Annamie Paul, leader of The Green Party of Canada and byelection candidate for the Toronto Centre riding, walks back to her car after greeting supporters on election night, October 26, 2020. Paul has spent most of the past 10 months holed up in her apartment, just like you. But that stationary, pandemic-induced state belies the sharp pivot her party is making as it manoeuvres to break the tether of a one-issue party and reframe itself as a fresh inheritor of Canada’s social justice tradition. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Annamie Paul, leader of The Green Party of Canada and byelection candidate for the Toronto Centre riding, walks back to her car after greeting supporters on election night, October 26, 2020. Paul has spent most of the past 10 months holed up in her apartment, just like you. But that stationary, pandemic-induced state belies the sharp pivot her party is making as it manoeuvres to break the tether of a one-issue party and reframe itself as a fresh inheritor of Canada’s social justice tradition. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Annamie Paul charts new course for Green party — through crowded waters

Greens have pivoted to address a range of issues, not just climate

Annamie Paul has spent most of the past 10 months holed up in her apartment, just like you.

But the Green leader’s stationary status belies the quick pivot her team is making as they seek to shed the straitjacket of a single-issue party and reposition it at the vanguard of social justice.

Paul, who beat out seven contenders in October to lead the Green Party of Canada, is carving a middle path among members who come in all shades of green. Their environmentalism ranges from market-based mechanisms for cutting pollution to eco-socialism that rejects capitalism as inherently destructive to the environment.

But on the broader political spectrum, Paul’s calls for a guaranteed livable income, universal pharmacare and child care, and free post-secondary education aim to attract voters who sit squarely to the left of Greens of decades past.

Until recently, fiscal conservatism marked a “point of pride” for the party, she said, a way to “neutralize that argument that these green needs are all well and fine but they’re not really fiscally responsible.”

No longer.

“There is no plan for a balanced budget from us,” Paul said in an interview, citing a “global consensus” among G20 countries that massive spending is needed to prop up sagging economies.

While that view fits neatly into Liberal justifications for ballooning deficit forecasts, her criticism of how elected officials have handled long-term care is not so compatible.

Perhaps more than any other leader, Paul has zeroed in on the crisis in seniors’ homes, where in Ontario the COVID-19 death toll in the second wave threatens to surpass that of the first.

She has hosted a half-dozen virtual town halls and roundtables over the past few weeks, speaking with epidemiologists, scientists and researchers to root out the best response to the lethal contagion.

Paul, whose father died during the first wave at the care home harbouring Ontario’s worst coronavirus infection rate, is demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau create a “rapid-response task force” to curb COVID-19 by improving co-ordination between levels of government.

She also wants to see Ottawa, in partnership with provinces and territories, move to eradicate private care homes, on top of hiring more and better-paid staff and rethinking shared rooms.

“For-profit long-term care absolutely needs to go,” she said.

Private homes in Ontario were more likely to see extensive COVID-19 outbreaks and a higher number of deaths, indicated a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in August.

But 108 days after taking the reins, Paul still struggles to be heard above the din of daily politics.

The Greens’ rollcall of three MPs, including former party leader Elizabeth May but not Paul herself, means the party does not have official status in Parliament, leaving them little time on the floor.

Their polling numbers have barely budged beyond six or seven per cent since the last federal election in October 2019, said Abacus Data CEO David Coletto.

Though nearly one in three Canadians say they would consider voting Green, a major hurdle remains the fierce competition for left-leaning voters.

“You’ve got, obviously, the New Democrats who are trying to occupy that kind of space that includes both an environmental agenda and one that’s built around social justice and achieving equality,” Coletto said in an interview.

“The Liberal party, while not as aggressive on some of that rhetoric … is also in that space.”

A smaller slice of potential Green voters tilt toward the Bloc Québécois or the Conservatives, he said.

“How do you differentiate the Greens, make them a credible alternative for people who might otherwise vote NDP or Liberal or Bloc in Quebec and, on top of that, make a vote for them not feel like a waste in our first-past-the-post system?”

READ MORE: What’s at stake for the main political parties as an election looms in 2021

While the Greens earned nearly as many votes as the Bloc in 2019 — 6.55 per cent of ballots cast versus 7.53 per cent respectively — the separatist party’s concentrated support earned it 32 seats compared to just three for the Greens, whose backing is more diffuse.

“I think it often comes down to being a protest vote,” Coletto said.

“But there still doesn’t appear to be in the broader public-opinion landscape a genuine desire to do politics differently, or to feel that the three or four main parties are fundamentally broken. … And in the midst of a pandemic, it’s going to be even harder to convince people to vote for an untested, new kind of party.”

Paul, a non-practising lawyer who is bilingual and has spent much of her career at intergovernmental institutions such as the International Criminal Court, hopes to gain visibility by participating in the leaders’ debates leading up to a potential federal election this year.

Critical to that longer-term end — screen time — is first finding a riding where Paul can marshal ballots from students, young people and progressive voters to vault her onto the parliamentary stage.

She lost a byelection to replace former finance minister Bill Morneau in the Liberal stronghold of Toronto Centre in October. Now the Princeton-educated activist is eyeing ridings including Toronto—Danforth, Davenport and Guelph, where Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner has the party’s sole provincial seat.

“Strategically, winning in Toronto would send a message that the Greens can compete and win in a different type of riding, one that is more urban and diverse than any they’ve historically done well in,” said Amara Possian, a professor in the government-relations graduate program at Seneca College in Toronto.

Paul’s team is hoping for breakthroughs that build on last year’s successes in the Maritimes and that draw on a more diverse slate of candidates.

“Canada’s only becoming more diverse. And that still isn’t sufficiently reflected in our in our political culture,” said Paul, the 48-year-old daughter of immigrants and the first Black Canadian and first Jewish woman to serve as permanent head of a federal party.

“Those kinds of things are threats to democracy because it causes people to disengage from the system when they don’t see themselves reflected in the institutions.”

Whether Paul herself can go from her apartment to the House of Commons — and take a few more Green MPs with her — will play out after the writ drops, likely in 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Green Party

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

df
Missionites protest logging of old-growth forests outside MLA Pam Alexis’ office

Protests in solidarity with logging blockaders on Vancouver Island; injunction heard in court today

Alan Pryor in 2015, during the Agassiz Fire Department’s 70th year. (Greg Laychak/The Observer)
Agassiz fireman celebrates 51 years at the hall

Al Pryor has been a key member in the Agassiz Fire Department since he was 16

Mike Bismeyer of Abbotsford is the recipient of the national Savita Shah Award for his work promoting kindness and anti-bullying initiatives.
Abbotsford man who was bullied as a teen receives national kindness award

Mike Bismeyer is one of two Canadians to earn Savita Shah Award

RCMP were on scene under the Menzies Street bridge in Chilliwack on Thursday, March 4, 2021 where a body was found. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
UPDATE: Body found under Menzies bridge in Chilliwack that of man in 20s

Death not considered suspicious, said Chilliwack RCMP

The public survey of the 76-acre area Parr Neighbourhood will help municipal staff make policy decisions on future development. District of Mission image.
The public survey of the 76-acre area Parr Neighbourhood will help municipal staff make policy decisions on future development. District of Mission image.
Parr locals want to keep neighbourhood green, avoid densification, survey says

Mission council presented with results of a public survey on future development of 76-acre area

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Burnaby Mounties responded to 56 complaints and issued 10 tickets to people flouting COVID-19 restrictions in February. (Patrick Davies/100 Mile Free Press)
COVID denier fined $2,300 for hosting gathering in her home: Burnaby RCMP

The woman told Mounties she does not believe the pandemic is real

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

RCMP members responded to calls of a man-down at Landsdowne mall in Richmond Wednesday afternoon. The 40-year-old was suffering from stab wounds. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man in critical condition following afternoon attack outside Richmond mall: RCMP

The Vancouver resident was found lying injured outside Richmond’s Lansdowne Centre

Most Read