OTTAWA—Annamie Paul’s chief rival in last year’s Green leadership race says the embattled politician can save herself from party operatives trying to oust her — if she takes responsibility for the loss of a Green MP who defected to the Liberals.
In an interview with the Star, Dimitri Lascaris said he believes Paul can “rehabilitate her standing with the party’s members” who were outraged by how she handled the controversy surrounding New Brunswick MP Jenica Atwin’s decision to ditch the Greens last month.
Atwin left after Noah Zatzman, one of Paul’s top aides who has since stepped down, accused unnamed Green MPs of anti-Semitism and pledged to defeat unnamed politicians in the next federal election. Days earlier, Atwin had openly criticized Paul’s statement on violence between Israel and Palestinians and called for an end to Israeli “Apartheid.”
The episode cranked up existing tensions over Paul’s leadership and prompted the interim president of the Greens’ federal council — the party’s most powerful governing body — to schedule a vote for July 20 to try to depose her.
“Annamie really needs to stop pretending that her failure to defend (Atwin) wasn’t a big part of the reason and perhaps the only reason that she left,” Lascaris said, referring to how Paul avoided talking about Zatzman’s comments after he posted them on social media.
“She needs to take ownership of that. And if she did that, and said ‘I unequivocally support our MPs,’ I think she could recover from this,” he said.
Paul — who has already expressed support for her party’s remaining MPs — declined to respond to Lascaris’s comments through her spokesperson on Friday.
In June, the federal council also offered Paul a way out of the vote on her leadership when it issued an ultimatum for her to call a press conference to publicly condemn Zatzman and “explicitly support” the two remaining Green MPs, former leader Elizabeth May and Nanaimo’s Paul Manly.
There is so far no indication Paul intends to cave to those demands. In fact, as the Star reported this week, the council’s top member signalled it will move onto the confidence vote anyway. Interim president Liana Canton Cusmano read a letter during a town-hall meeting for party members on June 30, claiming Paul failed to both “openly condemn” Zatzman and “collaborate with and support members of the caucus” about what he said.
Earlier that day, the party’s interim executive director, Dana Taylor, asked his assistant to mute Paul during a discussion about planned cuts to Green staffers, which resulted in layoffs this week. The Star has now obtained a partial recording of that episode, which shows how an unidentified person in the meeting told Taylor he was “embarrassing” himself and accused him of disrespecting the leader of his own party.
Taylor has not responded to requests for comment from the Star this week.
Now the focus of Green insiders is set squarely on July 20, when federal council is set to vote on whether to declare it has lost confidence in Paul’s leadership. According to the party’s constitution, three quarters of the council needs to go against Paul to trigger a wider vote that will decide her leadership at the Greens’ general meeting of members in August.
But two party sources who spoke to the Star on condition they aren’t named said Friday that the rules for the July 20 vote remain unclear. The sources said they don’t know whether Paul — who as leader sits as one of the 13 current members of the federal council — will be allowed to vote, or whether the threshold needed to declare non-confidence will be based on all 13 members or just those eligible to vote. The council president usually votes only to break a tie.
Canton Cusmano, the party president, did not respond to the Star’s questions about the voting process on Friday.
According to the two sources, however, the vote could be close. Excluding Paul and Canton Cusmano, three council members are currently expected to support Paul, six are expected to vote against her, and two are seen as undecided, the sources said.
Paul’s team is aiming to secure at least four votes — not including Paul’s potential vote — in order to preserve her leadership, one source said.
The Star reached out to every council member on Friday to ask about the vote. Gerald Enns, the council representative for the territories, declined to comment. The rest did not respond.
Sean Yo, a vocal Paul supporter who ran her byelection campaign in Toronto Centre last year, questioned the legitimacy of the council’s push to oust the leader amidst an election set to replace most of its existing members. That election is scheduled to conclude Aug. 11, after nearly a month of voting.
“We’re seeing people who are exiting the organization in a matter of days. We are in the middle of federal council elections. So they’re making decisions that they’re not going to be held accountable for,” Yo told the Star on Friday.
“What I see is a group of people who are lighting a match and throwing it in a pool of gas on their way out of the house,” he said. “This is slash and burn, salt the earth... To me, it feels like a childish, ‘if I can’t have this party, no one can.’”
Lascaris, who placed a close second to Paul in last year’s leadership contest, is more ambivalent about his erstwhile rival’s fate. He said he would support Paul as leader if she rolled out a “strongly progressive agenda” ahead of the next election, which is widely expected soon. But if she falls in the coming leadership vote, Lascaris said he would also consider running to replace her.
“I would think seriously about it,” he said. “But I’d want to see what other candidates are in the race, whether it would be best for me to support somebody else rather than running.”
With files from Raisa Patel
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga