By Alex BallingallOttawa Bureau
Fri., July 23, 2021timer5 min. read
updateArticle was updated 9 hrs ago
OTTAWA — The Green party’s interim president is blaming embattled leader Annamie Paul for the need to launch a court challenge as top officials continue their effort to depose Paul before they are replaced in party elections next month.
Liana Canton Cusmano — the president of the party’s federal council and one of the officials trying to oust Paul — sent an email to Green members shortly after midnight Friday morning.
In the email, which was obtained by the Star, Cusmano addresses the legal challenge that the party filed in Ontario Superior Court this week. The party wants the court to overrule private arbitration decisions that blocked a planned confidence vote in Paul’s leadership and suspended a review of her party membership.
Cusmano states in the email that these decisions “ostensibly limit the party’s internal governance and membership review process,” and blames Paul for creating this situation by launching the private arbitration.
“That must be made clear,” Cusmano’s email says. “Secondly, these proceedings, as initiated by Ms. Paul, were meant to be conducted in private without the full view of members. Why the secrecy? You can only ask Ms. Paul.
“As a result, the (Green Party of Canada)’s ability to speak openly about this matter has been constrained.”
Cusmano, who was appointed president after their elected predecessor resigned amid council infighting last summer, has not responded to numerous requests of comment from the Star this week, and in recent months.
Paul declined to comment Friday morning and a party spokesperson said she was not available for an interview.
At a news conference Thursday in Toronto, the Green leader repeatedly refused to discuss the legal battle that erupted this week. She would not say why she launched the private arbitration process, and declined to say whether she planned to respond to her party’s legal challenge in court.
Instead, Paul said she wanted to focus on her campaign for a seat in Toronto Centre — a Liberal stronghold where she has already run and lost twice since 2019 — and to discuss issues like housing and climate change ahead of an expected federal election.
Paul also dismissed the challenges to her leadership as a “one-sided campaign” spearheaded by a small group of party officials who will be replaced in party elections that conclude on Aug. 11.
Those elections will fill 12 of the 18 spots on the party’s top governing body, the federal council, including Canton Cusmano’s position as party president.
But Paul also acknowledged there are no guarantees the new council members won’t revive the challenges to her leadership. The arbitration decisions only paused the council’s ability to hold a confidence vote until Aug. 21, and suspended the membership review until Aug. 19.
The Star contacted all 24 council candidates this week to ask if they support Paul’s leadership. Of the 10 that responded by Friday afternoon, only one — Thomas Trappenburg, who is running for New Brunswick representative — said he supports Paul. But Trappenburg also would not say whether he opposed holding a confidence vote in her leadership because he does not have all the details of the conflict.
Darcie Lanthier, who is running for Prince Edward Island representative, did not respond to the Star’s questions but has previously criticized council efforts to depose Paul as leader.
Five other candidates either declined to comment or would not say whether they support Paul’s leadership because they don’t know the details of what’s going on.
And four others raised doubts about Paul’s leadership, suggesting they are willing to try to vote her out if they are elected to the council.
“I had high hopes for the new leader when she was elected, but she has not acted very much like a Green leader these past months,” Carrie McLaren, a candidate for fund representative, said by email.
George Orr, who is running for English vice-president, said he voted for Paul in the leadership race but no longer supports her after months of turmoil.
“The division she has created isn’t fixable in the short term,” Orr said. “I have no idea who should replace her … That must be a member-driven decision.”
More than a dozen Green sources have described a party in turmoil for months, with Sean Yo — Paul’s former campaign manager — stating she has faced “significant resistance” from top officials that threatens her ability to succeed as leader.
One federal council member named by several sources as part of this resistance, Kate Storey, told the Star by email in April that “due diligence” is being mistaken for resistance.
In June, New Brunswick MP Jenica Atwin defected from the Greens to the governing Liberals, prompting unnamed members of the federal council to accuse Paul of showing an “autocratic attitude of hostility, superiority and rejection.”
Paul, who is Black and Jewish, dismissed the allegations at the time as “racist” and “sexist.”
Cusmano later told a party town hall that the federal council would hold a confidence vote — which was cancelled this week — because Paul failed to condemn comments made by her former top aide Noah Zatzman nearly a month before Atwin’s defection. Cusmano also accused Paul of failing to “collaborate with and support members of the caucus” and failing to “respond to communications” from the party about Zatzman’s remarks.
Zatzman had posted on Facebook that he had witnessed anti-Semitism from unnamed MPs, including Greens, and vowed to defeat them. Days earlier, Atwin had publicly criticized a statement Paul made about violence in the Middle East, and called for an end to Israeli “apartheid.”
Former Green leader Jim Harris also urged the federal council to attempt to remove Paul in the wake of the controversy, according to an email obtained by the Star.
Earlier this week, former longtime Green leader Elizabeth May broke her silence amid the turmoil by calling on the party to “pull together” ahead of the next election.
While May stopped short of endorsing Paul’s leadership, she pointed out that Paul is the leader who was elected nine months ago and said only members of the party can change that.
With files from Raisa Patel