It was brought to my attention earlier today that Ottawa-area Green, Sylvie Lemieux, officially launched a challenge for the Green Party's leadership at a barbecue hosted by municipal councilor and nominated Green Party candidate Bob Bell, in Guelph held this past weekend (see this article from the Guelph Mercury: "Race to Challenge Green Leader Launched in Guelph"). This came as a tremendous surprise to me, as there hasn't been a leadership contest called at this time. In fact, the Party will be voting on motions at our upcoming Biennial General Meeting in Toronto this August which will determine whether there is to be a leadership contest at all this year. Her announcement, however, was likely anticipated by some party-insiders.
Now, I don't know Sylvie Lemieux at all. Many of the readers of this blog probably don't know much about her either; she's a relative unknown in this Party, although she was the candidate for the Glengarry-Prescott-Russell electoral district in the 2008 election, coming in 4th with 5.3% of the vote in the district currently held by Conservative Pierre Lemieux. This riding used to be a Liberal stronghold, held by Don Boudria. Sylvie Lemieux is also currently the nominated candidate for the Greens in GPR for the next election.
The Guelph Mercury describes Lemiuex as a former supporter of leadership hopeful David Chernushenko, which lends credence to some of the comments I've seen around the blogosphere about Elizabeth May's leadership being opposed by those who were unhappy with the leadership results in 2006. Chernushenko, as you may know, is no longer with the Green Party; I understand that he is currently seeking a seat on Ottawa's municipal council.
There's obviously some history to what's been going on (or not going on) with the leadership contest in the Green Party. You must know by now that our Constitution requires that a leadership contest be held in 2010, but at the present time, no contest has been called. Motions are currently before the membership for online voting which may lead to the postponenment of a leadership contest, or doing away with a contest altogether in favour of a leadership review to occur after the next election. There is also a motion before the membership which requires our Federal Council (the Green Party's governing body) to uphold the Constitution of the Party and begin the leadership contest process; Sylvie Lemieux's name appears as one of the "sponsors" of this motion, so presumably that's the motion she was referring to in the Guelph Mercury article (although it's presumptuous to suggest that she'll be "putting it forward" at the BGM in August, because if the membership votes it down pre-BGM through the online voting process, there won't be anything more to this at the BGM. I just hope that she's not referring to trying to introduce an "emergency motion" of some sort from the floor at the BGM, because under our Party's rules, that's not at all an appropriate time to do so).
As I've expressed in this blog before, I will be supporting the motion sponsored by our Federal Council which seeks to change the way in which our Party elects its Leader. I'm troubled by the notion of having fixed and inflexible leadership terms as per our Party's Constitution. National polling continues to suggest that we're in store for more minority government situations. Given that our Party advocates some form of proportional representation to replace the current First Past the Post electoral system, it's fair to say that we're comfortable enough with minority governments and coalitions to advocate for a higher level of electoral uncertainty than what Canada has traditionally come to expect. In order to take full advantage of our own Party's policies regarding proportional representation, we as a political party need to become more flexible with our decision-making structure. The fixed-term leadership contest provision in our Constitution does not allow us the degree of flexibility we need.
But whether you agree or not with our current fixed leadership term, or whether you support (or not) Federal Council's motion to change the way in which we elect a leader, I suspect that you will find Sylvie Lemieux's move to challenge the current Party leadership as problematic, sophomoric, and in really bad taste. So much for Party unity, Sylvie!
Look, I know that not everyone lines up behind the leader of any political party. Usually, though, if you don't agree with the Leader, you either suck it up and wait it out; leave the party until a more opportune time; or quietly seek to change the outcome, maybe even building your network for a challenge when the time arrives.
Lemieux is an unknown and unaccomplished Green. Her political instincts seem to be very lacking with this outrageous move to openly challenge for the leadership of this Party over the weekend. She's chosen neither option for disgruntled party members, and instead has decided to create an option for herself by openly announcing the challenge. Likely with the hopes of attracting other disgruntled Party members to rally 'round her flag before some of the bigger names have stepped up.
Of course, the bigger names are likely building their networks as we speak, but they're politically savvy enough not to tip their hands until the right moment: that would be when the current Leader resigns or a leadership contest is called. And that's the proper way for serious candidates to approach the job. Challenging the leader when there is no formal mechanism for challenge is the height of hubris.
But...let's not completely discount Sylvie Lemieux at this time. By announcing her challenge in Guelph at Bob Bell's bbq, she's making a statement with regards to the sort of backing from higher-profile party members she's trying to receive. Guelph, where Mike Nagy ably represented this Party in the last Federal election, is one of those ridings which we have a pretty good chance of contesting, and by all accounts, Bob Bell, who sits on Guelph's city council, might just be the right guy to do it. It's also been suggested that our current party leader has some popularity-related issues in Guelph (although I've heard nothing about Bob Bell's thoughts on this matter outside of what's reported in the Guelph Mercury article). By announcing her challenge to Elizabeth May at Bob Bell's place, Sylvie Lemieux has thrown down the gauntlet which she hopes will be picked up by dissatisfied Central Ontario members, many of whom tend to be from the more "right side" of the political spectrum.
If this is the banner she hopes to carry into an at this time hypothetical leadership contest, she's certainly going about it in a strange way by becoming a lightening rod for Elizabeth May supporters throughout the Party, and especially those from everywhere outside of Central Ontario. She's suddenly become the poster-child for those Ontario Greens disgruntled with the 2006 election who want to dump our current leader. That might be a fine poster to be on...if there were a leadership contest. Without a contest, I'm sorry, but it is to laugh.
No doubt the other parties will be having a field day with this latest news out of our Party, which is just now starting to filter into the mainstream media. Did Paul Martin ever openly challenge Jean Chretien when Chretien was leader? How about Chretien when Turner was leader? The sort of action taken by Sylvie Lemieux just isn't contemplated in other national parties. By declaring an open challenge to Elizabeth May's leadership, she's apt to make our Party look like an amateurish laughingstock. If it was just making herself look that way, that's one thing, but I've no doubt that the media and the dog-eat-dog blogosphere is going to have some fun with this. Way to go, Sylvie.
As I indicated earlier, I don't know a lot about Sylvie Lemieux. Heck, I might even agree with a lot of what she stands for. But I do not and will not agree with issuing an open challenge to our Party's leadership this past weekend, at a time when there is no mechanism to actually reach out and seize the leadership. Sylvie Lemieux has made her first mis-step, and it's a doozy.