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Why David Suzuki Won’t Back Elizabeth May’s Leadership Bid

And the other noisy divisions bringing tension to a troubled party.

Christopher Guly 19 Aug 2022TheTyee.ca

Tyee contributor Christopher Guly is an Ottawa-based journalist and a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Elizabeth May and David Suzuki have been close friends for over four decades. Last year, the famous science broadcaster and environmental activist campaigned for May’s re-election in her riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, which she has held since 2011.

Suzuki is unequivocal in praising May’s work as an MP and “outstanding politician.”

“I absolutely thank God she’s in there,” he told The Tyee in a recent interview. “She is, by far, the best parliamentarian we have on the issues of climate as well as social justice.”

But he doesn’t think May should return to lead the Green Party of Canada.

“It would be a mistake from the standpoint of the future of the Greens,” Suzuki, the legendary host of CBC-TV’s The Nature of Things, told The Tyee. “She’s had her run.”

CBC reported last month that May, Green leader from 2006 to 2019, was going to take another try at her old job.

The party is launching a new leadership contest after the disastrous tenure of Annamie Paul.

May plans to run on a co-leadership model with Jonathan Pedneault, a former crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Neither would talk with The Tyee about their joint bid for the Green leadership, saying that would break party rules that bar them from “campaigning,” as Pedneault described it, before the official launch of the race on Aug. 31.

Suzuki said May is frustrated by the current situation.

“She finds that, as no longer being the head of the Greens, the media don’t seem to call her as much. So she’s feeling really frustrated — that this is the time that her voice is needed.”

The Green party first has to approve applications by May and Pedneault to run for the top job. They would then campaign together as a team, but would appear on the ballot separately.

Should either become leader when results are announced on Nov. 19, they would then appoint the other as deputy leader. Both would act as co-leaders until the Greens’ constitution is changed to allow co-leadership.

Suzuki said May contacted him about her run, explaining that Pedneault’s focus would be to “rebuild the party and that he would allow her to be the spokesperson.”

But Suzuki believes it is time for the federal Greens to move on and find a fresh voice to lead them.

“I think it would be a mistake for the future of the Greens for her to come back now. She must not be indispensable to the Greens. No movement can depend on one or a few people,” he said.

Anna Keenan is also running to be the next Green leader and, if victorious, will share leadership duties with another Green member —Chad Walcott, who recently served as president of the Greens’ Notre-Dame-de-Grâce–Westmount riding association in Montreal.

Keenan welcomed May’s entry into the leadership contest.

“I think it would make it a more interesting race. She is very well respected,” said Keenan, who ran for the Greens in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections in the Prince Edward Island riding of Malpeque. “It’s going to lift the quality and calibre of the debates.”

“One of the reasons I’m running is because I think the party needs new leadership and wants to move forward and needs new energy,” she added.

Once her campaign officially begins next month, Keenan said she will promote the idea of co-leaders who have “equal status and share the role” — a model, she explained, which has been adopted by Greens in New Zealand and many European countries.

“In Canada, we have Québec Solidaire at the provincial level that uses the co-leadership model, as do the Nova Scotia Greens,” said Keenan, who recently worked for international climate advocacy organization, 350.org, as its global digital organizing manager.

Keenan said if May wins, she would be comfortable welcoming her back as the party’s leader.

“She’s clearly committed to climate action and drug decriminalization and all the different issues the Greens stand for, and she’s a powerful and formidable voice,” said Australian-born Keenan, who first met May at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2007.

“Elizabeth has been a change-maker, and selected me to be the democratic institutions critic for the party in 2019, and I’ve served in that role under three leaders: Elizabeth, Annamie Paul and Amita Kuttner,” said Keenan. Kuttner is the interim party leader.

“But we have to trust the wisdom of the membership — and whether they choose me and Chad, or Elizabeth and Jonathan, I will support the members’ decision,” she said.

“I’m committed to the party. I’m not committed to my own ego. I’m committed to the ideas and values that Greens have, and I think those values need to be promoted in Canadian politics — and it’s the choice of the members about who is going to be the next leader to advance that.”

Quebec Green Party Leader Alex Tyrrell, who will make his twelfth attempt over 10 years to win a seat in the National Assembly in the Oct. 3 provincial election, had also hoped to run for the federal party’s top job — before being tossed out as a member after making controversial statements about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a July 16 letter to him from party president Lorraine Rekmans, Tyrrell was informed that following his meeting with the party’s federal council the day before, a motion was passed to “expel” him from the party “due to his taking actions that are contrary to the principles and purpose of the party, and which have brought discredit to the GPC.”

“Federal council… has concluded that your actions are in contravention of the Green Party of Canada bylaws and did in fact breach the member’s code of conduct,” Rekmans wrote.

She said the council agreed that Tyrrell’s “public statements on the war in Ukraine including your statement about Crimea’s forced annexation by Russia being justified, were inconsistent with Green Party principles, values and policy. Rekmans also cited Tyrrell’s “public statement justifying Putin’s demands in relation to the invasion of Ukraine.”

In March, Tyrell tweeted that “Russia's most recent demands for a neutral and non-nuclear status for Ukraine, its demilitarization, its denazification, as well as the recognition of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk are reasonable demands that should be accepted by the Western countries and the Ukrainian government.”

He added: “I therefore call on the Canadian, American and NATO governments to stop sending arms to Ukraine and to support serious negotiations with Russia now to allow for an immediate de-escalation and to save lives.”

Interim leader Kuttner denounced Tyrrell’s comments.

The party also said Tyrrell, who describes himself as an ecosocialist, was expelled based on his public statements that cast the party as “pro-tar sands,” which the Federal Council said brought “discredit” to the federal Greens.

Tyrrell he responded to the council’s decision in a 40-page document sent to the party ombud and appeals committee.

Tyrrell also took aim at May on Twitter on July 28.

“Just days after my expulsion from the @CanadianGreens leadership race Elizabeth May enters the race herself. Behind closed doors she has been advocating for and justifying my expulsion. Now we know why!”

May did not respond to a request for comment.

The two have clashed before. In 2016, Tyrrell was among the writers of an opinion article in The Tyee that attacked then-BC Green leader Andrew Weaver over his opposition to the boycott, divest and sanction campaign against Israel.

May fired three Greens who had signed the article from critic roles. It was reported May also urged senior federal Greens not to deal with Tyrrell.

Tyrrell, 34, who has led the Quebec Greens for almost nine years, said he hoped to convince Montreal lawyer and fellow eco-socialist Dimitri Lascaris, who placed second behind Paul in the 2020 leadership contest, to take another crack at the leadership. The Quebec Greens’ best general election showing under Tyrrell’s leadership has been 1.7 per cent of the popular vote.

Lascaris wrote a lengthy defence of Tyrrell after his expulsion. There is also an open letter, signed by several global Greens, including Lascaris and Alberta Green Leader Jordan Wilkie, calling for Tyrrell’s reinstatement.

In May, Lascaris told the Toronto Star that “it would be in the best interest of the party if Elizabeth May gracefully departed the scene and moved on to other endeavours.”

“Her continuing to linger within the power structure of the party is problematic — I think it was problematic for Annamie and will be problematic for whoever becomes the next leader,” said Lascaris.

Tyrrell told The Tyee that many of Lascaris’s supporters from the 2020 contest urged him to run for the federal leadership to ensure that there would be “an eco-socialist represented in the race.”

He believes the leadership contest was designed to support May’s return.

“It’s a race in which people are only given 10 weeks between the announcement of the candidates and the final vote, and the candidates are blocked from sending political messaging to the membership. That gives a huge advantage to somebody who’s already well-known within the current membership, so Elizabeth is able to step into that quite easily,” said Tyrrell, who told The Tyee that he only had one meeting with May when she was leader. It occurred in 2016 and lasted 30 minutes.

“I don’t think the return of Elizabeth May is positive for the Green Party and it would be one of the worst things to happen to it,” said Tyrrell. “I think it would show in the public’s eye that we’re not able to get past the personality of a single person.”

May is not the only potential Green leadership candidate Tyrrell has targeted.

On Aug. 17, he sent Chad Walcott, who is running for co-leadership with Anna Keenan, a cease-and-desist letter obtained by The Tyee that claims Walcott has made “false allegations” against him that are “slandering [Tyrrell’s] reputation,” including allegations that Tyrrell expelled “hundreds” of Quebec Green members who signed a petition Walcott circulated in 2019 “calling for a vote of confidence” on Tyrrell’s leadership of the Quebec Green Party.

In the letter, Tyrrell said that “not a single member was expelled for signing the petition.” He survived the confidence vote with 65-per-cent support.

Walcott told The Tyee that what he had said, in an email to an Ontario Green member, was that “after hundreds of members signed the petition, Alex expelled several members.”

“To me, this is just another action in his playbook of intimidation when people speak truth to power,” said Walcott.

Tyrrell hasn’t given up. He created an online petition calling for a special general assembly of the party to have him reinstated as a federal Green member.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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