Friday, August 12, 2016

If Elizabeth May resigns, the Greens likely won't recover for years

Elizabeth May has signaled the likely end of her leadership of Canada's Green Party, with the recent adoption of official support for the anti-Israeli BDS movement by the party's militants becoming the final straw for her. While she hasn't fully committed to stepping down as leader, spending 10 years in the spotlight with both victories and failures would be enough to sap anyone's strength. She basically laid out something I completely empathize with - she's tired of politics, and her inability to control the narrative even within her own party has not helped.

Regardless of what you think of May, BDS, or the Green Party in general, there's no doubt that the member for Saanich-Gulf Islands has made an impact in Canadian politics. Though the party was always going to grow, her well-liked public persona and loud activism allowed for several successes the Green Party might not have made so quickly. Elected Green members in BC, New Brunswick, and PEI have much to thank her for.

Of course, the departure of any longtime leader and national party will likely suffer some - but a resignation prompted by lack of control, lack of success and polarizing controversies would likely wound it beyond repair for a few years at least.

People were leaving the Green Party even before May's resignation, including experienced hands. Now more may go thanks to this BDS resolution, which has clearly cut the party in half. Right away the most vulnerable leader, BC Green leader and MLA Andrew Weaver who faces an election next year, disparaged the resolution with an official statement. And though we haven't seen word from the other provincial parties on the issue, I suspect most leaders will agree with May and Weaver. In particular in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, where large Jewish communities exist, they will almost have to. Quebec in particular is an interesting case, given that at their high point in 2007/2008, many of the Green's top ridings were on the West Island and covering major Jewish communities such as Côte-Saint-Luc, Hampstead and Montreal West. Could they be so successful in the future with the BDS issue hanging over their headsÉ

It gets worse. Imagine if you will a leadership race that pits longtime activists with campaign experience promoting May's fuzzy ideology, the "establishment" of the party, versus the pro-BDS side who will likely be flooded with entryists in a bid to keep the resolution from being taken out. This may not tear the party apart on it's own, but as we've seen with the UK Labour omnishambles, the left does not deal with issues surrounding Israel very well. We will see stories about Green anti-Semitism, true or not, making headlines, with shouting matches and rude commentary from activists on both sides. It will stain the party's image for years, because frankly it will be seen as a pattern with the Greens - after all, they ran Monika Schaefer as a candidate didn't they? They are a party of fringe ideas, right? Of course they'd welcome anti-Semites!

It will damage the party beyond repair, and mar the reputation of any May successor who will either have to alienate one half of the party, or try to broach a peace that will brush them with stains of both sides. Unlike May, they will not be given the benefit of the doubt and will not be able to hold it together. Winning any seat in 2019 will become a pipe dream.

The glue holding everything together right now is Elizabeth May, and she's clearly tired of it. What happens if she leaves the helm of the party in these circumstances? Nothing good, not for her and definitely not for the Green Party.


  1. It amazes me the degree to which Canadian politicians of all political stripes have capitulated to the militarism and expansionism of the Israeli state. They have managed to make rational and compassionate opposition to Israeli policy be interchangeable with anti-semitism in the public's mind. This is just one more sign that our political discourse has deteriorated, and sadly I suspect deteriorated beyond saving. May's departure and the Green Party's potential demise is only a symptom of a much more significant and damaging problem.

  2. Everything you've said is probably true, Kyle, but does Canada really need yet another party that looks the other way, that goes along to get along? The whole Green movement, spawned in Europe, adheres to social justice. Even the American Green Party supports BDS.

    So, if the price of having a Green Party in Canada, federally and provincially, means an emasculated movement dictated from the Elizabeth Mays and Andrew Weavers, then no thanks.

    1. The issue however is that the "emasculated" movement tends to be the one that wins. Is that not a concern?

  3. Replies
    1. I don't know if "vulnerable" is the right word - but clearly he's worried enough about all of this to put out a statement.

    2. Weaver also isn't a federal Green supporter, or at least unofficially. I think Weaver put out the statement to distinguish himself and his own party from the GPC.