets that Sanders, although an insurgent, was still running for the leadership of one of the two largest parties in the United States, and was able to bankroll a so-called 'revolution' in a way that a 5th place national party with little presence on the ground outside of a handfull or ridings ever would be able to.  Nevertheless, it's a compelling vision, especially given the fact that whatever it is we've been trying to do as a party for the past 10 years has led to somewhat limited success.

Teuwen fired off an election-night salvo to EDA 2.0 members with a massive missive on all that's wrong with the Party.  When I read it, I figured he had to be gunning for the leadership for himself - and not just to bring down Elizabeth May and the Party's Executive Director, Emily McMillan.  Interestingly, since sending that missive, both May and McMillan are out of their leadership positions.  Was this Thomas Teuwen's doing?  Probably not completely,  but Teuwen has the ability to bend a lot of ears.

Thing is, he might decide to stay behind the scenes and pursue the position of Executive Director.  That might actually be a harder position for him to apply for than that of leader - as he has his detractors on Federal Council for sure.  A better use of his silver tongue might be to see him step out of the shadows with a strong and committed team in place to start building him a national profile.  

This is one to watch, because if he wants to grasp the golden ring, he'll be a force to be reckoned with.

Odds of Running: 5:1

Abhijeet Manay
Abhijeet Manay

He's probably too sensible to run for the federal party leadership, but Green Party of Ontario Deputy Leader Abhijeet Manay would make a fantastic candidate for the Party.  He's young. He's bright.  He's political.  And he's a nice guy in the Mike Schreiner mold.  And I have to think that he is also politically ambitious - which is why he really ought to think about running, even if it's just to build his profile in the provincial and federal parties and gain some important experience.  Manay has a seriously bright future with the Greens - and I'd love to see him start to flex his wings.

And really, who else from Ontario might be expected to step up - and tap into that massive Ontario support base?  Abhi - if you're reading this (and I know you are), this is something that you should seriously consider - if you can afford the time and heartache - and not necessarily of losing, but of winning.

Odds of Running: 15:1

John Streicker
John Streicker

Greens like me who have been around for a while now will likely remember John Streicker from his role as General Meeting moderator - the one who kept us on track every couple of years at our in-person meetings.  And Greens know that's not an easy task - we are a rather independent bunch, after all.  

We may also remember that Streiker ran for the party in the Yukon at one point - and ultimately he was elected to municipal Council in Whitehorse.  And that may be where many of us lost track of John.  And we may have been surprised to find out that he's since been elected to the Yukon territorial legislature - as a Liberal!

OK, maybe that's all just me.  But Streicker - Liberal or not - has a serious history with the Party, and if he wanted to seek the leadership, he could no doubt build a bit of a base for himself, probably out of older members like myself.  But he's clearly got the ability and the political acumen to lead our party.  He may be the consensus candidate that we didn't know that we needed - and a ranked ballot could seriously work to his advantage.

But Streicker is probably happy to stay put and stick it out with his new Party.  Still, his name needs to be on this list.

Odds of Running: 50:1

Severn Cullis-Suzuki
Severn Cullis-Suzuki

I've already seen the online efforts to draft Severn Cullis-Suzuki to lead our Party, so don't rule this one out.  Cullis-Suzuki doesn't have any partisan political chops, but she's certainly been around politics all of her life.  She burst onto the international stage at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro with the "Speech that Silenced the World for 5 Minutes".  

She's got the environmental credibility that will appeal to many members of our Party.  And if partisan politics is something that she's interested in, this might be the perfect opportunity for her to get involved in an out-sized role on the national stage.

Odds of Running: 60:1

Jody Wilson-Raybould
Jody Wilson-Raybould

She rejected joining the Green Party of Canada once - and that was just earlier this year.  But she does have a bit of a reputation of being politically ambitious (which likely fed into her decision to give the Party a pass - perhaps after polling suggested she could not win in Vancouver-Granville as a Green - but could as an Independent).

JWR has the kind of national profile that I think the Green Party needs right now if it's going to have an impact in the next election.  She and Elizabeth May are apparently friends.  And a quick, 11-month campaign works to her advantage given that she is a household name across the entire nation.  If Wilson-Raybould bought a membership in the Party tomorrow and started to organize, she would be the front-runner no matter who else threw their hats in the ring after.  

But would she want the hassle of trying to put a fairly dysfunctional federal party back together?  Many would think now - but I'll answer the question with another question. As an MP in the House, what else has she go to do?  Is she going to sit as an Independent for 2 or 3 years, doing - well not a heck of a lot - or would she instead opt to try to lead a federal party in need of leadership, and mostly in keeping with her own personal values?

I'm sure JWR will think long and hard about this opportunity.  Ultimately, though, it might be some timely polling - or a review of the Party's Constitution that reveals the seriously diminished powers of the Green Party's leader that eventually sways her to give us a pass - again.

Odds of Running: 30:1

Kathleen Wynne
Kathleen Wynne

WHAT?!?!  WHO?!?!  HAVE I LOST MY MIND!?!?!

Maybe I have.  But consider the following:

The Green Party of Canada seriously needs a leader who can hit the ground running, once elected.  She needs to be able to win a by-election or a seat in the upcoming general election.  Preferably, she's have a strong team in place who can help her - and who can help her promote others in the party.  Experience helps - but even more important than experience is a public profile.  Former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has all of these.

And sure, she's presently sitting in the Ontario provincial legislature.  But how long is that going to last?  The Ontario Liberal Party is poised to select a new leader in early March, 2020.  Wynne's continuing presence at Queen's Park will not be helpful for the new leader or the Party.  Wynne must be thinking about her own exit - and about what she might do after her provincial political career completely winds down.

Other things to consider: Let's face it, Kathleen Wynne led one of the greenest provincial governments in Canada's history.  She brought in Cap and Trade.  She oversaw the development of the Province's 2016 Climate Action Plan with former Environment Minister Glen Murray - a singularly ambitious plan that Canada has not seen since.  If Wynne is looking to continue to influence decision-makers, she could do far worse than to seize the reigns of the Green Party of Canada.

Elizabeth May can't be replaced - but if there is any one person on Canada's political scene who could potentially rival May for her wit, acumen, and deep understanding of the issues, it's Kathleen Wynne - the finest Premier Ontario has ever had, in my opinion.

A strategically timed phone call from May, or a casual coffee with Mike Schreiner - to, if nothing else, plant this seed of an idea with Wynne - I can't help but wonder what sort of fruit it might bear.

Wynne, though, might just be too committed to her Party to switch at this point.   I'll continue to hold out hope that she might come to her own Glenn Thibeault moment and decide to cross the floor to our Federal Party in order to seek its leadership.

Now wouldn't that be something?

Odds of Running: 100:1

(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)