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Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts 'racist,' 'sexist' party execs who sought ouster

OTTAWA — Annamie Paul is firing back against the coterie of party executives who sought to oust her as head of the Greens, calling them out for "racist" and "sexist" accusations as she seeks to defend her leadership and affirm her authority within a

OTTAWA — Annamie Paul is firing back against the coterie of party executives who sought to oust her as head of the Greens, calling them out for "racist" and "sexist" accusations as she seeks to defend her leadership and affirm her authority within a divided party.

The defiant words at a news conference Wednesday came after Paul survived another day of party strife when a move to push her out shifted course on Tuesday night, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year.

Paul said the change she represents is "often perceived as a threat to the existing institutional gatekeepers" and pointed to unnamed members of federal council, the party's governing body.

"Many of these councillors are deeply, deeply committed to this mandate of transformation and diversity. Sadly, though, not all are," she said.

A scathing series of accusations in a letter, obtained by The Canadian Press, that accompanied a non-confidence motion signed by six of 15 councillors laid bare the level of acrimony toward Paul from some insiders.

"Since her election as leader, Annamie Paul has acted with an autocratic attitude of hostility, superiority and rejection," the document claims, stating that she failed to develop a "collaborative working relationship" or "compromise" with executives.

It goes on to say Paul has attended few council meetings, "has displayed anger in long, repetitive, aggressive monologues and has failed to recognize the value of any ideas except her own."

Paul, the first Black woman elected to lead a mainstream federal party, said the document was "so racist, so sexist" that it was "immediately disavowed” by a majority of party brass and both Green MPs. 

"In the case of a Black woman like myself, the most classic trope of all is that we are angry or we are aggressive," she said in an interview.

"It's very difficult to navigate that because in order to be a leader, and particularly a senior leader, you need to be able to speak with conviction to direct people."

Paul noted that she "inherited" the current set of councillors, whose terms expire next month and whose non-confidence motion came despite "no substantive consultation with the members they represent," she said.

Paul also came out swinging against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying he sought to sow "division and disarray" among Greens by taking MP Jenica Atwin on board.

"You are no ally, and you are no feminist," she said.

A spokesman for Trudeau declined to comment.

The Green caucus, which includes former leader Elizabeth May, is now down to two after Atwin defected to the governing Liberals last week, citing internal clashes over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a key reason for her decision.

On Tuesday, a tense virtual gathering of party executives resulted in an effective ultimatum demanding that Paul and Green MP Paul Manly arrange a joint press conference where she would repudiate a former adviser's "attacks" and reiterate her "explicit support" for caucus. Otherwise a vote of no-confidence in the leader would take place on July 20.

Council also voted to hold a virtual general meeting of party members on the weekend of Aug. 21, raising further questions about the stability of Paul's eight-month reign.

The fallout from discord in her party has continued apace, with two of the federal council's members resigning last night.

Lia Renaud, who represents the Greens' Nova Scotia wing, told The Canadian Press she "could not in good conscience continue" her support for Paul, but said she still backs May and Manly.

Lucas Knell also confirmed he stepped down as the representative for Newfoundland and Labrador, potentially leaving Paul's political fate in the hands of the remaining 13 councillors, some of whom were appointed rather than elected by party members.

The resignations follow two others declared in the last few weeks, including John Kidder, a vice-president and May's husband.

The rift stems in part from a statement by Paul's then-adviser Noah Zatzman, who said in a social media post on May 14 that "we will work to defeat you," referring to unspecified Green MPs, among others, whom he accused of antisemitic rhetoric.

The post came largely as a response to Atwin, who deemed the Green leader's statement on violence in the Palestinian Territories "completely inadequate" and called on Israel to "#EndApartheid" in a Twitter post on May 11. 

That post has since been deleted, though Atwin told CTV's "Question Period" on Sunday that "I certainly stand by what I'm saying." She then adjusted her stance on Israel to align with the more moderate Liberal position on Monday.

Manly had said in a May 10 post the planned removal of Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah "is ethnic cleansing."

Paul has avoided explicit rejection of Zatzman's statement, but reiterated Wednesday that he no longer serves a senior adviser and that she does "not consider any of our MPs to be antisemites," including Atwin.

Neither May nor Manly responded to questions about Wednesday's events. They have yet to publicly express support for Paul since Atwin's departure, the "conditions" for which stemmed from Zatzman's statements against her, they said last week.

But Paul, who stressed her support for caucus repeatedly on Wednesday, said she felt supported in turn after May and Manly reached out to condemn the councillors' letter as "inflammatory and divisive," she said in the interview, adding that the pair had no hand in writing it.

Jo-Ann Roberts, who served as interim party leader for nearly a year, said Paul is facing the "growing pains" of a party whose membership spans multiple factions, from fiscal conservatives to eco-socialists.

"She's learned some very tough lessons the hard way very publicly about the need to be in touch with people, know what they're thinking," Roberts said in an interview.

"I think this has been a communications breakdown, and that's going to take some work to fix."

The answer right now is not to change leaders, she added. "She is new to the job and deserves to have the chance to figure this out."

May also faced backlash from the grassroots after she resisted a vote by members in favour of a resolution supporting sanctions against Israel in 2016, Roberts noted. At the time, May opposed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, calling it "polarizing and divisive."

Questions of bullying and racial bias against Paul, who is also the second Jewish person to lead a mainstream federal party (the NDP's David Lewis was the first), had already bubbled to the surface.

Operation Black Vote Canada said in a statement Tuesday it was "disappointed and dismayed" to learn of the initial non-confidence motion, and that it represented a "step backward" in the mission to diversify Canadian politics.

Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said Paul is "facing an outright revolt."

"This does not bode well for the party ahead of the next potential federal campaign, during which both the Liberals and the New Democrats will do their best to sway environmentally conscious voters," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 16, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press