Green Party meltdown years in the making
What happened to the party of the hippies?
It is with some irony that the Canadian political party thought to be most representative of the tree-huggers and hippies of the world has become a publicly-visible battleground of the Egos and the lawyers: a kind of three-way tangle between the Leader's Office of Annamie Paul, the Green Party of Canada's governing Federal Council, and the cynical and disenfranchised GPC membership. It is like watching the hit show Game of Thrones, observing the competing factions of Westeros fail to see hints that their winning strategies will fail, and wondering without end which side will finally triumph. Except that the membership's only mistake is being patient enough to even bother with the charade that the Green Party has been any real democratic force anytime recently.
Those of us well familiar with the internal affairs of the GPC roll our eyes at the predictability of it all: what might look like just a public meltdown by the party's current leadership is largely an extension of long-time tensions boiling below the surface since before Annamie Paul became involved in the GPC. Despite maintaining a façade of being a party that supported Participatory Democracy, the GPC until recently was truly the Elizabeth May Party, or the Party of One - even when May formally resigned as Leader it appeared that she remained de facto Leader in all but name. For some time, May's husband sat on Federal Council, her closely-aligned Fund Representative still lasted 15 years in the position without threat of losing re-election, and May herself continued to sit in on Federal Council and Shadow Cabinet meetings where she could closely watch over the neophyte new "Leader". But then the new Queen unexpectedly and truly took over from the old Queen.
My personal experience with the former Queen of the Green
I use the term "Queen" here appropriately in describing Elizabeth May, whom I know personally. For two years I volunteered part-time for her office on Parliament Hill, which she governed with the utmost ethical cleanliness. I also volunteered for six years for the party of which she was Leader, which she did not govern with the utmost ethical cleanliness. (It turns out that politicians can engage in very strange human levels of cognitive dissonance.) In 2018, after complaining all too loudly and consistently about the thickness of the uncleanly stench, I was formally hauled before the GPC Federal Council and expelled from party membership for my contrarian crimes.
It is best to think of my expulsion "hearing" as like a fun viewing of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, comedy to make for a good laugh. "Hi Stefan!", May greeted me before the hearing, making me feel some awkwardness as we momentarily pretended that she does not know that I know that she is not really that down to earth. Of course, such a motherly matriarch would not be so crass as to claim to have a problem with a youth who had volunteered much time on her behalf, but her appreciation for my volunteering was matched by her unspoken non-appreciation for my speaking basic sense to the GPC's internal governance. And her not-so-subtle non-appreciation was noticed by her useful tools on what is supposed to be some kind of independent governing council.
Anyways, after using my opening statements to defend my honour and also to flatter Jo-Ann Roberts, a former CBC Radio host who was then one of the two GPC Deputy Leaders, I respectfully re-iterated my request that a certain Councillor whose first name begins with E and last name begins with M to please recuse herself from the hearing. She responded by keeping her eyes glued to her laptop, not at all looking at the one identifying her by name. (But to my shame, I did admit that perhaps I did go a little too far in tormenting Councillors with bad humour. Perhaps I should not have offended any puppets with comparisons to children afraid to let go of their mother's hands and make their own way in the world.)
Then the fun truly began. Those Councillors most disposable to the supreme dominant matriarch risked their reputations by asking the aggressive "bad cop" questions, while the Deputy Leaders felt tacit permission from the matriarch to ask the "good cop" questions that would clearly distance themselves from the not-so-popular-among-members treatment of the contrarian. "On what basis are you capable of assessing the self-esteem of Councillors?" sternly asked a Councillor auditioning to become the matriarch's favourite actor, ignoring that a tense reaction to questions of self-esteem issues was itself evidence of the matriarch's self-esteem issues. At one point in the hearing, the same party Leader who had broken the law on a point of principle implied that she was being forced by Council to not speak against the persecution of yours truly. She was supposedly forced to bite her tongue by the same body that had submissively asked her to participate to begin with, after she was the only person consistently present in all the many prior Executive and Council Meetings that escalated persecution of my membership. Right...
After the hearing concluded, the Councillors spent another half-hour "debating" in-camera the ponderous philosophy of expelling young contrarians, just in case it was not clear enough that the dominant matriarch did want her Deputy Leaders and herself spared from an embarrassing association with the puppet-body's passive-aggressive tone. After the expulsion concluded, I would later probe the "bad cop" Councillors by email as to whether they had sheepishly asked May to attend my hearing against my will; all were too self-conscious to answer.
Too many scandals in the Party of One to all be remembered
The point of this all being: the obvious stench of the GPC's internal governance never did go away. From experiences beyond the above, I know that over many GPC conventions not a single among many member motions was passed that would take away power from someone close to the Leader to give power to a lay party member. Over many years not a single Council candidate who might propose a similar such transfer of power was elected over any candidate nominated by the Leader. Council Meetings bizarrely held all budgetary discussions and votes within in-camera and sworn by oaths to secrecy, while minutes and observance of other Council Meetings were scarce. A vote to hold a Special General Meeting of the party was likewise held in absolute secrecy and with no advance notice. After the 2015 election calls for using the upcoming Leadership Review for a party-wide reflection on election performance were ignored and the Review was handled quietly. Ostensibly-cleared allegations of harassment by the Leader's Office against staff were only partially investigated (anonymous allegations were excluded) by an investigator chosen without consultation with the complainants. May's Shadow Cabinet attached one-sided partisan comments on motions to be voted upon by the membership, with predictable results by the voting members. Multiple critics of party governance found their memberships under persecution. The scandals of hyper-centralized power were too many to all still be remembered now.
And then in little over a year from 2020 to 2021, transfer of extreme powers to the new Queen was well underway.
Out with the old Queen, in with the new Queen
In 2021, past supporters of the former monarch suddenly found themselves in stark opposition to the new monarch. Supporters of Annamie Paul then started accusing Ms. May's husband and long-time pick for Fund Representative of fundamentally representing the racist resistance against a strong Black woman. Past long-time supporters of Ms. May began their exit from Federal Council; at the same time, Council transformed from a body that would beg for the Leader to supervise expulsion hearings into a body that was instead targeting the Leader for expulsion hearings. Even long-time critics of party governance found themselves barred from Council candidacy if they dared to also criticize the new regime. And then Green hippies everywhere were shocked to discover their helplessness at holding to account a difficult matriarch who could not accept ever being wrong in internal party affairs no matter how much criticism.
But a minority among party supporters are not shocked at all. A minority have known for a long time that the Green Party of Canada was and remains an unaccountable dictatorship that does not truly understand its own cats that it is trying to herd. What has mostly changed in the past few months is the transition from one dictator who was subtle about keeping the stench from the public's nostrils, over to a dictator who cannot help but put the entire stench in range of the public's nostrils. If one did not know better, one might think that Annamie Paul felt entitled to govern her party with the full scope of extreme powers that her predecessor Leader previously enjoyed.
The Green Party of Canada seems to prove the old adage that the more things change, the more that they truly stay the same. It is difficult to tell what will happen first: the Empress with no clothes wakes up enough party members to the reality that they must clean house and rejuvenate their party's promise of Participatory Democracy, or the party implodes from the expectation that the new Empress is here to stay with her full powers as long as the past Empress was. The experiences of the past 15 years do not bode well for optimism that democracy will win over self-insecure leadership anytime soon.