Annamie speaking to Green Party of Canada members and supporters at the 2019 Toronto Centre nomination meeting. Image credit: Annamie Paul/Creative Commons.

It’s bizarre that the existential crisis of the Green party came about over the Mideast, and not something more in their wheelhouse like climate Armageddon or the social safety net.

It started with New Brunswick Green MP Jenica Atwin’s charge that the party’s mild response to the latest paroxysm there was “totally inadequate.” Green leader Annamie Paul said Atwin was already in touch with the Liberals about leaving the Greens to join them, so the Mideast issue wasn’t pertinent to her defection.

Really? Parties are always trying to poach from other parties, and those that succeed usually have the most goodies to dangle, like cabinet posts. An astute leader senses those risks and moves to head them off. How? By, say, talking to an especially agitated party member.

But Paul says she has never spoken to Atwin about the Mideast. Here’s where I start getting flummoxed. Why the hell not? It isn’t a leadership virtue to avoid discussing disagreements that could lead to defections.

It wasn’t Paul but her paid advisor, Noah Zatzman, who dealt publicly with the issue by accusing Atwin and B.C. Green MP Paul Manly (who called Palestinian evictions in East Jerusalem “ethnic cleansing”) of anti-Semitism and saying they’d be targeted for defeat in the next election.

Here’s flummox number two: Paul said nothing in response. Huh? Does that mean she agreed with her aide, or even put him up to it? We have no idea, and she won’t say.

She was obstinate in refusing to answer press questions on how she felt about Zatzman’s outbursts. Not answering questions is a crucial life skill for leaders, but she managed to make others look like babbling brooks. In fact, the key to the skill is not being obvious about your resistance.

The party council then threatened to start a process to oust Paul. It involved a leaked letter accusing her of various faults. Paul finally changed the subject — the numero uno device for evading icky questions — by accusing them of racism and sexism. It was fairly effective and she seemed comfortable doing it, though it was a bit pointless since they’d already voted not to start the process, insisting instead that she finally respond re: Zatzman.

I sense this could go on for, like, an eternity, so let me say I had high hopes for the Greens with Paul as leader. The NDP have looked historically exhausted for a while. Jagmeet Singh says his mission is doing things for people (not even “the people”), as if other parties are anti-people. Paul seemed just right to head their replacement by a party with some clarity on why it wants power — which is not primarily to impose justice on the Mideast. So this has been a letdown.

On the other hand, Paul is learning to play the game.

On Wednesday, she wasn’t even asked by the CBC about responding to Zatzman’s ongoing outbursts. Score one for her. She’s counterattacking others rather than defending herself, saying Justin Trudeau can’t handle strong women in his cabinet. I do find that a bit misdirected; I shudder to think where we’d be on COVID without Chrystia Freeland, Patty Hajdu, Anita Anand and Carla Qualtrough. Her target should be Singh and the NDP, who occupy the space that Greens could reasonably aim at: “progressive,” with appeal to idealistic youth.

Combativeness though, against all comers, isn’t a bad place to start.

On another subject. There was much dispirited “analysis” of the Putin-Biden meeting in Geneva along the lines: “No major breakthroughs.” But there was never going to be action on “internal” matters like (ostensibly) reoccupying Crimea or poisoning opposition leaders like Alexei Navalny. Those were on the agenda just for show.

However, the main danger to human survival — alongside climate change — is nuclear war, including inadvertent. The U.S. and Russia have between them over 12,000 nukes. The other seven players have a meagre 1,200. A set of treaties had helped prevent any bombings after 1945, despite numerous “accidents.”

Trump started dismantling even those limited arrangements, and if that didn’t scare you, I don’t understand why. Biden and Putin agreed to start restoring them, imperfect as they were. I don’t think they could’ve made a more major breakthrough, and I’ll sleep a bit better on account of it. Thanks, guys.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.