In choosing Annamie Paul the Greens further divide the pragmatic left

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Annamie Paul, the new leader of the federal Green party. Image: Annamie Paul/Facebook

The new Green party leader, Annamie Paul, mentioned both Rosemary Brown, the first Black person to compete for a national party leadership, and David Lewis, the first Jewish leader of a national party, in her acceptance speech on Saturday night.

Brown ran for the New Democratic Party (NDP) leadership in 1975 and came a close second to Ed Broadbent. Lewis led the NDP from 1971 to 1975. He was leader when the party held the balance of power, from 1972 to 1974, during Pierre Trudeau's one term of minority government.

Other similar trailblazers include: Bora Laskin, Canada's first Jewish supreme court chief justice; Lincoln Alexander, the first Black member of Parliament and first Black provincial lieutenant governor (for Ontario); Herb Gray, the first Jewish federal cabinet minister; Richard Nerysoo, the first Indigenous premier of a province or territory (the Northwest Territories, in this case); and Michaëlle Jean, the first Black governor-general of Canada.

Many similarities between Singh and Paul

There is also, of course, the current NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, the first person of colour to lead a national political party. Indeed, Annamie Paul's profile and life story resemble Singh's in many ways. 

Both are lawyers. Both have dedicated themselves to using the law to pursue social justice and human rights ends. And both have been scrupulous to avoid pigeonholing themselves in any sort of ideological box.

When the New Democrats chose Singh they selected a person who characterized himself as the candidate of "connections and emotions" -- not policy and ideas. 

This past weekend, the Greens could have opted for other candidates who advocate more clearly defined, eco-socialist policies, notably the former Wall Street lawyer Dimitri Lascaris. In choosing Paul they opted, instead, for a cautious and pragmatic approach. 

In making that choice, Green members have also helped create a big crowd on the centre-left-progressive-but-not-too-radical side of the political field. 

There are differences between the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens, especially between the current governing party and the other two. But if you look at the Venn diagram of the three parties you cannot help but see a big area of overlap. 

Given our first-past-the-post voting system, this overlap creates a serious problem for Canadians who care about social justice, climate change, workers' rights, and Indigenous reconciliation. Come the next election, their dilemma will be to figure out whom to vote for in such a way that they do not help elect the one party they fear the most: the Conservatives.

Both New Democrats and Greens have long advocated a change to our electoral system that would allow voters to more confidently opt for what they want, rather than force them to vote strategically, against what they do not want. 

For a brief period, the Liberals also supported reform. That happened when the erstwhile natural governing party found itself, for the first time since Confederation, in third-place position. When they regained power under the current electoral system, the Liberals quickly changed their tune. 

Green victories have been at expense of NDP

In the current context, a reinvigorated Green party poses the biggest threat not to the Liberals but to the NDP. 

Where Greens have succeeded, provincially and federally, it has, as a rule, been at the expense of the NDP. There are some exceptions to that rule. The Fredericton riding in New Brunswick, which Jenica Atwin won in 2019 for the Greens, is one such case. That riding has historically shifted back and forth between the Conservatives and Liberals. The NDP has never been a major factor in Fredericton, and only managed as much as a second-place finish there once, in 2011, when the party won over 100 seats across the country. 

There will be a byelection on October 26 in Toronto Centre, which was recently vacated by former Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau, and Paul will be the Green candidate. 

The Liberals are running a star candidate of their own, who is also Black: well-known CTV broadcaster Marci Ien. The NDP candidate, Brian Chang, came in second last time against Morneau, but it was a distant second. The youthful NDPer speaks passionately for young people and Canadians trapped in the gig economy, which, he says, he has experienced personally. But Chang is much less well-known than the other two.

It is hard to imagine the Liberals losing Toronto Centre. 

In recent memory, the only non-Liberal to hold this seat (or, rather, the previous Rosedale riding, much of which is now in Toronto Centre) was one-time Toronto mayor David Crombie. 

Crombie was a Progressive Conservative and served in Brian Mulroney's government, but he was a red Tory, a breed that is almost extinct. With the exception of Crombie, this part of Toronto has been sending Liberals to Ottawa for decades. 

There is always a chance for an upset, of course, especially in a byelection. Tom Mulcair got elected in the long-time Liberal stronghold of Outremont in a byelection. But, at this moment, it looks like the big battle on October 26 will be for second place.

Paul, with her many skills and accomplishments, would be a great addition to the House of Commons, and Toronto Centre voters who do not define themselves in an über-partisan way might want to help her get there. 

Former Green leader Elizabeth May notes that when Jagmeet Singh ran in a British Columbia byelection, the Greens, as a courtesy, did not present a candidate. She wants the NDP to return the favour now.

Indeed, pulling their Toronto Centre candidate might not only be a generous gesture for the New Democrats; it might be a smart choice, tactically. The NDP would thus avoid the embarrassment of, possibly, slipping from second to third or even fourth place in the riding.

As well, if there were no NDP candidate, some hard-core NDPers might be tempted to vote Liberal, just to keep Annamie Paul, and the threat she represents to their party, out of Parliament.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Image: Annamie Paul/Facebook

Editor's note, October 6, 2020: This story has been updated to include Elizabeth May's ask that the NDP not run a candidate in the Toronto Centre byelection.

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