Canadian Politics from Canada's Centre

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Green Party leadership roundup

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There are exactly four weeks left in the Green Party leadership race and things appear to be as intense as they’re going to get. A few debates have taken place; a few more are on the way. The candidates are still making the rounds, meeting with supporters, publicizing their endorsements and hoping for the best.

While Jim Fannon has run in several Green leadership campaigns, most would agree that the main contenders here are Elizabeth May and David Chernushenko. Chernushenko was deputy leader under outgoing leader Jim Harris; May was the president of the Sierra Club. Chernushenko is advocating a grassroots-based approach to campaigning; May is extolling the virtues of activism.

In the end, there isn’t a world of difference between the two. They have different ideas for party policy but both recognize that policy is determined by the party and not the leader. They both want to put ordinary people at the centre of the party – Chernushenko with grassroots action and May with activist endeavors. One might argue that there isn’t much of a difference. They both want to get beyond the “one-issue party” stigma that’s surrounded the Green Party for years. They both want to see the party leader included in federal leadership debates, increase its share of the popular vote and elect MPs.

With the many varied issues surrounding this campaign, one might not think that one of the most publicized is whose French skills are better. Chernushenko is purportedly fluently trilingual (he speaks Ukrainian in addition to Canada’s official languages). May speaks English and French, and isn’t doing most of the talking about the languages themselves. Chernushenko maintains that his French skills are among his main selling points. The majority of the testimonials (and even blog entries) posted on his website are about why he feels it’s important to have a leader who can communicate as effectively in French as in Englishand speak comfortable, conversational French. One of his blog entries even received a comment from a reader that asked whether this was the only reasons why he felt he should be elected leader.

Another key difference is in their general presentations of themselves. May appears to want to come across as well-connected, which she undoubtedly is. Her website features photos of her with such easily recognizable figures as Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Clinton, David Suzuki and the Dalai Lama. Those endorsing her include singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer and author and poet Margaret Atwood. In contrast, Chernushenko appears to present himself as more of a ‘man of the people’-type. The photos on his website are of him posing with party supporters and volunteers at meet-and-greets and potluck dinners. He says that he “know(s) this party” and goes on to say that he’d be the kind of leader who wouldn’t hesitate to get into the trenches with candidates and volunteers, put up signs or knock on doors. And he says that this, not “a star candidate,” is what the party needs. If that’s not a direct shot at May, I don’t know what is.

Nonetheless, the overall tone of the campaign has remained extremely civil. Even the perceived left-right split within the party doesn’t seem to be a substantial issue; May’s supporters include former Conservative volunteers despite the fact that she is perceived as the more “left-wing” candidate. Similarly, Chernushenko’s reputation of being more “right-wing” hasn’t stopped a wide range of party members – including those who were critical of outgoing leader Jim Harris’s rightward push – from rallying behind him.

At this point in the game, only two things are certain: the final showdown will be very interesting, and the Green Party will be able to choose a new leader in two years if the next one doesn’t work out.

Here are some related articles:

The one issue party
by Larry Zolf

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