On the Green Party's Protection of Elizabeth May

This will be a portrait of an individual changing his mind.

I was reading Twitter when I saw the following tweet:

steve_rennie: Green party’s top job not up for grabs (longer version) http://bit.ly/9CedyY #greens #cdnpoli


My initial reaction was one of disappointment. I had thought that the Green Party executive had made a mistake that would damage the party over the long term.

Four years ago, when Jim Harris was still leader of the party, the Greens had a clause in their constitution that required a full leadership convention to take place every two years or so, forcing incumbent party leaders to run for their jobs again, rather than just face a leadership review.

The Greens marketed this as an example of how the party was different from the mainstream. It was an example of bottom-up democracy, where the so-called elite weren’t protected from the grassroots. It was something I didn’t much think of, but it was something I respected — clearly so, given how disappointed I was to see this go.

When Elizabeth May campaigned for and won the leadership of the Green Party, there were some concerns out there. She had brought with her considerable organizational experience and possibly people from her work with the Sierra Club. She had a far more media savvy personality than the Green Party leaders before her. Her detractors suggested that she was an outside influence taking over the Green Party.

In my opinion, Elizabeth May has proven to be an effective leader for the Greens. Under her tutelage the party has participated in the leadership debates, received more media attention, and posted some of its best results in our previous two elections. However, my first reaction upon reading the tweet was that she was cementing her hold on the party. I would have advised against that. To deflect against the criticism that May was bigger than the party, she should have continued to work with the Green Party constitution as it was when she took over as leader. Possibly entrenching Elizabeth May as Green Party leader would reinforce the notion that the party was all about her. Moreover, it could prevent potential successors from building up their own credibility, making initial bids for the leadership before May’s eventual departure.

But reading this, it goes to show that you shouldn’t take tweets at face value. With only 140 characters available per post, context is often left out. The decision to protect Elizabeth May from a leadership challenge came not from the Green Party executive, but the Green Party membership:

Green party members overwhelmingly approved a motion delaying a leadership review until after the next federal election.

A leadership race must be held every four years under the party’s constitution.

Party leader Elizabeth May’s term ends Aug. 31 and at least one challenger — retired army Lt.-Col. Sylvie Lemieux — had stepped forward.

But 74 per cent of Greens voted for a motion to put off a leadership review until after the next federal election. Any motion that gets more than 60 per cent support before the convention is considered passed.


I assume that the 74 percent of Greens who voted here represented a substantial chunk of the Green Party membership in total (including those who didn’t vote). If this is the case, the scenario is far less that of a clique moving to protect an elite from the grassroots. Instead, the grassroots appear to have voted to postpone a pretty laborious process until such time when parliament in Ottawa isn’t one sneeze away from falling.

I still think the decision was a mistake in the long term, if only because it prevents potential successors from testing the waters and building their cred ahead of May’s eventual departure, but if it is a mistake, it’s one that the grassroots of the Greens have chosen to make, as is their democratic right. The accountability is theirs, and only time will tell if the decision they took was the right one or not. I can still respect it, and move on.

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