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What went wrong with the Green Party?

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

With a new leader in 2020, there was great promise for the Green Party of Canada. The Toronto Centre by-election result was exciting and I posted in a GPC chat group how Marci Ien was as of then, the underdog in Toronto Centre in the next general election. The 100 calls that I made into that riding, I felt, helped get what was an amazing by-election result from an inspirational candidate. Those of us who said during the leadership contest that she was not electable in Toronto Centre were wrong and I happily admitted that.

Behind the scenes, the Green Party of Canada was already in the process of unraveling. What I am about to say is a collection of information that I have gathered from first hand sources within the GPC, and not from media reports or social media although I will reference articles. There are a number of things being said by people with positions in the GPC that need to be clarified. Since I have no official role in the party but understand how it runs, I have chosen to write this after great consternation. The GPC is under attack both internally and externally and has been for a while. Having spent 1000's of hours volunteering for what I believe in here is my perspective.

Fall 2020

Within a day or two after Annamie Paul's election with 50.5% of the valid ballots having her ahead of Dimitri Lascaris on the 8th ballot (I campaigned for David Merner), the party presented to her a contract that was similar to the one with Elizabeth May. Annamie Paul's response was to give the party her lawyer's information and the negotiations began.

Previously, contracts were negotiated by the legal arm of the party, the GPC Fund which exists as required by the Canada Elections Act. For some unknown reason, the Fund abdicated that role and passed it off to the Federal Council Executive (President, Fund Rep, English VP and VP Francophone) which was already in a weakened state as the VP English had some urgent family matters at the time and the VP Francophone was in the process of disengaging and later resigned. Add to that a very controversial term of the Executive Director hired in the spring of 2020 who was let go on October 4th, the day after the end of the leadership contest. Finally, the Liberals, in an obvious attack on the GPC, called the by-election in Toronto Centre campaign to begin during the leadership contest and left only about 3 weeks for Annamie Paul, her exhausted team, her supporters and GPC members to campaign. It was in this environment that the negotiations were left to the Interim President and for yet another inexplicable reason, the Fund, (all replaced in February 2021 following the procedures in the Canada Not-for-Profit Act) did not call in the party lawyers to negotiate opposite Annamie’s lawyers.

The seeds of the subsequent problems lay in the leader's contract. Annamie demanded far more power and authority than Elizabeth ever had and she got what she wanted. The main nugget was complete control over all communications, something neither Elizabeth nor Jim Harris nor any other leader ever had. The grey area was what power and control she had over internal communications but the threat of bringing in her lawyers if the party communicated something to members that was not in line with her and her team’s narrative was always there. This is why we only have heard one side of any of the events that occurred ever since. How could this be agreed to?

Incredibly, when Federal Council voted in camera on the contract on December 16th 2020, the vast majority of the 18 member Council did not even get a chance to have read the contract. Previous to that meeting, the Fund President at the time attempted to get the Council to agree to the contract via email vote, effectively without discussion. This mechanism is used from time to time when something is both time sensitive and likely to be a full consensus, later to be confirmed at the next scheduled meeting.

I'm told that only the Executive was allowed to read the contract but that was it - only 4 read it and 13 didn't. Councillors were told of the compensation package of almost $200K including benefits that was in the terms of the contract. Annamie told Council that if they did not agree to it, that she wouldn't help with fundraising and they could not use her image to do so. Some Councillors were concerned that Annamie would resign if her contract was not accepted as written. Not wanting to go through that public relations disaster, enough Councillors waived it through, sight unseen, by a vote of 8 to 7 with no changes to what her lawyers had demanded.

How a party can call itself the governing body without understanding the powers afforded to the leader in that contract is beyond me. They were a weakened, divided and berated Council even at that point, mostly on the basis on how the Leadership Contest was run and the divisiveness of the hiring and firing of the previous Executive Director (ED). Another key plank was that if there was a dispute between the leader and the party, it would go to arbitration and costs on both sides would be paid for by the party....stay tuned.

Another clause in the contract provided for her ability to hire and fire people outside of the normal authority of the ED, who reports to Federal Council, thus centralizing more power and control in the leader's office. This committed the party to new spending at unprecedented levels of overhead. The contract with Noah Zatzman was signed by the deputy ED who was filling in until an Interim ED was hired by the party in December. Although Annamie's contract had not yet been approved when Zatzman was contracted, this was her hire.

Toronto Star articles

The first serious public display of dysfunction was really the Toronto Star series of articles where Sean Yo, her Toronto Centre campaign manager, began the allegations that the party was inhibiting her on the basis of her race, religion and gender. He made several claims that were partially true, but were spun to begin a particular narrative designed to remove even more influence and control from members through it’s elected Federal Council and to concentrate all powers in the Leader's office, of which he had been a part.

He claimed that the party lent the Toronto Centre by-election campaign $50,000 on the condition that it be paid back and they lost a critical day being taken aback by that condition. Which $50,000 was he talking about?

The party forwarded the campaign two $50,000 transfers within days after the leadership contest was over. The campaign itself raised about $50,000 and you can only legally spend about $110,000. When I was President in 2012-13 we had a fund of $50K that was designated for by-elections and the expectation was that anything we funded would be repaid based on the rebate from Elections Canada if the campaign received 10% of the votes. Thus the by-election fund would be replenished for the next targeted by-election. The leader running in a by-election is a special circumstance and how the party forwarding $100K to a campaign that had a spending limit of $110K is a lack of financial support for the leader is nothing short of a lie.

In terms of Federal Council's involvement, they passed a motion to transfer $50,000 to Annamie's by-election campaign. There was no Federal Council discussion and no motion to ask for the return of that money at any time. Both Annamie and the Toronto Star were informed of Sean's mistake and could have corrected the record but did not. This was the beginning of the false narrative that the party was racist and holding back support on that basis. Of course $50K needed to be refunded to the party since there would be an excess of far more than that, given the $107K transferred from the party (the other 7K I assume was donations by members received by the GPC but targeted for the by-election campaign), the $43K that they raised and the rebate of 50% of expenses since they got over 10%. It wasn't even certain that Annamie would be running in Toronto Centre in the general election so the party could not afford to allow the Toronto Centre riding association to keep all of these overages.

Secondly, he spun the contract negotiations as a stalling tactic by the party which is untrue. Any delays were related to the unprecedented demands from Annamie and her lawyers. But with complete control of the external communications, Annamie and her team could say anything they wanted to later on. Under threat of legal action, the party could not clarify, correct, refute or respond to these articles in any fashion without potentially getting sued and having to pay for Annamie’s lawyers in addition to their own. From there it has been a feeding frenzy disparaging the party on the basis of false, skewed information and outright untruths from Annamie Paul and her team. The unprecedented generous nature of the contract points towards favouritism towards Ms. Paul, not racism, as Sean Yo and the Toronto Star suggested.

Fund AGM July 13, 2021

For the first time in the history of the party, the Fund held an Annual General Meeting that was open to membership where the status of the finances of the party were revealed. It was quite shocking. Fundraising was up or down, meaning you could compare it to other election years where it was down or to the year before where it was up, depending on how you wanted to spin it. But the reality was that with an impending election there was only $400K that was unencumbered and available for a campaign.

Annamie's team had asked for $250,000 for pre-writ spending, when there are no spending limits, and quite frankly I think that was a reasonable number if it didn't represent most of what was available for a pending general election. To put this in perspective, there was $1.5 million in the election fund for 2015 and about $1.2 million for the 2019 election. The GPC Fund board was also operating under instructions from Council to maintain a $300,000 cash reserve to cover regular expenses, making the request impossible to fulfill without breaking a standing directive to keep the party solvent.

The spending on staff was right out of control and this was no fault of Annamie Paul and her team since it pre-dated her leadership. The GPC was spending 70% of its money on salaries, far above any other party. I don't know at what point in the last ten years that the staff bloated to this unsustainable and unnecessary point. In 2012 and for at least a few years beyond until we had to prep for the 2015 election, there was a grand total of 12 staff employed by the GPC with a few contractors doing part time work. In 2020 it peaked at 38 staff and I have no idea what the rest of them were doing. The caucus to support wasn't that much bigger, the communications and fundraising were about the same and the local riding organizing was far worse with 38 staff than it was with 12.

The Fund stepped in and worked out with the Union and the ED a slate of layoffs to stop the ridiculous bleeding of cash due to this bloated overhead. And yes, some of Annamie's staff were part of the layoffs, all negotiated with the Union. Seniority and critical positions were the priorities, as per the collective bargaining agreement. Many party insiders who were on Annamie’s team were spinning the layoffs as politically motivated by the Interim Executive Director and they got the press coverage. No response from the party was possible. Again.

Non-confidence vote

The Noah Zatzman Facebook post was most revealing in how the leader's office was operating. His contract was leaked to the Canadian Press and it is unclear who did that and for what end. Regardless, this individual was hired by Annamie Paul, paid by the party and he vowed to get rid of 'Green MPs' and others such as Dimitri Lascaris and Jagmeet Singh by using various activists and to replace them with others who had a particular view of a foreign policy issue.

In any other party, in any other country and in any other time, he would have been summarily dismissed without question and his comments immediately disavowed by the party and the leader. Annamie refused to do so, to this day. Can you imagine if somebody who was in Jagmeet Singh's close circle, hired by him, said the same thing, that they would get rid of NDP MPs and replace them with somebody who had a different perspective on what was going on in another country?

I won't recount all of the details of Jenica Atwin leaving the Green Party but the one report that stands out to me is that she begged Annamie for an email address that she would actually respond to. While Annamie has complained that she has not received notice of this or that time after time, I have been told by numerous people that she is unreachable and you have to deal through her team. Her claims during the Jenica Atwin affair that there was constant and open communication with the three MPs has not been substantiated by any of the MPs, in fact quite the opposite. Ms. Paul spun the whole series of events as a Liberal scheme and the party could not respond due to her complete control over all communications as per her contract. There is no evidence that Annamie called Jenica between the day of the initial statement and the day that Jenica left.

Regardless, Jenica left and there was a grave concern that Paul Manly would follow and maybe even Elizabeth May. Well, Noah Zatzman clarified that he didn't mean Elizabeth May as well. It was entirely appropriate for Federal Council to step in and to tell Annamie that she needed to make amends with Paul Manly by disavowing Zatzman's call for him to be defeated, to show her support for him, and to hold a press conference as such. Six Councillors petitioned Council for a special meeting on July 20th following all of the rules laid out for a non-confidence vote in the party's Constitution. There were a lot of questions about the details of how that would take place exactly, but I don't think that the 2006 authors of the Constitution anticipated this ever being executed.

Unable to persuade Council otherwise, Annamie Paul invoked the clause in her contract requiring an arbitration hearing for any dispute. The arbitrator ruled that the GPC Federal Council could not go ahead with its Constitutionally laid out vote of non-confidence in the leader by Federal Council, which requires 75% of them to do pass such a motion. Should that vote have taken place and passed, it would then be sent to the membership in a General Meeting (GM). Coincidentally, there was a GM scheduled for August 26th.

In June one of the Councillors sent two links to news articles about the Noah Zatzman affair to Council. Annamie's lawyer then sent an email titled Cease and Desist to that Councillor and copied to all of Council. Threats of personal law suits were too much for two of the Federal Councillors who quit right after an in camera Federal Council meeting in June that had included one of Annamie Paul’s lawyers.

Muzzled by Annamie's contract, the party had to find a way to inform the members about what was really going on. The initial arbitration ruling is secret due to careful legal strategy from Annamie’s team. If it is never revealed that she initiated the legal proceedings, she can claim anything that she wanted to and not be held to account. Thus in her resignation/non-resignation press statement later on September 27, she could claim that “she was under the threat of a court process from the party” which is categorically untrue. The party filed a Leave to Appeal the arbitrator’s decision and speaking as a member, they should have. The arbitrator basically said that our own Constitution does not apply to party matters. By filing the Leave to Appeal, which was a a public document unlike the original filing, members and the public could begin to see what was really going on.

Liana Cusmano, the Interim President could not hold a press conference to explain the party’s side so they had to be creative and for the first time in history that I am aware of, the President of the party had a Town Hall with members. Many of the questions they had to decline to answer but many questions were answered. I am not aware of any major media outlets covering this Town Hall as they mostly seemed to be content to report only on what Annamie Paul and her team had to say.

According to one Councillor,“Federal Council was told that her contract included a confidentiality clause. We were told we could not share or tell any elements of her contract.” How they can be told to keep confidential something that they never did see is shaking head worthy but my head is already sore from the rest of the shaking.

Election 2021

It is difficult to say which was the most damaging event or series of events that led to the worst result that the party has had by popular vote since 2000 and the first time that the party failed to put forth a full slate or near-full slate of candidates since that same date. You could make an argument that the key problem was the poor financial state for example. But it is difficult to make a strong case that the leader did not receive enough support and wasn’t allowed to lead. Indeed, much of the damage was caused by the Leader’s decisions, ranging from the non-intervention with Yo’s and Zatzman’s statements, to the needlessly delayed party platform, to the decision to prevent so many candidates from running that the absolute number of equity-seeking candidates may have not even gone up significantly, to the lack of reaching out to the other leadership candidates, and to only giving a passing reference to climate change from time to time while she maintained a narrow focus.

Any political party that has a lively and mostly positive leadership contest is going to struggle greatly when the contest winner treats it like a winner-take-all victory. What political party would survive when the contest winner does not reach out to any of the other contestants, then enters a general election within a year without one single other leadership contestant either running as a candidate or on the Shadow Cabinet (Constitutionally appointed by the party leader)? Supporters of Ms. Paul claim that these other contestants did not reach out to her but I don’t buy it. A leader interested in the long term health of the party’s job is to reach out and find a place for the other contestants who collectively represented the first choice of 75% of Green Party members. Only one leadership contestant, Judy Green, applied to be a candidate. Ms. Paul turned down her candidacy. Party rules state that no reason needs to be given but Ms. Paul would not sign her nomination papers. Vetted to be a leader of the party, Judy Green did not pass Ms. Paul’s vetting for some undisclosed reason. Her riding of West Nova was one of the 86 ridings where the GPC did not field a candidate.

To Annamie Paul's defense, anybody who won the leadership contest would have had an extremely difficult time seeing any gains for the party in 2021. The 2019 election was also a missed opportunity as there as no unity of purpose and there were competing strategies that ended up with the party effectively having no strategy.

But the smoking gun for me that clearly shows that Ms. Paul was not interested in ever truly leading a national campaign is that she never appointed any Deputy Leaders. This is a massive country with regional needs. The Constitution is clear that only the leader can appoint Deputy Leaders. There is nothing that the Federal Council or the Interim Executive Director could have done to stop or influence those appointments so there is no claims that can be made there that she was being held back. Ms. Paul clearly wanted complete and total control of the messaging and did not want to share the mic with anybody. By not appointing any Deputy Leaders, she made sure that she would have the sole ability to spin any situation in a way that could not be questioned by anybody else in the party.

The outgoing Council left instructions that Annamie's campaign be fully funded as soon as the writ dropped. That campaign transfer and the Party's additional spending in her riding will have to show up in the campaign financial filings to be submitted by the Party and by the Annamie Paul campaign in the next few months.

Current situation

Unfortunately, the same unsubstantiated attacks on Federal Council have continued. The whole situation with the previous Council was spun by Annamie that she was held back by a few troublesome Councillors and when their term was over, that things would be better.

Ine September 28th Federal Council meeting, Annamie Paul claimed that there were Federal Councillors who were moderators of social media groups that harboured posts threatening her. The exact social media platform was not identified. I checked with the moderators of the three Facebook groups that claim to be Green Party members and supporters (not official party sites) and all of them state that any hate posts or threats of violence are not tolerated and certainly any posts threatening physical harm to the leader would be taken down immediately and the offending individual immediately removed. Threats of violence are serious matters for the party and any such investigation needs to be executed without delay. The police and our tax dollars should also ensure that political leaders operate in safety and should be called in for any social media threats of violence. But there are no Federal Councillors who are moderators of any Facebook group claiming to be for Green Party members and Annamie Paul cannot continue to make such claims.

The Annamie Paul live statement on September 27th (not a press conference since no questions were allowed), was widely reported as a resignation. She said that she had contacted Federal Council to begin the process of her stepping down. That didn’t happen. Federal Council found out about her intentions the same way everybody else did, through the media. The President of Federal Council called for a special emergency meeting that day and Ms. Paul said that she didn’t in fact state that she was resigning and didn’t know why the meeting was called. They went in camera and came out of that agreeing that legal teams would meet to discuss the terms of her stepping down.

In her interview with CBC New Brunswick radio shortly after resigning as New Brunswick rep on Federal Council, Louise Comeau recounted how Ms. Paul made it clear that she intended to retain all of the privileges of her contract until an exit was negotiated with her lawyers. This must have been said in one of the infamous in camera sessions that Federal Council has where much of the dysfunctionality festers. I and other members have encouraged them to hold as many sessions in the open where members can hear what is going on and Lorraine Rekmans, President, is trying to do so despite strong resistance from a group of Councillors who worked on Annamie's original leadership campaign and others who are just used to doing most anything important in camera. It is unprecedented in Canadian political history that a leader holds onto power after giving the distinct impression that they are resigning, all the while holding the party hostage with control over all communications.

The Annamie Paul controlled website removed all candidate information within 72 hours of election day, even while results were not official. This is extremely disrespectful to the slate of candidates and their volunteers who believe in the values of the Green Party and campaigned during very difficult circumstances. Many of them may wish to run again and have to be scratching their heads on why they have been removed from the party's site. Nobody in authority that I spoke to seems to understand who is giving the orders on what to put on or take off of the website.

Moving forward

Any 2020 Leadership Contestant would have had many problems as leader of a party that was almost exclusively defined as one person for the last 10 years. The 2019 election for the Greens was also disappointing and many long time local organizers abandoned the party after that election. The grassroots organizing at the local level was in generally a weak state through no fault of Annamie Paul. It was an impossible task for Annamie or anybody else to get elected for the first time during an election and lead a national campaign. Just ask Maxime Bernier. The Green Party of the future must recognize this and if we really want to see a leader elected, that will either have to be in a by-election or we will have to abandon the idea of a truly national campaign

The media largely believes that the leader of a political party in Canada is all powerful but Constitutionally in the Green Party of Canada, the powers of the leader are indeed limited. Previous leaders needed to persuade party officials about use of resources and the party had never fully relinquished control of communications to the leader until this leader. Elizabeth May was particularly successful in persuading the party to focus on her and that was a mistake by a party that wanted to grow. Staff seemed to relish the leader-centric model and that continued throughout Annamie Paul’s (continuing) term as leader. You won't find a Green Party in the world with seats that focuses on just the leader as much as the Green Party of Canada has over the last 15 years. The GPC will need to do some analysis and there will be a lot of spins but this election was a disaster and hopefully the conversation will turn quickly towards rebuilding and empowering local riding associations and potential candidates.

I will publish future blogs on how the Green Party can rebuild so if you wish to sign up for future posts, please subscribe below. Feedback and comments are always welcome.

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