Monday, September 27, 2021

Annamie Paul is (Almost) Gone. Can the Green Party Survive What Comes Next?

 Annamie Paul is in the process of resigning her leadership of the Green Party of Canada. Good. By any reasonable metric, Paul's tenure as leader has been a mitigated disaster for the Party ("mitigated" only by the victory of Mike Morrice in Kitchener Centre in the recent federal election - a victory that had little to do with Paul, and probably occurred despite her). And now, Paul apparently can't even resign without controversy, after everybody in Canada mistook what she said at her press conference earlier today as a resignation - rather than beginning the process of resigning.

Yes, Paul faced some significant challenges to her leadership - including the very serious restrictions imposed upon her by the Party's Federal Council, which denied her funding that would otherwise have gone to mount a campaign in Toronto Centre.  But Toronto Centre was always a pipe dream - and whether one agrees with the actions of the Party's (now former) Federal Council, it's difficult to dispute that their actions ended up saving the party money that it didn't have.

Noah Zaztman

The writing really was on the wall for Paul's leadership after Paul's disastrous silence related to Noah Zaztman, her senior advisor and spokesperson, as he was sometimes characterized by the media. If you're not familiar with Zaztman and his Facebook post smearing Green MP's Paul Manly and Jenica Atwin, you might want to read what I wrote earlier about this sordid affair: "Green MPs and NDP Leader Engaged in Anti-Semitism, Says Senior Advisor to Green Party Leader," Sudbury Steve May, May 19 2021.

Screencap of Statement from Noah Zaztman

The net result of Paul's silence regarding Zaztman's accusation of anti-Semitism and vow to work to defeat sitting Green Party MP's was to see one of those MP's, Fredericton's Jenica Atwin, call it a day with the Party and cross the floor to join the Liberal Party.  Rather than taking any responsibility that her own silence led directly to that outcome, Paul decided it would be better to blame Justin Trudeau and to accuse him of not being a feminist, and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland as being nothing more than "Trudea's shield" - accusations which prompted strong reactions among Liberals and Greens alike, for different reasons (see: "I am not a token:’ Freeland fires back at Paul’s accusation she is Trudeau’s ‘female shield’, Global News, June 17 2021).  Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May would go on to state, "To me, that's deeply shocking that was allowed to happen without him [Zaztman] being reprimanded and immediately removed. This was not a grey area. This was a serious transgression for anyone in any leader's office in any party in the history of any democracy that I can think of. It was deeply unacceptable. That's why we lost Jenica." ("This Was Supposed to Be the Green Party’s Moment," Christopher Guly, The Tyee, September 2, 2021).

I can't help but note that Jenica Atwin was recently returned to Parliament at the MP for Fredericton in the recent federal election.

Paul Manly, who stuck it out with the Green Party despite the leader's office attack on his good reputation, narrowly lost his seat in Nanaimo-Ladysmith - a victim of the Party's devastating showing at the polls under Paul's leadership. 

A Struggle for the Soul of the Green Party

On her way out the door today, Paul did make a profound statement that really resonated with me - although I suspect that she had something different in mind that what immediately sprung to my mind. I think it's fair to say that there has been on-going dissension within the Green Party, much of it lately focused on Paul's leadership, and the accusations of racism, misogyny and anti-Semitism directed at un-named party individuals by Paul and her supporters.  While it is clear to me that racism and anti-Semitism exist within the Party, I don't believe that they are responsible for creating the fundamental divisions within the Party - divisions that can no longer be ignored now with Paul's (soon to be) departure.

These divisions began to erupt in last year's leadership contest, which saw Paul narrowly defeat leadership contestant Dimitri Lascaris on the seventh ballot.  The conflict within the Party itself can be characterized by the personalities of these two contestants: Paul, promoting her intersectionality and a desire to shift the conversation within the Green Party away from the climate crisis and the environment in an effort to broaden the Party's appeal, especially around issues pertaining to diversity - but beyond that, largely a supporter of the status quo, and perceived by many Greens to largely be a bridge of continuity between herself and former leader Elizabeth May. Lascaris, an outsider whose primary interests have been on the conflict in Palestine, who wanted to transform the Green Party into an eco-socialist movement, shifting the conversation within the Party away from the climate crisis and the environment in an effort to broaden the Party's appeal to the hard Left.

And that choice - between a progressive, forward-thinking party that continues to take the slogan, "Not left, not right, but forward" seriously, and an often regressive, myopic and rigid hard left view that wants to bring down capitalism as the first step in dealing with the climate crisis.  Yes, my bias is showing - but make no mistake, this is the struggle for the soul of the Party that Annamie Paul was referring to in her resignation/non-resignation speech today.

For me, it's actually an interesting conflict, because I understand where both sides are coming from. Look, I understand the perils of capitalism quite well - I've been railing against the pursuit of growth in this blogspace for over a decade. I get that we can't continue to grow our economy in a world constrained by finite resources. I get it. Capitalism is a huge issue, and we really need to start reeling it in - in my opinion. But, on the other hand, I can't help but to acknowledge that there is a) no political will to tackle capitalism, and any serious party that advocates its overthrow at this point won't be taken seriously for long; and, b) we are running out of time to take real action to get greenhouse gas emissions under control, and if we don't do so very soon - debates about capitalism vs. socialism aren't going to matter much, as our resource-constrained world is going to have a thing or two to say about what happens next. 

Some Greens have characterized this division in the context of the conflicts experienced by other Green Parties - the "Realos" vs. the "Fundis" - but that's really not the best fit here. Those debates have often been around issues that the Green Party of Canada has not had to seriously confront yet - whether it's realistic to sacrifice some of one's stated goals and platform in order to have influence in other areas of policy development or governance, vs. sticking to the moral high ground and not abandoning an iota of principle. Green Parties in Germany (where the term comes from) and Ireland have notably had these internal debates.

But that's not what's really going on inside the Green Party of Canada. Our internal conflict is characterized by questions around whether it makes more sense to try to achieve sustainability and avert a climate catastrophe while working within the current economic paradigm, or whether the entirety of that paradigm has to be first discarded before progress can be achieved.

I've been observing how this conflict has played out within the Party for years now. And I regret to say that I see little hope for a way forward with a united Party that tries to advocate for working within and against a capitalist system simultaneously. And that's really interesting to me, because the values of the Global Greens are not based on capitalism, and indeed the policies of the Party, while acknowledging the capitalist reality of our present circumstance, certainly are not particularly pro-capitalist.  From where I sit, they're pretty anti-capitalist. But they don't appear to be anti-capitalist enough for many on the regressive hard Left.

Carbon Fee and Dividend

Which brings us to the crux of the debate. Presently, the Green Party of Canada has a policy in place that supports putting a price on carbon pollution which returns collected costs to individual Canadians. It's fairly similar to the carbon backstop that the Government of Canada has negotiated with the provinces under the present Liberal government - but to support a much higher carbon fee, the Green Party also advocates for international border adjustments, to better protect trade-exposed industries. 

This is anathema to the hard Left of the Party - who have been (in my opinion) taken in by journalists like Naomi Klein, rather than by economists within our own Party, like Sudbury's own Dr. David Robinson. Klein and others on the regressive left have argued that we will never lower emissions by working within a capitalist framework. They point to the incredible lack of success that we've experienced trying to do just that.  They would rather top-down regulatory approaches to cap the carbon pollution of big emitters - which ironically was the same emissions plan being advanced by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper back in the day. 

The hard Left, though, would argue that they'll have more success in actually reducing emissions by nationalizing industry - allowing the government greater flexibility to pick winners and losers, and to shut polluting industries down in order to further advance low-carbon policies and programs. I'm sure it would work - it's a command and control economy they're talking about here, and we know that some countries have been able to bend the will of industry to meet their own political needs. We saw that happen in the 20th Century in places like the Soviet Union.

Even those on the hard Left that exercise a little caution about nationalization are reluctant to give much credence to any market-driven policy or program, like Carbon Fee and Dividend or the Liberal's carbon backstop. From a hard left perspective, if you're working with the market, you're corrupted by the market, and reinforcing - rather than reducing - the impacts of capitalism. And the notion of returning to people the carbon costs collected through any form of pollution pricing is just not on for the hard Left. Despite the carbon dividend being a form of wealth redistribution that works to the advantage of those least well off, because it is distributed equitably among all Canadians, it is loathed by the Left, who would rather see the government use it to fund additional carbon-reducing programs.

And you know what? I understand that. I get it. We're collecting all of this money and just giving it away. That seems like a missed opportunity. But it's not, because it's based on sound economic principles. Greens want to see a very high price put on carbon - high enough that it's actually going to lead to influencing people's lifestyle choices and economic decisions. That means that the costs of a lot of important things (like gasoline, home heating fuels and food) would have to rise, in some cases significantly. If that money were kept and put to good use by the government, there would be rioting in the streets (look at how upset people were during the election campaign when the word "inflation" was uttered for the first time in over a decade). A high carbon price, which is necessary to have an impact on lowering emissions, would be an absolute political failure unless money was returned equitably to all who are paying the costs.

But economics has never really been a forte of those on the Left.  It's the ideology that matters.

And this conflict between a hard Left ideologically-pure Green Party and a Green Party that wants to stay the course and remain out in front on important environmental and social issues is going to be the next serious challenge that the Green Party is going to have to face.  This time next year, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that looking back, we'll be lamenting how easy it was to get rid of a leader who had lost the moral authority of the membership to lead - and be left wondering just what the heck we're going to do now, mired in an acrimonious Green vs. Green debate between a regressive hard Left and progressive forward-thinking wings of the Party. 

I honestly don't think we're going to emerge unscathed here. You can bet that there's going to be serious political maneuvering going forward on both sides.  As with the leadership contest, most Greens actually won't be paying any attention - votes will be cast for a leader based on perceptions around personality, just as they're always cast. But engaged Greens on both sides are going to find themselves in what can only be described as a battle for the soul of the Party. It's a battle that only one side can win, given the incompatible ideologies here. Many, like me, saw this play out during the last leadership contest, and we were appalled by its nastiness - and in some cases, by its racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic overtones - most of which came from new Green members and supporters on the hard Left, in my observation. Many of these new Greens were, like Lascaris, former members of the NDP. Some, though, have been Greens for longer than I've been a Party member. And it was really sad to see.

But it's a good reminder that when Annamie Paul says that she experienced racism, sexism and anti-Semitism, believe her - even if you, like me, are happy that the Party is now able to move on after her disastrous stint as leader. She may have made a terrible leader, but she was not wrong about the abuse that she and others have experienced from members of the Party. And I fear that it's only going to get nastier.

Consensus Candidate

Might there be someone out there - somewhere - who can bring the progressives and the hard Left together, and continue to unite them under one Green banner, at least for the next little while? If such a candidate exists, they would need to have credibility with both sides. To me that seems to rule out just about everybody who ran in the last leadership contest, with the possible exception of Dr. Amita Kuttner - who, for the life of me, I could never figure out just what, if anything, they actually stood for. Clearly, I think Kuttner would be a poor choice for different reasons.

And I think we can rule out provincial Green leaders as well, as Peter Bevan-Baker, Mike Schreiner and David Coon are all firmly encamped on the progressive side of the divide. Other leaders, like Sonia Furstenau, probably wouldn't want the job either (although Furstenau could, potentially, be a consensus candidate). 

Our caucus consists of only two elected MP's. I love Elizabeth May, but I think it's fair to say that she could not at this point pass herself off as a consensus candidate. That leaves Mike Morrice, the new MP from Kitchener-Centre, who by all accounts did a bang-up job working with his team pretty much since the ballots in 2019 were all counted. But Morrice is/was a vocal Annamie Paul supporter, and it's doubtful that the eco-socialists could accept him.

Paul Manly
To my mind, there is only one potential candidate with the bona fides to unite the Party, and that's Paul Manly. He's got the parliamentary experience to appeal to the progressives, and his taken a stronger position on Israel/Palestine than the Party has been willing to take. While I don't believe Manly can be caharacterized as an anti-capitalist, he's certainly a social democrat. And he's worked very closely with Elizabeth May since becoming MP of Nanaimo-Ladysmith. And did I mention that he was the MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith up until last week - which means his home riding is one of the few that Greens can tag as "winnable" even if he didn't win there most recently. 

Manly may be our best hope for some semblance of party unity, going forward. Whose going to help convince him that his Party really, really needs him right now for this important task?