Brief tenure, complex legacy
Annamie Paul, the leader of the Green Party of Canada, announced that she has begun the process of stepping down less than a year after she took over from long-time leader Elizabeth May. Paul’s announcement comes following the party’s lacklustre performance in Election 44, in which she failed to win her own seat. Paul, who is the first Black woman and the first Jewish woman to lead a federal party in Canada, took the helm of the Green Party in October 2020, following eight rounds of voting that ultimately came down to her and Dimitri Lascaris. Paul edged out Lascaris, an ecosocialist, with 12,090 votes to his 10,081.
“When I was elected into this role, I broke a glass ceiling,” Paul wrote on Twitter on Monday, a week after the Greens, who appeared to be on an ascent only two years ago when they were able to win multiple seats for the first time in their 38-year history, just managed to hold on to their two seats. “I didn’t realize that when I did, the shards would fall on my head, leaving a trail of broken glass that I would have to climb over.” In her resignation speech, she added that her contentious relationship with the Green Party caucus, which intensified over the spring and involved one of the party’s only three MPs crossing the floor (bafflingly, to the Liberals), had worn her down.
Paul’s resignation presents a challenge to progressive Canadians who want to do a post-mortem on her time as leader. Paul, who was backed by May against Lascaris but received little support from the former leader after the October convention, has a sketchy record when it comes to human rights abroad. She refused to condemn the 2019 fascist coup in Bolivia and, most damagingly, refused to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in support of Palestine, refused to endorse a pledge to oppose Israeli annexation (although she did verbally express her opposition to Israeli annexation), and has repeatedly endorsed a “both sides” approach to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, as though one of those sides doesn’t have a $20.5 billion defense budget while the other is contained in the world’s largest open-air prison.
It was Paul’s weak response to the ongoing Israeli genocide against Palestinians in May of 2021, followed by her refusal to defend Jenica Atwin from accusations of antisemitism by Paul’s advisor, Noah Zatzman, that lead to Atwin’s floor-crossing, which reduced the size of the Green Party caucus by one-third (although Atwin’s decision to move over to the Liberals suggests that at least part of her decision was a tactical – and cynical – attempt to preserve her seat and her pension). Paul also sought a court injunction to avoid a leadership review, and while her performance at the debates this year was widely regarded as superb, she wasn’t able to translate that performance into any additional seats for the party. This is all to say that there are real and valid reasons for the leadership challenges that Paul has faced, and that attacks on her have not come out of nowhere.
However, it needs to be stated that no small part of the attacks on Paul’s leadership are likely rooted in misogynoir – a particularly pervasive and harmful prejudice against Black women, specifically. It’s extremely hard to quantify a thing like this, especially when the racism and sexism are not overt, but concealed behind valid criticisms of Paul’s performance and stances. But Paul’s position on Palestine – and foreign policy in general – is not that different from Elizabeth May’s, and May was an extremely popular leader within her own party. May has also taken a “both sides” approach to Palestine, and in 2016, when her party voted in favour of a resolution supporting sanctions against Israel, she told the press that the decision to support Palestinian rights was “polarizing” and that she wasn’t sure she could remain leader. She was not driven out because of the stance, and continued to make “both sides” statements for the remainder of her tenure. Atwin chose to run under the Green Party banner in 2019 despite May’s stance on Israel and the party chose Paul as leader knowing very well what her foreign policy was and is. And although Atwin has been lauded by many on the left for speaking out about Palestinian rights and taking a “principled” stance, her decision to move to a party that is fighting Indigenous children in court and which has condemned the BDS movement suggests that what counts as principled is much different for white women than it is for Black women.