Turmoil in the Green Party

by Barry Weisleder   (This was the basis for a presentation, in dialog with Dimitri Lascaris, on the Socialist Action webcast, July 15, 2021 on this topic.)

This is an important discussion on the state of the Left in Canada, and on the movement for Eco-socialism.  In terms of strategy, it has implications for the very future of humanity and nature.

First of all, I want to congratulate Dimitri Lascaris.  He waged an amazing campaign that rallied thousands of people to Eco-socialist ideas.  That is a testament to Dimitri’s consummate skills as a superb organizer and an articulate proponent of radical socio-economic change.

In the end, the Green Party selected the most conservative, pro-capitalist candidate who ran to be its Leader.  In interviews with the mass media, Annamie Paul emphasized her identity, instead of highlighting her policy ideas.  Like her predecessor and major backer, Elizabeth May, Paul’s ideas conform to the tired old Green Party outlook on private ownership of the economy, not to mention its general support for Ottawa’s pro-imperialist foreign policy.

Annamie Paul, a liberal-minded civil liberties lawyer, won with 12,090 votes against Dimitri’s 10,081 votes, after eight rounds of ballot counting.

The result highlighted not only the sharp divide in the Green Party between right and left.  It reflected the current mass radicalization, especially of young workers, stemming from the combined economic, health and environmental crises of late capitalism. 

Annamie Paul failed to acknowledge, much less congratulate Dimitri for his powerful campaign.  Moreover, at one stage in the leadership race, Paul stated that Dimitri should not be allowed to remain in the contest.  She denounced his position on Palestine as redolent of anti-Semitism, a trope of the Zionist apartheid camp in world politics.  She is opposed to Dimitri being allowed to run for leader in the future.

Socialist Action believes that pro-capitalist policies are toxic and a dead end.  The election of Paul re-affirmed the pro-capitalist character of the Green Party of Canada.  It will never be a socialist, ecologist, working class party.  It has no links to the labour movement, and thus it has no roots in working class socialism.

The working class, in order to rescue humanity and the environment from imminent global capitalist catastrophe, requires a revolutionary socialist party.  It needs a revolutionary workers’ party to help to organize and to lead the fundamental change that is so urgently necessary.

That brings me to the second discussion point:  What is to be done now?  I respectfully submit that it would be a mistake for socialists to squander precious time and energy by staying in the GP, by serving as a ‘loyal’ opposition to Annamie Paul and the embattled establishment within it.  Many of the socialists who joined to vote for Dimitri have since voted with their feet.  They quit the bourgeois electoralist Green Party.

Now is the time for Eco-socialists to join in the construction of a genuine revolutionary socialist party.  But how?  A transitional step in that direction would be to appeal to the most progressive sections of the labour movement and the radical socialist public to launch a revolutionary Eco-socialist movement.  Dimitri is nursing a project called Green Left Canada.  Perhaps he will provide some more details, especially concerning its precise political programme and time lines.

The key components for any transformative movement are programme and strategy.  To offer a meaningful alternative to the toxic status quo the effort cannot be limited to reforms.  It cannot stop short of the nationalization of Big Oil and Gas and the giant banks, under workers’ and Indigenous control.  Fear of violating existing trade agreements should not deter.  Existing capitalist trade deals must be torn to shreds to establish a democratically planned economy.  That is a precondition to making a rapid break with the fossil-fuel capitalist economy at a time when the planet is on fire.  It is a prerequisite to the survival of humanity, in harmony with nature.

Here comes the third point.  The Green Party is now in a terminal crisis.  It was in decline beforehand, doomed to remain a fringe capitalist party in Canada.  Despite major media hype for Annamie Paul, when she ran as the party’s new federal leader, the GPC failed to break through in the Toronto Centre byelection in October 2020.

Paul got 32.7 per cent of the votes, largely at the expense of the NDP, but the Green candidate in York Centre was trounced, receiving only 2.6 per cent — down from 3.6 per cent in the 2019 general election. The Green candidate actually finished in fifth spot, behind the racist, ultra-conservative People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier.

In Saskatchewan, the Greens were swamped in the October 2020 provincial election, winning the support of just 2.36 per cent of voters. So bad was the result that the newly formed Buffalo Party received more votes than the Greens, despite running less than one-third the number of candidates.

In British Columbia, the Greens were huge losers in the 2020 provincial election, winning just two of 87 ridings and seeing their share of the popular vote fall to 15.3 per cent, down from 16.8 per cent in the 2017 election.

Since the election of the conservative, pro-NATO, anti-choice, pro-Zionist Annamie Paul as leader, there is no evident electoral uptick for the party.  Moreover, new rules governing debate on resolutions inside the GPC virtually preclude a repeat of the pro-Palestinian, pro-BDS policy upset that occurred at its convention in 2016.

Across most of Canada, the party remains a non-factor.  It holds no provincial seats in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. It has only one seat in the Ontario legislature where the party drew a smaller share of popular support in the 2018 Ontario election than it did in 2014.  It holds just three seats in the New Brunswick legislature.

While the Greens are the official opposition party in Prince Edward Island, the province is so small that the mayor of the city of Oshawa governs over more people (170,000) than does the premier of P.E.I. (160,000).

Federally, the Greens won three seats in last year’s general election, which was its most ever. But the party’s overall support is lower now than it was more than a decade ago. In the 2008 election the party got 6.6 per cent of the popular vote; in 2019 it received 6.55 per cent. Not much upward momentum is evident there.  And the party’s sole MP east of B.C., who was one-third of its parliamentary caucus, just quit to join the Liberal Party – a decision that reveals a dearth of political depth.

So, despite being a formal political party for nearly a quarter of a century, the Greens remain a fringe party in most parts of Canada.

Which raises the question:  Why continue?  Some of their policies appear to be similar to those of the New Democratic Party.  And therein lies the answer.

The NDP is the only labour-based mass party in North America.  It was founded by a formal merger of the Canadian Labour Congress and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in 1961.  Some capitalists support the Greens hoping to use it to split away some of the NDP vote – or even to force a merger between the working class NDP and the bourgeois Green Party.  Such a move would weaken independent labour political action, even more than pro-capitalist NDP leaders undermine labour. The way to strengthen labour’s political might is to fight for socialist policies in the unions and in their electoral arm, the NDP.  It is just plain wrong to see the GPC as a vehicle for the left, much less for Eco-socialism. Conservatives would love to see the Greens hang around, creating three-way splits on the left that have paved the way to victory for Tories. And the Liberals seem not to be very worried about it. But don’t expect the Greens to change. Despite her by-election defeat, Annamie Paul boasted that the Greens will be a “very competitive option” in the next election.  The NDP, on the other hand, can put an end to this political irritant simply by turning left — by advancing a Workers’ Agenda.

My third discussion point is about life inside the Green Party.  I referred to the changed rules governing internal policy debate — severely limiting the scope and substance of what can be discussed at GP conventions.  In addition, any prominent Green Party member who advocates a tactical vote for NDP, independent, or Liberal candidates, ‘Eco-socialist’ or otherwise, in order to defeat Erin O’Toole’s Tories, is likely to be disqualified as a candidate, or expelled.  Remember, Maryam Haddad was briefly removed from the GPC leadership race simply because she criticized the Green Party of British Columbia. Meanwhile, on the eve of a federal election, the party announced that it is cutting half of its staff, some 15 individuals.  It is revoking funds designated for the Leader’s campaign in Toronto Centre.  Even the Leader’s membership status is now in questionThe Green party will convene a special federal council meeting on July 20 to decide whether to conduct a vote of confidence in the leader.  Why? Because Annamie Paul failed to openly condemn the actions of her former adviser Noah Zatzman. In May, Zatzman accused unnamed Green MPs and other politicians of stoking anti-Semitism and discrimination.  He pledged to work to defeat them. His comments came after Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin publicly criticized Paul’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which Atwin stated: “I stand with Palestine and condemn the unthinkable airstrikes in Gaza.  End Apartheid.”

Zatzman condemned Atkin’s statement, calling it “further evidence of an organization whose leadership fosters a culture of systemic anti-Semitism and discrimination.” Paul, he wrote, “was elected by a majority of party members to change this, and I have faith that she will.”

Liana Cusmano, Green Party President, reported that Paul’s tenure as leader has led to cancelled party memberships and dwindling donations.

For a non-confidence vote to occur, at least 75 per cent of the federal councillors must call for it.  If so, a final vote to determine Paul’s fate would happen at a general membership meeting on August 21.

Does Paul appear willing to compromise?  Not one bit.  She just appointed Richard Zurawski to her shadow cabinet. Her new party critic for Green Recovery publicly denounced “BDS terrorists” and strongly implied Green MP Paul Manly and former Green MP Jenica Atwin are anti-Semitic. On Facebook Zurawski wrote, “she [Paul] makes the hard choices … and that is why I support her. She is pushing hard against the anti-Semitic factions, like the BDS terrorist group, within the GPC that is using the Middle East as a wedge to isolate and spread misinformation, hijacking the GPC mandate. It is sad to see their agendas being promoted by Manly and Atwin.”

Yves Engler reminds us that Annamie Paul backed the coup against Bolivia’s first ever indigenous president Evo Morales.  She loves NATO, and has stoked anti-China sentiment.  She is pro-imperialist, without reservation.

It is clear to most observers that Paul would rather see the party self-destruct than concede the leadership.  Few leftists will want to engage in a long, bitter, grinding war against the conservative leader’s faction.  A split, which would debilitate both sides, seems imminent.

My final point is this.  There is simply no time to spare for gradual reform, much less for reform of the Green Party.  Climate change is not coming.  It is here!  Western and central North America are on fire.  Hundreds of people died in the heat wave in British Columbia.  Millions of sea creatures washed up dead on the shoreline.  Globally, human climate refugees number in the tens of millions.  Hunger feeds desperation.  The big powers use it to foment war, and to demand ever more military expenditure.  The only answer to the madness of late capitalism is the sublime sanity of Eco-socialism.  If you agree, join Socialist Action.  In any case, we should work together.  Let’s build a mass Eco-socialist movement, without compromise and without delay.