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This article was published 21/9/2021 (237 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Former Green party leader Elizabeth May says she wants to get to the bottom of the party’s dismal performance in Monday’s federal election, including finding the source of media stories detailing turmoil within the party over the last year.
May, fresh off a successful re-election bid in her Saanich—Gulf Islands riding, said news stories about friction between current Green party Leader Annamie Paul and the party’s executive hurt Green support across the country.
"I found the perception of turmoil within the Green party was exaggerated and fuelled by a lot of what I regarded at the time as irresponsible gossip," May said.
"That’s all people heard, the public, because the people who were being attacked in that, which was basically everybody in the party, were not able to dispute it."
The Green party went into the election with a cloud over its head, and judging by the results it didn’t come out from under it.
While it managed to win two seats — picking up Kitchener Centre in Ontario with the election of Mike Morrice, and retaining May’s riding — Paul failed to win her seat and the party’s share of the national vote plummeted to 2.3 from 6.5 per cent.
That’s the lowest voter share for the Greens in more than 20 years, since pulling 0.8 per cent of the vote in 2000. The party’s highest percentage was 6.8 per cent, in 2008, May’s first election as leader, followed by 6.5 in 2019, her last year at the helm.
Turmoil within the party came to the forefront in June, when it took steps that could have led to Paul’s removal following comments about Palestine made by her senior adviser, which she failed to denounce to some members’ satisfaction.
That process was halted a month later, but by then party unity had been shattered — with the leader making counterallegations of racism and sexism against the Greens’ establishment, and Fredericton Green MP Jenica Atwin defecting to the Liberals.
May was especially concerned about the media attention, saying the negative stories hurt her campaign as well. Some of the stories relied on unnamed sources and May said it’s important to find out who was responsible.
"The blow to morale across the country was serious from those stories and personally I want to get to the bottom of it and know who the unnamed sources were," she said, "especially if they’re people who are still on the Green party staff."
Now, she said, the party needs to review its performance and learn from its mistakes. The party "isn’t going anywhere" but it must ask itself some key questions, she added, such as why it didn’t manage to run a full slate of candidates across Canada this election.
She said she’s spoken to Paul since election night, and said the leader is "very disappointed." If Paul, who was unavailable for interviews, were to step down, May said, she would not run for the leadership again.
There was a bright spot with the party’s win in Kitchener Centre, May said, where the party took a seat for the first time with the election of Mike Morrice.
Morrice was in the middle of a live TV hit in Kitchener when the network declared him the winner — the first Green party candidate to win an Ontario seat in a federal election.
"I knew we’d clinched it, because I heard the commotion behind me," said the 37-year-old former social entrepreneur in residence at Wilfrid Laurier University the morning after.
He was on live, and they’d already had two failed attempts to do the segment, so he buckled down, kept a straight face and completed the interview.
But once the camera turned off — that was a different story.
"We finished it and turned around and (there were) tears and hugs and high fives ... My parents were there. It was really emotional. The people that were there were the friends that joined me to knock on door after door, street after street, to make call after call over months and even years after 2019."
The scene was different most elsewhere in the country.
Green candidate Nicole O’Byrne failed to retake the Fredericton seat the party lost between elections when Atwin crossed the floor to the Liberals.
Tuesday afternoon May was still holding out hope Green incumbent Paul Manly would pull off a come-from-behind victory in the B.C. riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith. With polls closed Monday Manly was in third place and 2,700 votes behind the leader, the NDP’s Lisa Marie Barron.
Manly initially won the riding in a 2019 byelection before winning it again later in the year in the general vote.
Party leader Paul has faced criticism both for spending most of the campaign in Ontario — she made only two trips outside the province — and for failing to field a full slate of Green candidates.
The party requires a vote on the leader within six months of an election. While it seems inevitable that her leadership will face further scrutiny, Paul did not address the prospect of being removed in her remarks Monday night.
"I would say that we’re back to the status quo, except that we are returning, unfortunately, more divided and more polarized than before this election was called," she said.
"That is certainly part of the legacy of this election, that I will say we shouldn’t have had, whether that sounds self-interested or not."
The election night results painted a picture of a party in a state of some disarray, one that will require some introspection in the coming months, says Ryerson University visiting professor Peggy Nash, a former New Democrat MP for Parkdale—High Park.
The party infighting, as public and poorly timed as it was, cost them dearly across the country, she said.
"The Green party really have to ask themselves who they are, what their priorities are and what kind of leadership they’re looking for," she said.
"It seems to me that they were very proud of the leader that they had elected, but they didn’t seem to give her the kind of support and resources that she needed to run an effective campaign.
"That’s a distressing message for women in politics, for Black women who rise to a position of leadership. And I think they need to do a lot of soul-searching."
For Morrice’s part, he says he recognized when he knocked on doors that the internal party turmoil was on people’s minds and he counts himself among the disappointed with the result.
But, he said his focus now is on going to Ottawa and trying to work across party lines to further the Green agenda. The time for internal party reflection, he says, will come later.
"I have been pretty open that I disagreed with (Paul) at points on various policies. I have also been making very clear that I do support her as leader, and for those who may not, there’s a leadership review after the election.
"Leading up to that, Annamie continues to have my support."
With files from Richard Warnica and The Canadian Press
Steve McKinley is a Halifax-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @smckinley1
Jeremy Nuttall is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @Nuttallreports