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

Oaklands Elementary’s Division 5 Grade 4/5 class posed with Leila Bui (middle), her dad Tuan Bui (crouching to her left) and mom Kairry Nguyen (right) after presenting the family with a cheque for $710 raised by the students during a necklace sale in December 2020. (Photos courtesy Kairry Nguyen)
Victoria students raise funds for girl seriously injured when struck by vehicle in crosswalk

Oaklands Elementary class contributes to purchase of all-terrain wheelchair for Leila Bui

Saanich council recently adopted a 131-step climate action plan expected to cost $2.5-million in the first year of implementation. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tensions high as Saanich considers reigniting local area plan review

Majority vote pushes discussion to fall strategic plan check-in

The Victoria Fire Department was able to contain a fire to one room after a bed placed directly against a heater ignited. (Black Press Media file photo)
Early morning Victoria balcony fire causes $20,000 in damages

Victoria Fire Department said nobody was injured in the fire on View Street

Postmark Group, an Edmonton-based development firm, bought two properties at 6641 and 6643 Sooke Rd. last year, and is reaching out to the community and local groups for feedback before they begin planning the designs for the development. (Photo contributed/Postmark Group)
Waterfront village development eyed for Sooke

Postmark Group development firm bought two properties at 6641 and 6643 Sooke Rd. last year

Camp Barnard during the 2019 Pacific Jamboree. (Photo: Camp Barnard)
Camp Barnard near Sooke hopes fundraiser will help it progress on accessibility goals

I Care ‘Bout Camp challenge hopes to raise $100,000 for new lodge, replaced kitchen

Const. Nancy Saggar, who has 11 years in policing, offers advice for other women who may pursue both policing and family. (Black Press Media file photo)
Pregnancy prompts sage advice from RCMP officer for women thinking about policing

West Shore constable with 11 years experience heads off on maternity leave

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

Hannah Ankenmann, who works with k’awat’si Economic Development Corporation, winces as she received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine administered by a Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Family Health nurse. (Zoe Ducklow photo)
Vancouver Island’s small remote towns to get community-wide vaccine clinics

Island Health to take a wholesale approach to immunization, rather than age-based appointments

Anyone with information is asked to call Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345 or contact Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-222-8477 or submitting a tip online at www.nanaimocrimestoppers.com.
21-year-old motorbike rider dies after crash with ATV on Nanaimo back road

Incident happened Sunday afternoon near Boomerang Lake

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complains about that condo

Minister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen takes part in an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. A joint federal and B.C. government housing program announced today aims to help people living in up to 25,000 vulnerable households pay their rent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Federal, B.C. governments announce $517-million rent aid program to help vulnerable

Benefits for those not eligible for B.C.’s Rental Assistance Program or Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters

(BC SPCA)
Is it safe to give your dog some peanut butter? Not always, BC SPCA warns

Some commercial peanut butter ingredients can be harmful to dogs

Most Read