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Green Party seeks to turn over new leaf with leadership race

Green Party seeks to turn over new leaf with leadership race

The Green Party of Canada is set to celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, but the future of Canada’s fifth-largest party is uncertain as they continue to search for new leadership.

In the 2021 federal election, the Greens failed to run a candidate in every district and ultimately got fewer votes than the People’s Party of Canada (PPC). Unlike the PPC however, the Greens were able to secure two seats in the House of Commons.

Then-leader Annamie Paul, the first Black and Jewish person to lead a major political party in Canada, finished in fourth in her race in Toronto Centre, receiving less than 10 per cent of the vote and subsequently resigned as leader, calling her year in the position “the worst period in my life.”

In November, Amita Kuttner became the Green Party’s interim leader, making history as the youngest, first trans person, and first person of east Asian descent to lead a national political party in Canada.

Kuttner, who has a PhD in astrophysics with a specialization in black holes, has spent the last ten months trying to rebuild a political party whose reputation has been badly damaged by public strife between the party’s executive and its elected officials.

Strife and bitterness

Earlier this week, Green Party President Lorraine Rekmans resigned from the party in a letter that became public, where she told her colleagues that she believes “the dream is dead.”

Rekmans’ resignation came just days after she publicly apologized to the interim leader for being misgendered at the Green Party’s leadership race launch on September 3, something Kuttner said in a Sept. 6 press release left them feeling “hurt and isolated at a moment that should have been filled with inspiration and anticipation.”

In her three-page letter published by CBC, Rekmans, who served as the party’s Indigenous Affairs Critic from 2008 to 2021 and ran in six federal elections, wrote that she is exhausted and her “optimism has died” after volunteering over 40 hours per week over the course of a year.

“I suggest you might want to pay the next President that you elect,” Rekmans wrote.

The letter also noted that the party’s Federal Council voted this month to undertake an investigation into allegations of discrimination and abuse from within the party. Rekmans opined that the leadership race “should have been suspended whilst this investigation was underway.”

“I cannot see how we can continue safely amidst the allegations that harm is being caused to our members,” Rekmans wrote, before going on to add that she “had no confidence in the leadership contestants, and they had no confidence in me, and I lost confidence in Federal Council.”

In response to Rekman’s letter signaling the demise of the Greens, Kuttner tells, “that’s just not my view of it at all.” 

“I think it comes down to something important, and that is our party has to grow up,” they said, pointing to the need to have a clearer understanding of the role of the caucus. “The caucus is not well defined in the party structure, so I think often there’s a separation that’s not intentional on anyone’s part.”

Looking back on their time as interim leader, Kuttner says they have learned a lot about how willing and unwilling people are to work together for the sake of transformative change, adding that the political system in Canada is set up to pit people against each other rather than to find common ground.

And while Kuttner isn’t closing the door completely on running in the next federal election under the Greens, they’re more focused on a much-needed break from politics after the party has named their successor.

Inflation, climate, and right-wing populism

Responding to the Liberal Party’s announcement to address the rise of inflation and cost of living, Kuttner noted that “anything is helpful” but considered the move to be a stop-gap measure on a much larger issue.

Pointing out that the proposed legislation does little to address the true causes of inflation in the long-term, Kuttner says that the federal government’s responses are becoming more and more unstable as the world grapples with economic hardships caused by the escalating climate crisis. 

For Kuttner, Pierre Poilievre becoming the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada popularity isn’t an anomaly, stemming from the same right-wing populism that has become more appealing globally due to a combination of disinformation and fear-mongering. 

“This is the very standard response historically to overlapping crises,” they said. “That’s often because the solutions that are proposed by the far-right are easy and appealing in the fact that they’re simple — and the underlying truth is they’re not going to actually work.”

What makes this kind of populism so effective, Kuttner believes, is that it offers validation for people, something they believe is “appealing right now for everybody.”

“It is hard for most people to read through what’s actually going on,” they said. “It’s very hard to be able to read through things, that there are connections to hate groups. It’s really difficult to read through and see that the promises of economic prosperity are founded on impossibilities in the global marketplace.”

The party will have a new leader in just two months, with former leader Elizabeth May running on a joint ticket with human rights activist Jonathan Pedneault, calling on the party to institute a co-leadership model. Other candidates include author Sarah Gabrielle Baron, teacher at the Department of National Defense Simon Gnocchini-Messier, and the joint ticket of of former P.E.I. Green Party leader Anne Keenan and Chad Walcott, who ran under the Green Party of Quebec in 2018.

The first round of voting in the leadership race begins on October 7, with the results slated to be announced on October 14. The top four candidates will advance to a second round of voting, with the new leader revealed on November 19.

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