Amita Kuttner no longer wants to be the permanent leader of the troubled Green Party of Canada, but this week stepped into the role on an interim basis.
“It’s been a really tough year for the party,” Kuttner said. “I care about everyone who works in the party, and I care about all the work we’re trying to do, so I want to help, and I feel like my skill set is appropriate to help.”
In 2020, Kuttner ran in the leadership race to replace Elizabeth May, coming sixth in the contest ultimately won by Annamie Paul. Following months of conflict within the party and a dismal result in the September election, Paul formally resigned earlier in November.
“By the end of the leadership race, a lot of us were very glad to lose,” said Kuttner, also the party’s candidate in North Burnaby-Seymour in the 2019 federal election.
By the time Paul won the leadership, it was clear there were serious divisions and structural problems in the party, they said, not to mention a serious lack of preparedness to contest the next election. “You’re inheriting a huge amount of responsibility and a very difficult, tenuous situation.”
In an interview during that leadership race, Kuttner told The Tyee that the Green Party had a record of seeking diverse candidates, then failing to create the environment where they will thrive and stay.
“They show up, they have an awful time, and they leave, so long term we don’t have the ability to actually diversify the politics,” they said then, adding the party lacked an understanding of how to create an inclusive party that welcomes equity seeking groups.
Reminded of their observation and asked how it fits with what’s happened since, Kuttner said, “I feel like I was right. Very extensively right.”
One of the frustrations is that the focus on identity can be a distraction that makes it difficult to see the whole person, they said.
“[A candidate’s] identity factors into it, it gives you the lived experience of often marginalization and oppression that is extremely relevant to be bringing, but [ultimately] it probably doesn’t tell you anything.”
There are various dynamics at play, including that political parties are like other systems rooted in white supremacy, colonialism and patriarchy, Kuttner said.
“You’re inviting individuals to sit at a table that is not constructed for them,” they said, “and what you have to do is change that table so that it’s actually one that’s collectively created by everybody, no matter their background.”
It’s tough work, but necessary to create a space where everyone feels like they belong and “nobody feels reduced to the colour of their skin, or their gender, or their cultural heritage or anything like that,” they added.
“I think the lesson here is ‘who are we’ cannot be determined by the one person you put in the leadership chair, because that doesn’t match the system.”
According to the Green Party release announcing Kuttner’s appointment from among 20 applicants, “At 30 years and 11 months, they are the youngest, the first trans person, and the first person of East Asian descent to lead a national political party.”
Kuttner has a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where they studied black holes in the early universe and what happens when worm holes evaporate. They are the founder of the moonlight institute, a non-profit that explores frameworks to adapt to the climate crisis.
When Kuttner was 14-years-old and away at boarding school in California, a mudslide destroyed the family home in North Vancouver, killing their mother and severely injuring their father, an experience Kuttner has said made them especially alert to environmental dangers.
Stepping into the leadership role on an interim basis feels right, Kuttner said. “It’s a different job. There’s a rebuilding, very practical, aspect to it that I think is what I was interested in the whole time.”
They added, “When you go through a breakdown, you look inward and you figure it out, and that’s kind of what we need to do.”
The Green Party constitution requires that a leadership contest must start within six months of the appointment of the interim leader.
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