What's Next for the Green Party of Canada?
The six leadership candidates for the Green Party of Canada. Image from CBC.
With the start of the Green Party of Canada's leadership race, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on the future of the GPC. This is not a rehashing of what went wrong. I just want to lay out a positive vision for what the Party can become with good leadership, as well as two broad goals the next leader(s) of the party should work towards: To make the Green Party of Canada a relevant political party, it needs to become more political, and become more of a party.
Becoming more political:
The Green Party of Canada has for a long time been too content to be "not like other parties," while failing to spell out clearly what our own values are. Given the status quo of Canadian politics, "doing politics differently" is a noble aspiration. But it can't be our only aspiration — differently how? The GPC has won the support of protest voters, now it's time to grow the base of voters who share our values. That means taking strong stances on things that might scare the protest voters away. That’s fine by me. Growing as a party means moving on from some of the positions of quasi-neutrality that has made us everyone’s second or third choice.
The slogan "Not Left. Not Right. Forward." that the Green Party of Canada used in 2019 has since been employed by Andrew Yang's Forward Party, a project so vapid it can't even take a clear stance on abortion. The GPC is more susbtantive than Yang's grift, but let’s make that obvious! Canadians need to know, going into an election, exactly what the values of this party are. They need to see headline policies that represent those values: Oil & gas nationalization, banning private jets, free universal post-secondary education, etc.
Interim Leader Amita Kuttner, in their cross-country reconnection tour, has done a great job of identifying what the party membership’s values are: breaking our dependence on broken structures and systems, building community, and respecting grassroots democracy. There is no doubt that turning these values into political action will involve embracing left-wing ideas and rhetoric, rather than the post-political rhetoric that has been employed in the past. As I've written before, while Green Parties should embrace left-wing ideas, they have something else that is unique to offer as well.
This is all a bit ironic because the Green Party of Canada has a very engaged and politically-minded membership that generally doesn't like the post-political platitudes. The party has also had the best and most progressive policy in consecutive elections. I may be exaggerating the extent to which this post-political messaging actually colours people’s perception of the Greens. That said, when I asked Twitter what they thought the GPC should do to “move left,” if that was something they supported, the main theme of responses was, as @Sacha_Fox_ put it: “shedding the weird post-political messaging.” (the thread they posted was very good and insightful!)
Becoming more of a party:
It's interesting how often people, regardless of their level of involvement in partisan politics, forget that "the party" really just refers to a couple dozen staffers and volunteers. It is through organizational cohesion and a clear division of roles that these people function as a party.
The Green Party of Canada needs to clarify this division of roles. The GPC Fund, the party's staff, Federal Council, and — most crucially — the Leader, need to have the utmost clarity on what is expected of them. Operations and governance must be clearly separated. Furthermore, the power to hire and fire people must be carefully kept with only one body. It is not unusual, in a small party, to have some people double-up their roles. But in order to grow the party, this should be avoided as much as possible, especially for those in important positions on the aforementioned bodies.
A key element of this is the careful professionalization of the party's operations. For the central party, (i.e., not the Electoral District Associations), the vast majority of operations work should be done by paid (and preferably unionized) staff members. Volunteers, Federal Councillors, Fund Board members, the Leader, and caucus members should not need to take on that work. This will not stifle the energy or creativity of dedicated volunteers, but rather prevent them from getting burnt out, as many young people, including myself, have under the current state of affairs.
I’m optimistic that these goals are attainable and that good leadership can put the Green Party of Canada on the right track.