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Paul seeks to push past 'incredibly painful' threat to her leadership of Greens

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul speaks at a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The Green party says a planned non-confidence vote against leader Paul is off the table until at least the next general meeting of members. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
July 19, 2021 - 4:37 PM

OTTAWA - Annamie Paul sought to show Monday her party has pushed past a period of bitter strife ahead of a likely election, as lingering tensions leave Greens in limbo and Paul reeling from a temporarily sidelined threat to her leadership.

At an afternoon news conference, Paul confirmed that a non-confidence motion against her planned for Tuesday was cancelled, and that no similar motionswill be proposed by the current federal council — the party's main governing body — or before the next party convention.

“This experience has been incredibly painful for me and for my family, and I want to be up front about that. It is extremely hard to have your integrity questioned when you value it so much," she told reporters in Toronto Centre, the riding she hopes to win following two unsuccessful attempts that have kept her out of the House of Commons.

Paul admitted she considered stepping down amid what she dubbed a "one-sided campaign" waged against her leadership by party brass in recent months, but said she felt she owed it to the Greens who elected her last year to continue.

“I also didn’t want to let down all of the people — young, old, from different backgrounds, from different unrepresented groups — who had asked me over the course of the past eight to nine months, 'Is there a place for someone like me in politics?'" she said.

A membership review launched last week by Green interim executive director Dana Taylor that would have suspended Paul's status as a member of the party she heads has also been shelved, Paul confirmed.

She declined to answer multiple questions about whether arbitration and legal wrangling resulted in the scrapped non-confidence motion and membership review, or if it was turfedbecause players realized that "we are compromising our ability" to elect MPs, as Paul put it.

The shifts appear to keep her insulated from an immediate ouster until an expected federal election in the coming months, as the party council will turn over on Aug. 20. However, a general meeting of members is scheduled for Aug. 21, when the party pledge not to depose its leader expires and a new crop of councillors could be as resistant to Paul as the current one.

Dimitri Lascaris, runner-up to Paul in the October leadership race, unveiled a slate of council candidates Friday under the banner "Green Left Canada," self-described ecosocialists who view capitalism as the core cause of climate change.

Other problems hampering the Greens have not gone away, including a payroll cut in halfthis month due to financial imbalances reported by party brass, despite Paul's objections to the temporary layoffs. Green executives also moved to withhold funding from Paul's campaign to win the Toronto Centre seat as Canada's 44th election looms.

Thenew truce also helps cement the prospect that a Black Canadian will lead a mainstream party into a national campaign for the first time in the country's history.

Backed by sign-toting supporters, Paul held the news conference at St. James Park in downtown Toronto as bells occasionally tolled, with St. Lawrence Hall in the background. The neoclassical building served as a venue for the North American abolitionist movement shortly after it opened in 1850.

In spite of the retreat by party executives who have clashed openly with Paul, tensions remain as Greens struggle to pitch an agenda that has been overshadowed by months of internal strife.

"This is a wounded party," said Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. "It seems there is still bad blood between her and some members of the executive."

An Angus Reid poll published Friday suggested only three per cent of respondents intended to cast a ballot for the Greens.

The figure falls far short of the 6.55 per cent of the vote they garnered in the 2019 election, despite climate change and the environment now tying for the most important issue in voters' minds, the poll indicates.

"You see what’s happening in B.C. with the fires and what’s happening in Europe with the floods, and people tie that to climate change. So it would normally be a very good time to be the leader of the Green party, because the main issue that your party is about is really popular right now. But that's not the case," Béland said.

“Parties often have internal debates, but this exploded in public and on social media and the newspapers and so forth, and this has affected the image of Annamie Paul as the leader but also the image of the Green party."

The nixed non-confidence vote by the federal council would have required support from three-quarters of the 13-member governing body in order to proceed to a party-wide vote the following month at a general meeting, where an ultimate judgment on Paul's leadership could have been rendered by the grassroots.

Paul came in second to Liberal Marci Ien in a byelection last fall — they earned about 33 per cent and 42 per cent of the vote respectively — to replace former finance minister Bill Morneau in the riding.

The Liberal stronghold has been held by the party since 1993 and has been won by prominent MPs including Bill Graham and Bob Rae.

Paul came in fourth place when she ran there in the 2019 general election.

There are now two Green MPs in Parliament, including former leader Elizabeth May.

The party has been riven by infighting and factionalism for months as Paul, who was elected leader on Oct. 3, attempts to steer the Greens in a new direction.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 19, 2021.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2021
The Canadian Press

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