Veteran MP Elizabeth May handily won re-election in Saanich-Gulf Islands (B.C.) in the Sept. 20 election. Newcomer Mike Morrice won Kitchener Centre (Ont.), where the Liberals had dumped their incumbent candidate at the last minute on account of sexual misconduct allegations. Those two MPs — and a continuing storm of recriminations and hurt feelings — mark the spot where the Green Party of Canada used to point the way to bold innovation in Canadian political thought and public policy.
Annamie Paul fought the good fight as leader of the Greens, with a party executive that gave her no support, no money and no encouragement. She performed well in the televised leaders’ debates but finished a weak fourth in her bid for election in Toronto Centre. She angrily resigned from the leadership — "The worst period in my life," she insisted — a week after the election.
Jenica Atwin, who quit the Greens in a disagreement about Middle East politics, was re-elected in Fredericton as a Liberal. Paul Manly lost his Nanaimo seat to the New Democrats. Ms. May, who quit as leader of the Greens in November 2019, has shown no interest in resuming that role. Thus the Green caucus, formerly consisting of a leader and two other MPs, has dwindled to two MPs and no leader today.
While the Green party has shriveled, its Big Idea has won wide acceptance in Canada. The ruling Liberals and the opposition New Democrats and Bloc Québécois all argue for abandonment of fossil fuels in Canada to curtail the country’s output of greenhouse gases. Even Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole argued for a form of carbon tax in this year’s election, though his party’s enthusiasm for the idea is hard to assess.
The Greens clearly had the right idea, so right that most Canadians and most parties in Parliament are now following where the Greens once led. What they lacked, apparently, is the political maturity to maintain the unity of purpose that might have made them a more potent parliamentary force.
While the Green party has shriveled, its Big Idea has won wide acceptance in Canada.
The big-tent parties that dominate Parliament are constantly bedevilled by squabbles and personal animosities at least as intense as those the Greens displayed under Ms. Paul’s leadership. They also know, however, that you must stick together with the members of your team, even those you despise, because if you don’t your team is nothing and you are nothing.
Despite her efforts to escape from leadership of the Greens, Ms. May is stuck with the prominence, the audience and the respect she has earned through long, bruising years of hard work in Canada’s environmental movement. The political party structure she pulled together has crumbled around her. Rival parties have picked her intellectual baggage clean.
Her remaining task is to keep Canada focused on the destruction that greenhouse-gas emissions and the resulting climate change are already inflicting on this country and every country. The leaders of industrial countries talk a good fight about abandoning fossil fuels and switching to renewable energy sources, but GHG emissions continue to rise and difficult choices are evaded.
The dominant parties are likely to waver when the measures needed to curtail air pollution prove unpopular. Canada will need some force like the Green party to speak the unwelcome truths that must be faced. Even if the Greens have no knack for politics and no luck winning elections, they still have a role to play.