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

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

The remains of Terry Bearden’s property before a demolition crew came in to remove debris. (Photo submitted)
Rimbey arson case may have a lead thanks to reward offered by owner

Anonymous tip alleges the fire was set by three local males

hands
The call is out in Rimbey to sign on with a group that is all about building connections

‘Already, we are building a network where we can rely on each other and help each other out’

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Albertans need to keep making safe choices to start bending the curve back down. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, 257 additional cases province-wide

Red Deer sits at 459 active cases of the virus

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Backcountry skiers are dwarfed by the mountains as they make their way along a mountain ridge near McGillivray Pass Lodge located in the southern Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. Avalanche Canada has issued a special warning to people who use the backcountry in the mountains of western Alberta and eastern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Avalanche Canada special warning for mountains in western Alberta, eastern B.C.

Avalanche Canada also says everyone in a backcountry party needs essential rescue gear

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

Many rural seniors are having to travel a long way to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Stettler residents are being told to go to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose. (Black Press file photo).
Rural central Alberta seniors have to travel far to get vaccines

Stettler residents are being directed to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose clinics

Samantha Sharpe, 25, was stabbed to death at Sunchild First Nation on Dec. 12, 2018. Chelsey Lagrelle was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for manslaughter in a Red Deer courtroom on Tuesday. Photo contributed
Central Alberta woman sentenced to 4 1/2 years for stabbing friend to death in 2018

Chelsey Lagrelle earlier pleaded guilty to stabbing Samantha Sharpe during argument

Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. (Pixabay)
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Muslim women fearful following attacks in Edmonton

So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women

Most Read