OTTAWA — Annamie Paul is the new Green Party Leader.
The announcement was made Saturday evening in Ottawa after 23,877 party members out of an eligible 34,680 cast their ballots in a preferential voting system.
Paul, 47, is a lawyer, activist and international affairs expert. She becomes the first elected Black leader and first female Jewish leader of a major federal party.
She won on the eight round of balloting, in a tight race with candidate Dimitri Lascaris.
Yellowknife physician Courtney Howard came in third, followed by former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Glen Murray and former public servant and Vancouver Island Liberal-turned-Green candidate David Merner. The other candidates, Anita Kuttner, Meryam Haddad and Andrew West, were eliminated on the first few rounds of balloting.
In her speech to party faithful and Canadians watching Paul said was thinking about her 84-year-old mother who arrived in North America during a time of racial segregation and could never have believed her daughter could be elected leader of a federal party.
Paul’s father, she said, died at the end of May from the same neglect that had caused thousands of others to die in long term care facilities. “He died of an avoidable infection,” she said.
“As we face down this pandemic, as we face down the climate emergency, we must constantly ask ourselves what is a life worth?,” Paul said.
“We are facing the two defining challenges of our time,” she said. “How will we build a complete social safety net that allows every person in Canada to live in dignity and security, and how will tackle the existential crisis of our time which is the climate emergency.”
The Green Party’s members had chosen a leader who matched the challenge of this time, she said, referring to herself.
“The other parties are simply out of ideas, they are intellectually exhausted,” she said.
“This is a moment that demands, daring, courageous leadership, and this is something we simply did not see from the last speech from the throne.”
As we face down this pandemic, as we face down the climate emergency, we must constantly ask ourselves what is a life worth?Annamie Paul
The Greens had blazed a path with proposals such as a guaranteed liveable income, universal pharmacare, long term care reform that other parties were now following, she said.
“This kind of innovative, evidence-base, daring, political policy thinking is absolutely necessary.”
On climate change, the new leader said her party was the only one with a target, a plan that corresponds to the science, and a way “to get us to where we need to be to save our planet.
Paul reminded the crowd she is running in the current Toronto Centre byelection.
“If we want different outcomes, we need to make different choices,” she said.
The riding has elected a Liberal MP since 1993, and is often used a safe seat for parachuted Grit candidates.
Paul said she was picking up the torch from women such as former federal NDP leaders Alexa McDonough and Audrey McLaughlin, former Green Party leader Elizabeth May, and former Progressive Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell who had opened doors for women like her. She said she was picking up where other Black women leaders had left off, Jane Augustine, Rosemary Brown, Viola Desmond.
May noted in her speech earlier Saturday evening that during her years as Green leader, from 2006 to 2019, no other federal party in the House of Commons had had a woman leader.
“That is not a good thing for our little girls,” she said. “That when they
look at a stage, where people are debating in a leaders debate, they don’t see a woman leader.”
The campaign to replace outgoing leader Elizabeth May struggled to generate attention amid the COVID-19 pandemic, provincial lock-downs, and the Conservative party’s leadership contest, which was happening in parallel.
The Green race was also marred by a fundraising discrepancies and controversies about candidates’ eligibility and expulsion.
But the contest, with eight candidates vying for the leadership, was a unique chance for the party to reflect internally after 13 years with May at the helm. While immensely popular with many Green supporters, May struggled to capture Canadians’ attention and translate interest in climate change into electoral wins for the party.
Although, 1,189,607 Canadians voted for the Greens in 2019 — 6.5 per cent of valid votes cast — the party increased its seat count by only 1, winning a New Brunswick seat in addition to two seats it already held on Vancouver Island.
For some, the leadership race was a chance to refocus the party.
Would the Greens become a more activist eco-socialist party or would they focus their attention on electoral seats in order to get the party’s agenda items — notably the fight against climate change — treated more aggressively by the governing party.
In the end, the more centrist camp won.
Before the announcement, the party celebrated May, its leader since 2006, as the person who had given voice to the Greens’ vision for more than a decade.
In a video tribute, former prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Paul Martin, as well as Liberal-turned-independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, praised May for her contributions to political life. Mulroney noted May’s work for helping his Progressive Conservative government establish more national parks, the development of the Acid Rain Treaty, the Montreal protocol, and the protection of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.
May told the limited crowd gathered at the Ottawa Art Gallery that she was taught from an earliest age to know that one person can change the world.
Although she was leaving the leadership to keep a promise to her daughter, May, 66, said the climate emergency is a “far greater threat” to the life of our children than COVID-19.
Citing writer Margaret Atwood, she suggested the government should keep both issues on the front burner, just as most kitchen stoves have two front burners.
“We are the single biggest threat to our own survival,” May said. “We can do more. We must do more.”