Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Quick Impressions of the TVO Green Party of Canada Leadership Contestant Debates

Two really great, if quick, leadership contestant debates were held today.  Hosted by Steve Paikin of TVO's The Agenda (who runs a pretty tight ship when it comes to debates), leadership contestants, in two groups, were put on the spot to discuss timely issues of the day, like defunding the police, as well as existential matters like the Green Party's relevance and position in Canada's political climate.

The first debate was held between Annamie Paul, David Merner, Judy Green, Glen Murray and Amita Kuttner.  The second involved Dimitry Lascaris, Meryam Haddad, Dylan Perceval-Maxwell and Courtney Howard and Adam West - the latter two of which were both absent from this past Sunday's Fair Vote Canada debate (Howard did submit videos to Fair Vote in advance of that debate).

Winners and Losers

Look, it's still so early in the campaign that being a "winner" or "loser" in a particular debate really doesn't matter that much.  It's June - is anybody really paying attention yet?

Cross all of that out - of course this TVO debate matters.  It's not so much that people will be looking at at this at the end of June and thinking, "Hmmm...I really liked so-and-so, maybe I'll try to remember who they are and in September, I'll vote for them". The fact is these TVO debates are going to be up online for the remainder of the leadership contest. They will be go-to sources for Greens - including many in the Green base who want to be a little more informed about the candidates.  The fact that Paikin and TVO are involved automatically bump up the importance of these debates.  So make no mistake, these debates were important.

And you know what?  All of the candidates impressed today.  I don't have a lot to say that's particularly negative.  The debate itself was mostly civil, and the candidates were generally well spoken.  There was only one real exchange that stood out for me, where Meryam Haddad called out Dylan Perceval-Maxwell's "$20 solution" to the police issues as "completely racist" right at the end of the second debate - just as time ran out for any rebuttal - was probably the one moment where I felt a bit of a knock-out punch - and let me be honest here about this: from what I've seen of Haddad, I'm not a fan - I won't be voting for her - but with regards to this moment, she was 100% right to call out her fellow leadership contestant in the way that she did. And if it had been anybody but Perceval-Maxwell, it might have meant something.

Dylan Perceval-Maxwell

So let's start with Perceval-Maxwell.  He clearly doesn't belong in this contest. He may be all right to listen to, and perhaps it's true that every leadership contest needs someone on the fringe who can say things about political opponents that legit contestants can't, but all of that is offset by his meandering answers to questions. And that top hat just screams "I'm not a serious candidate".  And he's not.  

It's also been twice now that he's brought up endorsing strategic voting as a way of helping the Green Party.  Yes, if you can believe that, we have a leadership contestant who actively wants to tell Green members and supporters in certain parts of the country NOT to vote for the Green Party.  I don't know how many times it needs to be hammered home: strategic voting doesn't work.  Greens should not be supporting Liberals and New Democrats. And the Green Party will *never* get the NDP to not run candidates against us somewhere - anywhere.

I think I'm pretty much done with Perceval-Maxwell.

Andrew West

Today was West's first debate with some of the candidates, as he had missed the Fair Vote Debate for some reason (I'd still like to know why, Andrew....).  West came across as affable, if a little off his game.  He was the only contestant who dared admit that he was a centrist and viewed the Party in the same way. West's whole thing is that the Party should be promoting the fact that it is fiscally responsible - but it was pretty clear from an exchange he had with Dimitri Lascaris that his version of "responsible" differs significantly from Lascaris' - and frankly from mine, too.  Although I'll give West the benefit of the doubt that his half-hearted and quick rebuttal to Lascaris could have been more substantive had their been time, so I don't want to suggest that West and I are completely out of line with another on this.

But about "time" - if West is going to be taken as a serious contestant, he's going to really need to up his game to compress MORE into the time he's been given.  If Perceval-Maxwell's responses were wandering, West's were needlessly pedantic.  And since one of the things I've stated time and again that I'm looking for in a leader is someone who can be a good spokesperson for the Party - well, West just isn't there yet. 

Meryam Haddad

Haddad had a good debate.  She came across as being far less radical that she was at the Fair Vote debate. That doesn't mean that I believe something has changed in her heart since Sunday - but rather that she was able to present herself a little more seriously for a broader audience while still staying true to herself.  For example, she appeared to throw moderator Paikin for a bit of a loop when she brought up abolishing the police - but she continued to carry on as if the idea was simply one that perhaps others hadn't arrived at yet, but through the force of history, would get there some day, while being very personable.  It's difficult to walk that tightrope - especially in a Party where many members would NEVER consider themselves to be left-wingers, much less socialists like Haddad.  

I'm not going to vote for Haddad because I still believe she wants the Green Party to be something that it's not. But if all you knew about Haddad was what you saw on TVO today, you certainly might want to rank her high on your ballot (even if fools like me are whispering in your ear, 'don't be fooled').

Annamie Paul

Perhaps my biggest disappointment today was Annamie Paul.  In contrast to some of the other contestants that Paul was debating, her answers to questions generally lacked specifics. The vagueness, though, wasn't a particular problem (how much detail can you really get into with just 60 seconds? Ok, maybe Judy Green could pull it off - and did, but not everyone can).  What turned me off more than anything was that Paul just seemed less than genuine.

Clearly, Paul had been well-coached: don't ever yield the floor, just keep on talking (because when you're talking, your opponents aren't talking).  Speak over others if you can (because then no one hears your opponent). Interrupt. Try to take the floor back.  All of these are classic techniques for winning debates.  And she did a very good job of employing those tactics.  Thing is, though, none of the other contestants were going to play those games, so the fact that she was employing these tactics really stood out for me. And I'm sure I wasn't the only one with whom she's left a negative impression.

The Fair Vote Canada debate didn't really allow any of the candidates to do what Paul did today. But even in that debate, Paul's answers to questions were a little vague and lacklustre.  After watching her in two debates now, it's becoming clear to me that she's just a little underwhelming in circumstances like this.  Now I know that we should never judge leadership on "debates" - but I also know that being the Leader of the Green Party means that you're going to have to explain yourself (very quickly, because the media isn't going to give the 5th party much time to get into the weeds). And from what I've seen, there are better contestants to do this than Paul.

Amita Kuttner

I don't know what to say about Kuttner.  They had a better debate this time than the Fair Vote debate for sure.  They answered questions directly and succinctly - which was really great and in contrast to Perceval-Maxwell, West and Paul.  I like that (again, I think there's a reason Elizabeth May speaks so quickly, because you're not going to have much time to - oh, just re-read what I wrote above!).  Kuttner is clearly in touch with issues that have suddenly been thrust to the forefront of political discussion.  But there is clearly something of a hard edge to Kuttner that I find off-putting and unfriendly.  They may know the issues very well, but I think they've got to work on that whole "spokesperson" thing a lot more.  And again, maybe in a few years, who knows?

Courtney Howard

This was Howard's first leadership debate - and as far as I know, it might also have been her political debate. I don't think Howard's ever run for anything before.  And yes, I do find it kind of odd that not having run for anything before, she'd want to throw her hat into the ring to lead the Green Party of Canada - a party that she seems to have no history with.  That lack of history came through a little today.  Howard seemed a flummoxed and vague when discussing the Green Party in today's political climate - in a way that Haddad, Kuttner, Lascaris, Green and Murray weren't.  

Howard came across as being very intelligent, and fairly engaging.  She does speak well, and it's clear that she knows how to integrate data and evidence into the conversation.  She struggled a little with some of the issues of the day that most of the other candidates really nailed.  Generally speaking, though, I wasn't particularly impressed - but nor was I unimpressed.  I'll have to keep watching, I suppose.

Judy Green

I have to say, Green really impressed me.  In this format, she was a bit of a stand-out - even among some of the more formidable leadership candidates.  Green clearly knew her stuff, understands what the Green Party is, where it's come from, and where the Members seem to want to take it.  She was charming, engaging and trying to cram as much as she could into the little time that she had.  She was able to express her varied life experiences and relate to others while answering questions.  

I think we all need to keep our eye on Green. She's got a little touch of Elizabeth May about her, mingled with a folksy Maritime charm.  Could Green be the populist in this leadership contest?  But a populist in the true sense of the word - someone with their finger on the pulse of the times.  In a field riddled with laywers and policy wonks, Green is offering up something a little different.

Three Stand Outs

Dimitri Lascaris

I always feel the need to put this disclaimer in front of anything that I write about Dimitri Lascaris.  I do not believe that Lascaris should be running for leader of the Green Party of Canada due to a number of serious matters in his past that really ought to have disqualified him.  That the Party has greenlighted his leadership bid is a real problem, I believe, one that the Party is going to have to wrestle with at some point in the future.  I'm not going to get into specifics here, as Lascaris' toxic backstory is easily found with a quick Google search.

All of that said, even I have to say that Lascaris was one of the stand-outs of the day.  That he found himself in a debate with some of the less-tested candidates (Howard, Perceval-Maxwell and West) may have helped him a little, but really Lascaris is a great speaker - and he himself has had a lot of practice at this sort of thing.  If you didn't know much about Lascaris and just tuned into the TVO debate, no doubt you'd be wondering now about whether this is someone to be supporting.

Lascaris clearly has charisma and charm, and he knows how to engage with everyone - the moderator, other candidates, and with his audience (correct me if I'm wrong, but he was also the only contestant to do a land acknowledgement - something that there's really no excuse for any leadership contestant not to be doing first thing when they're given the floor to speak).  Lascaris also really seemed to think quickly on his feet, and his rebuttal of West on the matter of what it means to be 'fiscally responsible' was probably the highlight of the day - and a serious showcase for Lascaris' talents. 

David Merner

What can I say about David Merner? This is twice now that Merner has proved to be the complete package: knowledgeable, empathetic, charming, engaging, considerate.  There is really something about him that I am growing to like.  It's clear that Merner has spent a lot of time connecting the dots, and thinking on his feet.  He shows all of the qualities that a national party leader ought to show.  It was all on display today.  And although today's discussion was not particularly combative, I'm sure that Merner could mix it up with the best of them if push came to shove.

I'm just going to leave it at that, after saying one last thing: I'm still not convinced I will vote for him, because I continue to feel that the Party would be best led by someone who is not an older straight white man.  

Glen Murray

Equally engaging as Merner, and so clearly able to discuss politics and everything political, Murray has a depth of understanding based on his years of experience in the political realm.  It is so clear to me that Murray possesses all of the leadership qualities one could ever hope for in a leader. And I am sure that if the Green Party elected Murray, our future would be in really good hands.  I can already picture Murray on stage with Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh and Peter McKay - not just holding his own, but seriously dishing it out to all of those leaders.  

There's something very genuine and engaging about Murray too.  It's not so much charm as it is, I don't know, gravitas.  But that's not to suggest that he can't connect with people, because clearly he was able to do that in today's debate.  Some of the candidates like Merner and Lascaris might approach him in this area, but it's clear to me that Murray is just on another level.

But...today he completely lost my vote.

Look I know that I've said time and again that PR matters more than policy.  But sometimes policy matters - and when it does, it really does.  Today, Murray made it very clear that he would try to get the Party to abandon our long-standing Carbon Fee & Dividend policy in favour of something like his Ontario Cap & Trade program - which he continues to believe is more "efficient" with money and will lead to a larger reduction in emissions.  Annamie Paul was right to point out to Murray that economists don't agree with him on this (like Sudbury's own Dr. David Robinson, Professor of Economics at Laurentian University, who wrote, "What Glen Might Be Saying if He Understood," Dr. David Robinson, Economics for Northern Ontario, December 3 2016). 

But Murray sure as hell didn't listen to those economists when the Ontario Liberals had their dog and pony show, er, province-wide public consultation sessions on carbon pricing back in 2016.  At that time, the Liberals were overwhelmingly told to go with carbon fee & dividend.  I don't know if it was through Murray's force of will or because of something else, but the Wynne Liberals opted instead to go with Cap & Trade - better than what Ontario had before (which was nothing), but absolutely not the program that is ever going to price carbon at a level that can be both economically sustainable and meaningful for emissions reduction.  I wrote about the problems with Ontario's Cap and Trade program back in 2017 (see: "Cap and trade doomed to fail," Steve May, the Sudbury Star, April 8 2017).  

And that Murray wants to push this now on the Green Party - a party that had this very conversation over a decade ago - sorry, that's just unacceptable.  And frankly more than a little disrespectful.  

Well, I guess by disqualifying himself from my list of "those whom I might support for leader", he's at least done me a favour today.

(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)

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Quick Impressions of the Fair Vote Canada - Green Party of Canada Leadership Debate

I just wanted to take a moment to provide my first impressions of the Fair Vote Canada - Green Party of Canada Leadership Contestant "debate".  I can't help but put the word "debate" in quotations, because really, it was anything but a debate.  But that doesn't mean it wasn't useful as Greens get ready to case their ballots at the end of September for our next leadership candidate.

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.

Tonight's Losers

There were a few losers tonight - some bigger than others.  Here are my top three:

Dylan Perceval-Maxwell

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.

Meryam Haddad

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.

Amita Kuttner

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.  

Judy Green

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.  

Dimitri Lascaris

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)