The Greens’ Annamie Paul—Ready to Make History, Again 

Whenever the next federal election comes, voters will immediately notice a change in the fight card from 2019, with one new white male candidate and one new Black, female Jewish candidate. After 13 years as leader and four national elections, Elizabeth May will be replaced in the federal leaders’ lineup by Annamie Paul. May writes here about why that’s good for the party.

Elizabeth May 

Having just lived through 2020, it feels an act of hubris to predict anything about the coming year, as no one could have predicted 2020. 

It has been a year of health and economic crisis colliding with previously unthinkable politics to form an avoidable catastrophe. Among its other lessons, we are still a species crowding unwanted into habitats not our own. We are living in our own petri dish for other viruses, other pandemics. 

Still, we have reason to hope that with the availability of vaccines, we can imagine a more normal life ahead. With the re-opening of our businesses, we can imagine economic recovery.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 were so unlike anything we have known before. It was an economic disaster, but household income of Canadians went up because of government programs. Levels of personal debt are down. The real estate market is hot. The forestry sector did well, as did construction. Tourism is in terrible shape. The oil and gas sector was hit hard. The energy mix is moving sharply toward renewable energy.

Some changes are likely to become permanent. The oil sands are not coming back as a growth sector. They are shrinking. New energy sectors are growing in solar and geo-thermal. Our working life will likely change as more businesses see benefits in remote working. And that will impact the service sector in our downtown cores.

The impacts are uneven. People are returning to work, but less so women. Finance Canada is worried about childcare in a way it has never been before. Income inequality, always visible before, has been rendered far more obvious in all of its impacts and implications by COVID.

Government finances are challenged, but interest rates are at all-time lows and our federal debt is increasingly locking in at low interest rates. While the C.D. Howe Institute worries about quantitative easing and the risk of inflation, most messages from the Governor of the Bank of Canada suggest deflation is a much bigger risk than inflation. The federal government provided 80 percent of all the COVID relief for Canadian individuals and businesses. No wonder the federal debt has skyrocketed and the deficit ballooned.

Those things needed to be done. Just as stimulus spending is still needed. The uncertainties of our economic recovery remain, and uncertainties generally abound.

One thing about which there is no uncertainty is that we cannot ignore the climate emergency. 

As the year came to a close U.N. Secretary General António Guterres issued a stark warning: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back—and it is already doing so with growing force and fury.”

Amid the pandemic in 2020, the world experienced over one hundred climate events that killed over 400,000 people. No one can forget the horrors of the fires that swept through the Western United States, producing smoke that choked us in British Columbia. The worsening intensity of hurricanes, the extreme drought in some regions and extreme flooding in others, heat waves in Siberia and fires in rain forests, massive loss of Arctic ice and rising seas—these are no longer future events, but daily headlines.

Governments around the world must make the transition away from fossil fuels a priority. The fate of the world improved with the election of Joe Biden as president of the United States. Biden, who’ll be sworn in on January 20, 2021, has committed to immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement. He has appointed a cabinet-level envoy, John Kerry, himself thoroughly committed to meaningful climate action. With China having significantly improved its commitments to net zero earlier this fall, there is reason for optimism. 

But we need to make up for lost time. In 2020, key climate goals were missed. We were supposed to increase our target, our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in 2020. We were supposed to have a plan in place for reducing emissions. No matter how much the Liberals claim otherwise with Bill C-12, the government’s net-zero emissions legislation, they do not have a plan. Nor have we met the terms of our commitment in Paris to improve our 2030 target in 2020.

With great fanfare, on December 11, the day before the United Nations summit to mark five years since Paris, the prime minister announced we have a plan. Well, we do not. We have some new and welcome initiatives, such as increases in the carbon price and a whack of new green promises. But, once again, Trudeau ignored the pledge to improve our target. He offered that with more work with provinces we might get to 32-40% below 2005 levels by 2030; not officially a new target and far short of the cuts required to hold to 1.5 degrees.  

Enthusiasm for the $15 billion in new green initiatives is somewhat muted by the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report from days earlier that government spending on the TMX pipeline is now cresting toward $17 billion. The sad reality is that Canada ranks near the bottom of the pack among industrialized countries on climate action.

We were hoping for more. We would rather congratulate Liberals for meaningful climate action, than blast them in a coming election.

Green Leader Annamie Paul. Her predecessor Elizabeth May thinks the party made the right leadership choice, and the campaign will prove it. Green Party of Canada photo

And that brings me to another place of uncertainty. When will this minority government decide it’s time to try for a majority and take Canadians into an election?

Just as I always did as leader of the Canadian Greens, so too does our new leader, Annamie Paul, keep principle at the forefront. 

Annamie (pronounced Anna-Me) has already made history—being elected the first Black leader of a federal political party. And obviously tripling the “firsts” as the first Black Jewish woman leader of any federal party. A lawyer with serious international diplomatic experience and a global policy perspective, she brings the combination of breadth of vision and intelligence required to address the problems people want solved when they vote for us.

After a vigorous competitive leadership race, Annamie’s competence and principle in speaking to a vast array of issues has already assured Green Party members that we made the right choice. 

Together, our caucus of three Green MPs works by consensus with our new leader to press issues that matter to Canadians in Parliament. With our members and volunteers, we are organizing for the next election campaign. The party commissioned an independent review of the 2019 election campaign. 

The review, conducted by three noted academics (professors Kimberly Spears of the University of Victoria, Matto Mildenberger of University of California Santa Barbara and Janice Harvey of University of New Brunswick), found that our culture of grassroots democracy has led to barriers to our success. The structural and cultural barriers created by the Greens’ anti-hierarchal philosophy can be changed without changes to make the leader the boss.  The structural re-alignment means we will be more effective and coordinated to obtain better results. This is the election in which, with a fresh new face and voice at the helm, the Green Party will, I predict, significantly grow our vote—and our seat count. 

Clearly, the post-pandemic desires of many Canadians resonate with key societal changes we Greens have been advocating for a generation—Guaranteed Livable Income, pharmacare, a post-carbon economy, early learning and child care and greater and more effective protection of nature. 

As Annamie Paul has said from the moment she was elected leader on October 3rd, the Green Party is exactly suited to the times. “The policies that have mattered the most and the policies that have been spoken about the most are not our environmental or climate policies at the moment,” Paul told CBC News. 

“It has been our social policies—our role in championing and leading the way on Guaranteed Livable Income or universal pharmacare or reform to our long-term care system. People in Canada are starting to see all of the dimensions of the Green Party.”

The more Canadians hear from Ms. Paul, the more likely they will be to want more Green MPs in the House. 

In uncertain times, Canadians want to hear from thoughtful people who seek to inspire hope, rejecting fear-mongering and partisan sniping. The more they get to know Annamie, the more they will want to hear. And the more they will sign up to help Annamie make history again. 

2021 will be our year.  

Contributing Writer Elizabeth May, former Leader of the Green Party of Canada, is the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands.