Some Greens welcome Elizabeth May to the leadership race, but others say it’s time to move on

OTTAWA—Some aspiring candidates for the Green Party leadership say they would welcome Elizabeth May into the race, even if they don’t think the party should turn to a past leader to move forward from its recent period of bitter infighting.

Najib Jutt, a political strategist from Alberta, said Friday he intends to apply as a leadership candidate even after the Star reported May — a familiar face in federal politics who led the Greens from 2006 to 2019 — is preparing to enter the race for her old job.

“It raises the bar of the race itself,” Jutt said. “I was concerned about making sure that there were some credible folks running.”

Chad Walcott, a Green from Quebec who is also planning to apply as a candidate, said May’s potential candidacy adds excitement to the race, but does little to change his strategy of running as a co-leader with Anna Keenan, a former Green candidate from Prince Edward Island.

“We’re looking forward to engaging with Elizabeth,” he said. “(She is) a formidable opponent — and if and when we win, it’ll make our leadership that much more legitimate in the eyes of the Canadian public and in the eyes of our members.”

Green sources told the Star this week that May is preparing to apply as a candidate in the race. One source said May intends to run as a co-leader with Jonathan Pedneault, a former human rights worker from Quebec who also intends to enter the race.

Both of them have declined to comment on their plans over the past two days, with May stating the party’s leadership rules prevent her from discussing any potential candidate until all approved contenders are revealed on Aug. 31.

Others who intend to apply have publicly confirmed their intentions. That includes Jutt, who questioned whether May could win as a “polarizing” figure. He predicted her candidacy could drive votes toward a candidate promising a new path.

“I don’t see any new votes for her,” said Jutt, who advised then-Green leader Annamie Paul during the 2021 federal election.

Paul resigned last fall, describing her yearlong leadership tenure as the worst experience of her life. She and her supporters alleged Paul was unfairly undermined by officials inside the party, while Paul’s detractors accused her of poor leadership and communication skills that helped drive one of three Green MPs to the Liberals. The infighting also saw Paul accuse top officials of racism and sexism, as they tried to stage a confidence vote in her leadership last summer.

“I’ve seen a resurgence since (Thursday) in terms of people coming on my campaign because they do believe that a fresh voice and a fresh perspective is required,” Jutt said. “If anything, people are going to look to consolidate votes behind an alternative.”

Walcott echoed that sentiment, stating he and Keenan aim to revitalize the party grassroots by empowering local riding associations and bringing new faces into the party after the turmoil during Paul’s leadership.

“Elizabeth May had 13 years at the head of the party,” Walcott said. “I think the state of the party calls for renewed leadership.”

Dimitri Lascaris, a Montreal lawyer who placed second to Paul in the 2020 leadership race, had a sharper critique of May’s potential candidacy.

In a statement to the Star, Lascaris said it would show “appalling judgment” for May to run for leader again. Pointing to how Paul loyalists partly blamed May’s continued influence in the party for the infighting that occurred during her leadership, Lascaris said May’s run would confirm “to the whole world that all of those accusations were true.”

He added that “the last thing the Green Party needs is more Elizabeth May,” noting that during her 13 years at the helm, the Greens’ highest seat-count in Parliament was three, with no “real ability” to impact government policies.

“Elizabeth had her chance. There is no reason to believe that giving her another term as leader would take the party to the level it needs to go to,” he said.

Lascaris said earlier this year he wouldn’t run for leader again, in part because he believes May’s continued influence in the party prevents the Greens from moving further to the left.

May did not respond Friday when the Star asked her about Lascaris’s comments.

Another feature of May’s expected candidacy application is the idea of co-leadership for the Greens.

Asked how this could work under current Green rules, the party would only say Friday that the new leader can appoint two deputies, according to the party constitution.

Walcott said his understanding of the rules is that the constitution does not currently allow for a formal co-leader arrangement. His plan with Keenan is to tell members during the leadership race that they would each appoint the other as deputy leader, and then empower that person as effectively a co-leader. After that, they would push for a constitutional change to formally allow the Greens to elect co-leaders, he said.

“We think it’s much more in line with Green values,” he said, referring to the party’s commitment to participatory democracy. “Moving away from an egocentric version of leadership — as in, a single leader model — towards a dual-leader model is much more in line with that value,” he said.

Jutt disagreed. He argued co-leadership would confuse voters, and that the party isn’t established enough to chart a new course that’s only been seen in Quebec, with the social democratic Québec Solidaire party.

“We have a hard enough time convincing folks to vote Green without making the water more murky adding this co-leadership thing,” he said.

“It causes more complication and is an unnecessary innovation.”

A senior Green insider, who agreed to speak about the leadership on condition they aren’t named, said May’s plan to run as co-leader could trigger a “backlash” because “it looks regressive” for her to try and reclaim the position.

“But I think also that splits that, if you are really a balance between old and new,” the insider said.

“But who knows if that can be communicated in a way that people understand.”


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