(June 17, 2021) In October 2020, 47-year-old Toronto lawyer, Annamie Paul, became the leader of the Green Party, the first Black party leader in the history of Canada. She is also Jewish. Paul beat seven leadership challengers, with her closest rival being Dimitri Lascaris who took 42.2% of the vote to Paul’s 50.6% on the 8th ballot.
Paul’s path was never going to be easy.
For 14 years, Elizabeth May (MP, Saanich–Gulf Islands), an environmental activist with a knack for a pithy sound bite and an aura of kindly pan-partisanship, has been the face and voice of the Green Party in Canada. It was a party built around its leader instead of being built around the ridings the Green Party would ultimately have to win to become any kind of player in the House of Commons. When Paul took over the party, it had three seats in the House. May’s (Saanich–Gulf Islands), Paul Manly (Nanaimo–Ladysmith) and Jenica Atwin (Fredericton).
But Paul may not have anticipated all the roadblocks.
In October 2020, newly appointed executive director Prateek Awasthi resigned after months of divisive debate about whether he should be fired after accusations of harassment from his previous employment surfaced, accusations which he denied.
In April 2021, the Toronto Star reported that Zahra Mitra, the party’s diversity co-ordinator had written a “scathing condemnation of high-ranking officials who denied there is discrimination in the organization after the Star reported on internal discord affecting Annamie Paul.
The Mitra email said the party has a “very real problem with racism” and that top-ranking officials have hampered efforts to make the organization more inclusive.
Sean Yo, who managed Paul’s byelection campaign in October (she has yet to win a seat in the House of Commons) says Paul is facing “significant resistance” inside her party and that the situation is difficult to understand without looking at it through the “lens of race, gender and religion.”
Then last week, Paul’s Green Party is whittled down to two seats after Jenica Atwin, MP for the riding of Fredericton, crossed the floor to join the Liberals, ostensibly because of her disagreement with Green Leader Annamie Paul’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially considering the recent escalation of violence against Palestinians. Atwin called the Paul’s response for de-escalation of the conflict “totally inadequate.”
“I stand with Palestine and condemn the unthinkable airstrikes in Gaza. End Apartheid!” Atwin wrote on Twitter on May 11. On May 14, according to CTV News “Paul’s then senior advisor Noah Zatzman, expressed solidarity with “Zionists” in a Facebook post that accused some unnamed Green MPs of antisemitism and discrimination. Paul had attempted to remain above the fray, saying party debate is healthy.”
Paul Manly and former leader Elizabeth May are the two Greens still left in the House. According to CBC news, “In a media statement, May and Manly said they were “heartbroken” by Atwin’s decision — and that Zatzman was to blame.
“Unfortunately, the attack against Ms. Atwin by the Green Party leader’s chief spokesperson on May 14th created the conditions that led to this crisis,” the two said. The MPs added that, while they were frustrated, they have “no intention of leaving the Green Party of Canada.”
Since joining the Liberals, Atwin has softened her tone on Israel, issuing a walk back on Twitter.
When asked if the Green Party was racist this week by Matt Galloway of CBC’s The Current, Paul said that the party was like all institution’s and suffered from systemic racism.
According to the Globe and Mail, on Tuesday night, the party’s federal council gave Paul an ultimatum: repudiate comments from a former staffer accusing MPs of antisemitism or face a confidence vote on her leadership.
“In a five-to-four vote, the (party’s federal) council passed a motion to ask Ms. Paul and B.C. MP Paul Manly to organize a joint statement and press conference, where she would repudiate Mr. Zatzman’s attacks and explicitly support the Green Party caucus. “Otherwise, a vote of non-confidence in the leader will take place on July 20, 2021,” interim federal council president Liana Canton Cusmano said in a statement Wednesday,” the newspaper reported.
When she held a press conference on Wednesday, Paul said she had no comment on the ultimatum saying she has not formally received it. She is vowing to stay on as leader of the Green Party saying the attempts to force her out were driven by racism and sexism.
CBC News obtained a copy of the letter written by Beverley Eert, the federal council’s Manitoba representative, and Kate Storey, the party fund’s representative, that prompted the emergency meeting that is threatening Paul’s leadership.
“Since her election as leader, Annamie Paul has acted with an autocratic attitude of hostility, superiority and rejection, failing to assume her duty to be an active, contributing, respectful, attentive member of Federal Council,” the letter reads.
“She has attended few council meetings, and when in attendance, has displayed anger in long, repetitive, aggressive monologues and has failed to recognize the value of any ideas except her own,” the letter continues.
Former Liberal MP and author of Can you hear me now? Celina Caesar-Chavannes is quoted by the CBC as saying the letter has abundant undertones of anti-Black racism and sexism. She said no other federal leader would be subjected to a similar line of attack.
“The whole notion of ‘angry Black woman’ is baked into this letter,” Caesar-Chavannes told CBC News. “There’s so much language in here that is so problematic to be speaking of a leader of a federally recognized political party.”
In addition to being the first Black woman and first Jewish woman ever to lead a political party in Canada, Annamie Paul is arguably the most qualified person currently leading a federal political party. When she was 12 years old, she worked as a page in the Ontario legislature, later becoming a page in the Canadian Senate. She has a law degree from the University of Ottawa and a Masters of Public Affairs degree from Princeton University. She cut her teeth in party politics by interning with Liberal MPP Dominic Agostino in 1996 and has been involved with international affairs, working in Canada’s Mission to the European Union and in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. In 2001, she founded Canadian Centre for Political Leadership, later co-founding the Barcelona International Public Policy Institute (BIPP HUB) and co-creating if Operation Black Vote Canada. She speaks English, French, Catalan and Spanish.
Her father died of COVID-19 on May 29, 2020.