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

COVID
Red Deer down to 313 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta reports an additional 411 COVID-19 cases

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Economists “cautiously hopeful” for economic recovery in Alberta

Charles St. Arnaud says Alberta’s recovery will rebound along with roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

Image curtesy Metro Creative Connection
County of Wetaskiwin addresses unpaid oil and gas taxes

The County of Wetaskiwin is addressing unpaid oil and gas taxes and… Continue reading

Caitlin Kraft, the sister of Jeffery Kraft, stands third from the left, holding a sign calling for the maximum sentence for Campbell, who is charged with manslaughter. (Photo by Paul Cowley)
UPDATED: Judge again rejects submission of 7-year sentence for slaying of Kraft

Tyler John Campbell charged with second-degree murder for December 2019 homicide

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

A decommissioned pumpjack is shown at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. The Alberta Energy Regulator says it is suspending all of the licences held by an oil and gas producer with more than 2,200 wells and 2,100 pipelines after it failed to bring its operations into compliance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta Energy Regulator suspends licences of oil and gas producer that owes $67M

The company is being asked to comply with past orders to clean up historic spills and contamination

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Seniors in the 65-unit Piper Creek Lodge are among those waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta senior lodges anxiously waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations

“Should be at the front of the line, not the back of the line”

Pictured here is Stettler’s Jenner Smith with a guide dog from Aspen Service Dogs. An online auction will be running soon to help raise funds for Jenner to receive his very own service dog later this year. Jenner, who is four years old, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019. photo submitted
An online auction is planned to raise funds for a service dog for a Stettler family

Jenner Smith, four, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019

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

Most Read