‘I didn’t realize … I was breaking a glass ceiling that was going to fall on my head’
Annamie Paul offers a blunt view of Green party turmoil and months of internal strife after stepping down as leader, calling her time at the helm ‘the worst period of my life’
Annamie Paul didn’t resign as Green party leader on Monday. She surrendered, with an extraordinarily vivid description of how it felt to be tormented out of a Canadian political party.
Paul talked of how she staggered, “spitting up blood,” to the finish of the recent federal election, admitting she just didn’t have any fight left for the leadership threats that began even before the votes were counted last week.
No matter how complicated and twisted the back story, the moment will endure as an embarrassment in Canadian political history — not for Paul, but to a cutthroat political culture that took down the first woman of colour to lead a major political party in this country.
Beleaguered leaders have stepped down before on the federal scene, but rarely with such candour about sabotage from within the ranks. There were no ‘for the sake of party unity’ blandishments; no well wishes for the future successor. Leading the Greens, Paul said, was “the worst period of my life.”
“I just will not spend any more time focused on political games as opposed to public policy, which is what I entered politics for in the first place, particularly at a time when it is so needed. We have a climate crisis that we have got to address collectively,” she said. “None of those things can be accomplished if the focus is solely on these kind of internal political issues.”
Paul says she is now looking for other ways to make a contribution to public life. Here’s a suggestion: Justin Trudeau should invite her to be part of the official delegation to the United Nations climate summit starting in Glasgow on Oct. 31.
It would be a grace note, and not even a precedent-setting one. Back when he first took power in 2015, Trudeau brought a huge, 300-plus member delegation to the UN summit in Paris, including premiers of all stripes and opposition politicians — including Paul’s predecessor, Elizabeth May.
The giant delegation was meant to signify that some issues are too important to be undermined by petty political differences.
Right about now would be a good time to telegraph that spirit to the country again. The election has frayed much of the collaborative spirit about the pandemic — the little that remained after 18 months — and Trudeau is a prime minister who needs to reset the tone for yet another minority Parliament.
Climate change is the issue that reportedly has Trudeau fired up for his third term; his chance to do activist governing, rather than reactive-crisismanagement governance that characterized his first two terms.
An olive branch extended to Paul at this juncture would show that Trudeau is serious about creating some kind of consensus about climate, but also about keeping strong women and women of diversity in public life.
Paul herself has called Trudeau out on that last point, most recently during the English-language TV debate, when she said: “A feminist doesn’t continue to push strong women out of his party when they are just seeking to serve and I will say their names tonight and thank them. Thank you Jane Philpott, thank you Jody Wilson-Raybould, thank you Celina Caesar-Chavannes.”
Trudeau shot back: “You’ll perhaps understand that I won’t take lessons on caucus management from you.” (This was a reference to the spring defection of Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin from the Greens to the Liberals.)
The election’s over now. So is Paul’s career within the Green Party of Canada. She placed fourth in Toronto Centre. (Atwin was re-elected as a Liberal.) Trudeau can afford to be magnanimous. Indeed, he probably should be.
I have no idea whether Trudeau has any ideas about bringing a multi-partisan delegation to Glasgow, like he did to Paris when he was newly elected with a comfortable majority.
He has shown some strategic interest in wooing Greens to support the Liberals, such as the endorsement sought (and received) from former B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver in the last couple of weeks of the campaign.
Nor do I know whether Paul, if invited, would accept, given what seemed to be abject disappointment in politics writ large when she made her resignation statement on Monday. But her departure from the Greens has left politics in need of a redemptive moment.
To borrow from that old song about Loch Lomond, there’s a high road and a low road to Scotland. Inviting Paul to be part of the Canadian delegation to Glasgow would definitely be a highroad move for Trudeau. It would also be a change in the political climate in this country, much needed after the election.