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The Green party helped elect NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Why won’t he do the same for Annamie Paul?


The clash between green and orange in downtown Toronto shows the shades of grey — and grudges — in Canadian politics.

Annamie Paul is the first Black leader of a federal party — new in the job, few in seats, but long in memory: Back in 2019, her Greens bowed out of a B.C. byelection to clear the way for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to cling to a seat as his party’s “orange wave” fizzled.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Singh won’t lift a finger — refusing to return the favour of a “leader’s courtesy.” New Democrats won’t make way as Paul seeks a foothold in federal politics in this month’s Toronto Centre byelection.

As a breakout politician, she deserves a break. Not just to give her a voice, but to give all of us a better perspective.

The idea of a “leader’s courtesy” — extended by rival parties to broaden parliamentary debate — is not a historical obligation, merely a concession to common sense. Which is why Singh gladly accepted the gift from the Greens when he was an embattled outsider, his party on the ropes, his own leadership undermined by sniping MPs in his own caucus.

Even if it’s not a hard and fast rule, why is the NDP playing fast and loose here? If it was good enough for Singh in his moment of vulnerability, why not for Paul in her hour of need?

By now it is more a question of reciprocity than generosity, consistency as much as courtesy. Diversity, too.

The NDP, like all major parties today, talks a good game about getting more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) talent into politics. To which I’d add that in today’s era of identity politics, we need more diversity of ideas, too.

Paul embodies and straddles various strands — a female, Black, immigrant, Princeton-educated lawyer and lifelong environmentalist. Jewish too, though that tends to get lost in the telling, just as few talk up the Indian heritage of U.S. vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

The Oct. 26 byelection in Toronto Centre is a rematch of sorts between Paul and her NDP opponent, Brian Chang, as they both ran in the same riding in last year’s federal election. I watched them go at each other when I moderated an environmental debate in the 2019 campaign, hosted by the Ryerson Leadership Lab, that mirrored the enmity at the national level between two parties fighting for the progressive vote.

Paul is a forceful and passionate advocate for the environment. But Chang — an artist and community organizer who proudly talked up his persona as a queer person of colour — won’t give way today.

Either way, neither is likely to win — Chang came second in 2019 and Paul fourth, far behind Finance Minister Bill Morneau, whose recent resignation triggered the byelection. The only certainty is that both will lose out if they persist in splitting the progressive environmental vote, leaving the NDP with a mere 24 seats and the Greens a paltry three MPs in a House of Commons with 338 ridings.

Arguably with the burst of positive publicity — if not quite NDP goodwill — surrounding Paul’s triumph in her party’s leadership race earlier this month, she’d have a decent shot at an upset victory in a riding that typically leans Liberal (whose candidate, talk show host Marci Ien, is also Black). But that’s not in the cards, because New Democrats view their rivalry with the Greens as a zero sum game — their gains come at our expense in a fight for a limited pool of voters with progressive views on the environment.

We saw that in the last federal campaign, when New Democrats claimed the Greens were soft on abortion access and national unity. Then-leader Elizabeth May accused Singh of trying to “mislead voters” with “dishonest” attacks.

We see it at Queen’s Park, where the Official Opposition NDP is grudging in its treatment of the Green party’s leader and lone MPP, the eminently quotable Mike Schreiner — initially resisting his requests to get more questions in the legislature. And we saw it in B.C. this month when the NDP premier, John Horgan, triggered an early election despite a firm agreement with the Greens to complete his full term in exchange for their support of his minority government.

It’s hardly surprising that New Democrats fear the growth of Greens will eat their lunch. After all, many unions often urge their members to vote Liberal in tight elections, rather than split the vote with the NDP and allow the Tories to take more seats — a so-called “strategic voting” approach that exasperates New Democrats (except when they benefit from it, as in the last Ontario election when a collapsing Liberal vote shifted their way).

A veteran New Democrat once complained that strategic voters who opt for Liberals in a tight race “want our party to just disappear.” But in today’s political environment, the same accusation might be made against the NDP, which seems all too eager for the rising Green party to “just disappear.”

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No fight is more bloody-minded than the bitter rivalry in which New Democrats have adopted a fiery orange scorched earth policy toward Green tree-huggers. Take no prisoners, surrender no byelections — even if they gladly accepted the gift of a Green withdrawal in Singh’s byelection battle last year.

Possibly the NDP believes it better to receive than to give back. Or pay it forward.





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