Will a new generation of leadership emerge in the Green Party?

The Green Party of Canada is in a critical moment as it goes through a transition which has been years in the making. But will room be made for a new generation of leadership in the months ahead?

One of the greatest honours of my life was to be nominated as the Green Party of Canada’s candidate in the riding of Vancouver East in the 2015 Federal Election. Having contributed to the 2015 and 2019 platforms as the Shadow Cabinet Critic for Housing and Urban Affairs I’ve also had the fortunate experience of being elected by members of the party to serve on its Federal Council as the representative from British Columbia. After two years in this role my term is ending and the nomination process is not only open for my replacement in BC but it is also the end of an era with Elizabeth May having stepped down just a few months ago after serving as party leader for a decade.

In Canada the Green Party still has a long road to travel before being realistically able to form government at the federal level like its counterparts elsewhere in the world but it made exponential gains last election in competitive finishes (2nd place finishes and 10% of the vote or better finishes) as well as showing impressive fundraising numbers. With three Members of Parliament elected from BC and New Brunswick, and more Greens elected provincially across Canada than ever before, the party is banging on the door of a major electoral breakthrough federally.

What would be major? I suppose it’s subjective. Some suggest tripling the caucus is already major, others think the threshold for Official Party Status in Parliament (twelves seats) would be major, others still set their sights much higher.

Whatever the path to playing a larger role in Parliament ends up being, the party, like all parties, needs to maintain and expand its core base of support. In order to do this it needs to do two things in my opinion.

  1. It needs to make space for younger leaders who bring new energy, new tactics and practices to mobilize and energize, and new ideas
  2. It needs to make meaningful inroads with more diverse communities it has failed to connect with in previous years.

Both of these aspirations are intertwined. In short, the party needs to put equity, diversity and inclusion at the centre of its growth efforts.

By a new generation of leadership I mean two things

Firstly, in the literal sense of the word I hope younger people across this country are able to see themselves as leaders in our party at the highest level and feel welcomed and invited to be nominated to serve in that capacity.

Unlike the nomination process to be Party Leader, Federal Council nominations requires no monetary deposit. The nomination process for party leader requires a $10,000 nomination fee followed by a several month window to then raise an additional $40,000 to make it to the Leadership Convention in Charlottetown PEI October 2nd to 4th 2020. Younger people across Canada are facing affordability challenges and their social networks are not as financially secure as older Canadians. I have no illusions that the $10,000 entry fee and $40,000 fundraising target presents a potential barrier to younger people, but there are absolutely no such barriers to serve on Federal Council. For more information on the process visit here.

So what other barriers could there be?

Well, for starters, older and more accomplished Greens entering the race early could dissuade younger members who may be interested from tossing their name in the hat. Those of us on the older and whiter side of the equation not actively reaching out to younger and diverse members to encourage them could also be a barrier of our own making. We need to make it clear that there is space and support in the party for people other than us.

That being said, I feel like I’m just old enough now to truly appreciate that age and experience can in fact really matter on a governance board like the GPC Federal Council. My past two years serving on it has been a steep learning curve despite my own experience serving on several non-profit boards and even serving as an Executive Director of a membership funded organization previously.

I’m beginning to think an advisory committee comprised of older and experienced members, to provide Federal Council support on decision-making, could be a valuable thing.

A few more thoughts and observations on white male privilege.

Middle-aged or older white men like me don’t need encouragements to run for public office or for Federal Council seats. We have an innate ability to see ourselves worthy of such responsibility, even hear a calling to it, and often feel that we have a suite of talents and experiences that prepares us for the task of making difficult decisions on behalf of other people. We are encouraged from the moment of birth. We see ourselves on printed money every day, we have for generations.

It’s reflected in the makeup of our Parliament which compared to other OECD countries around the world lags far behind in gender parity.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t good intentioned, smart, capable and ethical white male elected politicians in Canada, there are plenty of them. More than we need. That’s the point! There’s an abundance of them, a preponderance, a plethora (!) in one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse countries in the world, and we see the world through privileged white male eyes no matter how hard we try to put ourselves in others’ shoes.

As such we may represent diverse constituents, but we are not representative of those diverse constituents.

A new generation of leadership doesn’t explicitly mean younger people only, though I’ve made it clear I hope younger people are elected to the party’s Federal Council. I believe it also means a new generation of leadership style that engages younger diverse people and excites them to action. Think of Bernie Sanders winning the endorsement of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The takeaway? What’s old can be new again, at least in some cases. Whether that will prove to be the case in Canada similar to what we are seeing in the U.S. with young people gravitating towards authentic anti-establishment public figures is unclear as far as I’m concerned.

What I do strongly suspect though is that if older and more established nominees for Leader and Federal Council don’t make an active effort to get younger diverse Greens engaged with their nomination processes, or even better, if they don’t engage with younger and diverse people about standing for nomination instead of themselves (and invite them to draw on their decades of wisdom gained through experience), a key moment to bring this new generation of leadership more fully and meaningfully into the work of Green Politics in Canada may be squandered.

Putting Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the heart of this party’s work

Lastly, another potential barrier to young people becoming active in this process is our ability to create safer spaces as a party. This is also an issue of inter-generational communication. Despite our excellent policies and commitment to values as a party I saw firsthand as a Federal Council member the need for us to invest in capacity building around cultural safety, anti-racism, gender equity and other areas of need.

Part of the reason we’ve failed to make significant inroads with more diverse communities is because until recently we’ve failed to see that we ourselves have problems as a party. We thought we’d become more diverse and inclusive based on the strength of our policies and the values we espoused.

The truth is, the Green Party is a party that began with relatively radical ideas put forward by relatively privileged people.

This is something I’m relieved to say we did commit to at our Federal Council meeting in Ottawa held in November of 2019 when diverse candidates held us accountable for our failings as a party in that election. Much work remains to be done but I’m hopeful that thanks to coming through the 2019 election in secure financial position and with momentum we were able to resource this work.

I hope the commitment to building capacity in the party in this area begun under this current Federal Council will continue into the next. For moral and ethical reasons, and for the growth of the party.

Young people care immensely about social inclusion, diversity, and creating safer spaces in which to engage. They are the future of our party and our country, and the future is now. Any person considering becoming leader of this party or a member of Federal Council needs to embrace equity, diversity and inclusion not as some peripheral concern but a central focus of building our base lest the fruits of four decades of Green Politics in Canada whither on the vine.

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