Who Will Lead the Greens?

Federal race is hard fought as August vote looms.

By Andrew MacLeod 16 Jun 2006 |


Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's legislative bureau chief.

He is the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015), which is based on a series he wrote for The Tyee about economic inequality.

Before joining The Tyee, Andrew worked for Victoria's alternative weekly Monday Magazine, where he wrote hundreds of stories on many topics, including poverty, land use and the environment. His work has been referred to in the B.C. legislature, Canadian House of Commons and senate. He won a 2006 Association of Alternative Newsweeklies award for news writing and was a finalist for a 2007 Western Magazine Award for best article in B.C. and the Yukon.

Andrew lives with his family in Victoria and is learning to play the Scottish small pipes. You can reach him here or at (250) 885-7662.

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Running hard: Sierra Club's Elizabeth May

With the Liberal Party of Canada in the middle of a competitive leadership campaign, the national media have been rooting through the candidates' baggage with the diligence of airline security screeners the day after a terrorist attack. Candidates for the Green party leadership, by comparison, are so far getting waved through the metal detectors as they stump for their cause.

For a party trying to build a following, a little more attention would be welcome. As Green Party candidate David Chernushenko says, "It can infuriate you if you let it. But thems the breaks. We're the smaller party."

However, there's a bit of a horse race developing over the leadership. Chernushenko is facing off with the executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, Elizabeth May, and Jim Fannon, an Ontario real estate agent and hemp supplement vendor who entered the race last week.

There are also some growing pains in the party, with some members grumbling about how the party's head office is running the campaign.

Chernushenko: top 2006 vote-getter

"The issues that led to the creation of the party...are every bit as pressing as they ever were," says Chernushenko, over the phone from Halifax, where he was speaking and meeting party members in the days before Nova Scotia's provincial election. The Ottawa resident has run twice for the Greens federally and once provincially. This week he swings west for a tour that will take him to Victoria and Vancouver on his way to Alberta. "If the other parties were addressing these issues, moving towards a sustainable society in a serious way, you might not need the Green Party."

He's the right person to lead the party, he says, for a number of reasons. With a long history in the party, he was the top Green vote-getter in the 2006 election. The riding where he's based has the largest membership in the party. Fluently bilingual, he has experience in small business, government and various non-government organizations, and he feels ready to lead the Greens through what may be their biggest challenge: the need to convince people the party is about more than just the environment.

It's great to have the support of environmentalists, he says, "But to get elected we need to get the votes from all these other Canadians."

May: staunch environmentalist

That would seem to be a jab at May, whose roots are deep in the environmental movement. While in Victoria last week to promote her new book, How to Save the World in Your Spare Time, she stayed at the home of long-time environmental activist Vicky Husband and toured with B.C. Green Party leader Adriane Carr, who herself came to politics through her experience with the West Coast Wilderness Committee.

Carr, by the way, credits May with mentoring her into politics and says, "I think she's exactly what Canadian politics need."

May, for her part, is unapologetic about putting environmental issues first. She cites climate change as "the single greatest threat to our future," and says the low profile of the environment in the 2006 election contributed to her entering the leadership race. She describes watching the debates with her 14-year-old daughter, who was disappointed with the level of debate. "I've never seen her yell 'fuck' before."

For May too it was deeply frustrating to see the opposition parties give Conservative Stephen Harper, now the prime minister, a free ride on environmental issues. She says, "I had two choices: slit my wrists or run for leader of the Green Party."

Fannon: 'I love reporters'

I didn't manage to catch up with the third candidate, Jim Fannon, though he did respond to an e-mail with a voice message saying he'd be happy to talk: "I love reporters. Thanks for doing a great job."

Ariel Lade, who has run twice for the Greens in Victoria, and who will likely run again, is so far not endorsing any of the candidates. "Elizabeth or David can take us to a new level, I think," he says. The party is yet to have an MP elected, he says, but most Canadians recognize that the Greens are no longer on the fringe. "It's a good sign that we have a friendly competition," he adds. "One day I hope we have factions. That's my dream, that one day we'll be big enough to have factions."

He does, however, have a number of criticisms of how the competition is being run. He says the $270 fee to attend the leadership convention, to be held in Ottawa in August, is too high, especially for a party that attracts many people with lower incomes.

Also, he believes the space where the convention will be held is far too large. If the television stations send cameras, which is not a given, he says, the 600-odd likely attendees are "going to look miniscule in a room meant for thousands."

Finally, he says, the Green Party has a spending cap of $50,000, which the leadership candidates have to stay under during their campaigns. "We are fiscally conservative, we don't want people to buy the election, but that $50,000 cap seems ridiculously small."

Next PM?

Neither May nor Chernushenko thinks the spending cap is inappropriate. "Frankly I was stunned to imagine we'd spend more than $5,000 or $10,000," says May. "It's perfectly fine...A leadership campaign in the Green Party shouldn't be a big lavish affair."

And as Chernushenko says, the cap gives potential leaders a chance to show they can run a strong campaign that reaches people without spending much money.

As for the fee to attend the convention, both point out members can vote by mail, and don't have to be in Ottawa to participate. When it comes to the site, May agrees a smaller venue would have made more sense. Chernushenko, however, argues the party has grown to the point where it now needs simultaneous translation between English and French, media feeds and plenty of space. There could be a good turnout, he says. "The Ottawa area is our biggest area for membership in the country."

As the party grows, no doubt there will be many such details to work out. Meanwhile, it's shaping up to be a race worth watching. "Green party members will be choosing, for Canadians, the next Prime Minister, so people should pay attention," says May.

That might sound like a joke, she says, but who would have thought 10 years ago that the head of the National Citizens Coalition, a group on the right-wing libertarian fringe, would become prime minister? "I think it's far more likely that someone who actually loves the country could get elected rather than someone like Mr. Harper."

Tyee contributor Andrew MacLeod is a reporter in Victoria for Monday Magazine, where this was first published.

Related Tyee stories: Rafe Mair explained why he voted Green in the last election; Murray Dobbin argued the Greens aren't so green; and Rex Weyler analyzed whether Greens prevented an NDP victory in B.C.  [Tyee]

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