After a disappointing federal election result, internal conflicts spilling into the open and a downward trend in fundraising, the federal Green Party named a familiar face as its leader Saturday night, although she will not be doing it alone.
Elizabeth May, the longtime member of Parliament from B.C. who led the party from 2006 to 2019, won the leadership race on the sixth and final ranked ballot with 4,666 votes. She remained in the lead from the start, but Anna Keenan held on to a strong second-place spot throughout.
May campaigned on a joint ticket with Jonathan Pedneault, a 32-year-old expert on crisis situations who has investigated abuses in war zones including Afghanistan from Montreal.
They ran separate campaigns, as required by the current rules, but Pedneault will be deputy leader. May said the two will seek to amend the party’s constitution to allow for an official co-leadership model.
“It means a different model for leadership that emphasizes that Greens do things differently,” May said in her victory speech on Saturday night, after insisting the other candidates, not just Pedneault, all join her on the stage.
“We don’t have a top-down leader or a boss who tells people what to say or where to go or how to vote,” she said.
May, 68, highlighted her experience throughout the leadership campaign, arguing she left things in excellent shape when she resigned after the 2019 federal election.
In that election, three members were elected to Parliament and Green candidates received 6.5 per cent of the popular vote, although still not enough to reach official party status in the House of Commons.
In the 2021 election, held when the tumultuous tenure of former leader Annamie Paul had already reached new depths, support plummeted to 2.3 per cent of the popular vote. May kept her seat and Mike Morrice was elected in Ontario. Paul placed fourth in bid for Toronto Centre.
“Three years ago I stepped down as leader confident that the party was strong and ready with three elected MPs to see a change,” May said in her victory speech.
“I do think we need change. I absolutely hear the voices that want change that wants to see younger leadership that wants to see a different way as the party goes forward.”
May entered the race wanting to rebuild the party. Many are expecting her to try to grow its support, including by trying to recruit NDP voters disenchanted by Jagmeet Singh’s leadership.
“It has been a bit of a rough patch, but we’re out of it now,” May said in remarks before the results were announced. “And we can confidently say that when tonight is over we are united regardless of the outcome. We are working together.”
May and Pedneault will seek to assert the Greens as being more trustworthy than other parties on the environment. While most politicians of any stripe now recognize climate change as an issue voters care about, May and Pedneault argue other parties’ policies don’t go far enough to curb emissions and fight environmental crisis.
“We’re the only relevant party,” she said on Saturday.
Green members started casting their ballots Nov. 12 and results started flowing to party members gathered at a hotel in downtown Ottawa shortly after 8 p.m.
Roughly 22,000 members were eligible to vote, but only a little more than 8,000 voted on the first ballot. May acknowledged being “disappointed” by the turnout when asked by a reporter on Saturday.
“But I have to say given the climate in which this campaign was fought, and I think all of us a candidate felt the headwinds, it’s a respectable show of support from our membership and their commitment to this party,” May added.
Over the course of the six-month race, leadership hopefuls had been quick to acknowledge the party’s struggles and offered differing visions on how to heal wounds, excite supporters and attract new support at the polls.
Paul, who became the first Black woman to lead a federal party in Canada in 2020, resigned as Green leader not long after last year’s election. There was an earlier move to oust Paul as leader, rife with accusations that she described as “racist” and “sexist.”
Paul has described her time as leader as “the worst period” in her life.
May spoke during a Nov. 9 debate to a “mismatch” between Paul’s “skills and her talents and what a Green Party leader should be.” The party needs someone who will “listen to other people,” she said at the debate.
Amita Kuttner, an astrophysicist chosen to be interim Green leader after Paul left the job, became the first transgender leader of a major federal political party in Canada.
Kuttner, who also identifies as nonbinary, did not seek the permanent leadership but spoke about the need for party unity during their tenure.
Several of the candidates spoke about a need for less division during the leadership campaign, including Keenan and her running mate Chad Walcott.
The other co-leadership pair had argued their fresh faces are just what the party needs in a “make-or-break moment.”
Simon Gnocchini-Messier and Sarah Gabrielle Baron, who both ran unsuccessfully for the party in past elections, rounded out the ballot.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2022.