OTTAWA — Annamie Paul is no longer in immediate danger of getting dumped as leader of the Green Party of Canada.
In a political party fractured from months of bitter infighting, that was cause enough for Paul to celebrate “very good news” on Monday.
But there are no guarantees her leadership is safe, and the threats to her position have only been forestalled. And Paul’s chief rival in last year’s leadership contest is already calling for her future to be decided by the party’s 33,000-plus members.
“I’m certainly hoping that this is the end of this,” Paul told a news conference in Toronto, “but I can’t give you that guarantee.
“I want to lead us into the next election,” she said. “I want to offer my service to our members and to Canada, and I’m hoping that those who feel otherwise will wait until a more appropriate time to make a move.”
The latest twist in the stunning drama for Canada’s first Black leader of a major federal party now includes the abrupt cancellation of a confidence vote that was set for Tuesday night by the Green party’s federal council, the organization’s top governing body.
That vote could have triggered the process to depose Paul. If 75 per cent of council members voted to oust her, the party’s members would have decided whether to keep her at their next general meeting on Aug. 21.
The party announced Monday morning that the vote was cancelled, and said in a statement that the current federal council — most members of which are being replaced in elections that run until Aug. 11 — can’t hold a new confidence vote before the next Green party general meeting.
That means it’s possible for the threat of a confidence vote to be revived in August, when a widely expected federal election campaign could already be underway.
The party also announced that a review of Paul’s party membership — which was launched last week after a closed-door meeting of the council — had been “suspended.”
That, too, could come back to make trouble for Paul. According to the party’s rules, a member under review can’t represent the party “in any capacity,” raising questions about whether Paul could remain as leader while her membership is being reviewed.
Dimitri Lascaris, who placed a close second in last year’s Green leadership race, told the Star on Monday that Paul needs to be more “transparent” about why these threats to her leadership were so suddenly dropped.
Two sources with knowledge of party affairs told the Star that Paul had launched an internal arbitration process to save her leadership. But Paul repeatedly refused to comment on any such process, or to say why the membership review and confidence vote were called off, declaring that she will never “leak” internal party information.
“We deserve to know why that vote is not going forward,” said Lascaris, a Montreal lawyer and avowed “eco-socialist” who has not ruled out trying to become leader if Paul is deposed.
“The only way we know for sure that Ms. Paul has the support of members is through a confidence vote,” he said.
The now-cancelled confidence vote was scheduled in the wake of a controversy that erupted when New Brunswick MP Jenica Atwin defected from the Greens to the Liberals in June. Some party members including former leader Jim Harris blamed Paul for Atwin’s departure, while unnamed members of the federal council accused Paul of showing an “autocratic attitude of hostility, superiority and rejection.”
At the time, Paul dismissed the allegations as “racist” and “sexist.”
But as the Star first reported in April, tensions in the party predated that controversy. Party operatives around Paul have described how she has faced obstacles from the federal council since the early days of her leadership when she ran in a federal byelection in Toronto Centre, a Liberal stronghold where she is trying again to win her first seat in Parliament in the next election.
As church bells clanged out the hour over St. James Park, where she stood with a group of supporters under the trees, Paul spoke Monday of how “painful” the opposition she has faced from her own party has been for herself and her family.
She said it “remains very hard” to be “stripped” of the ability to do her job as Green leader — referring to how the party has not funded her campaign in Toronto Centre and laid off staff in her office — and characterized the situation as a “one-sided campaign” to end her leadership.
Asked whether she thinks longtime former leader Elizabeth May is linked with this campaign against her leadership, Paul said it was a “reasonable question” but that she was not going to speak about her relationship with the Saanich—Gulf Islands MP through the media.
May has stayed silent about whether she supports Paul, and on Monday declined an interview request from the Star for the sixth time in the past week.
Sources close to Paul were elated to see the effort to depose her stall on Sunday night, even if they didn’t know why it had happened.
“To be perfectly frank with you, I don’t care,” one party insider said. “I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Another party source expressed relief that Paul can now focus on winning a seat in Parliament.
“Toronto Centre, Toronto Centre, Toronto Centre — that’s it now,” the source said.
It remains to be seen if the climbdown by the federal council will cool the party infighting that has been raging for months.
Last week, the Green Party of Canada Fund reported the organization is “bleeding” money, according to a recording of a meeting obtained by the Star. Directors of the fund told party members that the organization posted deficits every month this year, and that negotiations with the COPE Ontario union — after party staff voted to unionize last year — have added “significant legal costs.”
The party recently laid off nine staff members, including two of whom worked in Paul’s office. The federal council is slated to consider withdrawing $250,000 in funding from the leader’s riding association in Toronto Centre.
The Green party has so far nominated candidates to run in 51 of Canada’s 338 federal ridings in the next election, spokesperson Rosie Emery confirmed on Monday.
Other parties appear to be spotting potential vulnerabilities after months of fractious Green discord. One New Democrat source told the Star on Monday that NDP operatives recently added the British Columbia riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith to its official “target” list for the next election.
Paul Manly won that riding for the Greens in 2019 and will be seeking re-election.
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga