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Green Party Leadership Race Is Full Steam Ahead Despite COVID-19 Uncertainty

Interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts says the party has time on its side.
Jo-Ann Roberts gives a speech during election night at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C. on Oct. 19, 2015.
Chad Hipolito/CP
Jo-Ann Roberts gives a speech during election night at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C. on Oct. 19, 2015.

OTTAWA — While the Conservative party has suspended its leadership race, the Greens say they are still moving ahead with their campaign.

“We are not going to suspend the campaign, the leadership race, altogether, because we do think that this is a time, if you want to lead, how you lead the crisis is important,” interim Green Party leader Jo-Ann Roberts told HuffPost Canada from her home in Halifax.

“Of course, we are all adapting, and they should as well,” she said. “But, I’m not sure giving it up, altogether, is the answer.”

The Greens, she added, also have time on their side. Their leadership convention in Charlottetown doesn’t occur until Oct. 2. But some of their requirements have been eased to accommodate the new realities posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier: May resigns as Green leader, taps Jo-Ann Roberts for interim role

Roberts, who was wrapping up her 14 days of self-quarantine after falling ill during a short trip to Ottawa, wrote to the declared candidates Friday informing them of the changes.

“We’re really adapting for our candidates to be campaigning virtually.”

Signatures endorsing a nomination will be collected online, with a two-step verification process. A $40,000 deposit required by the end of July will now be $30,000.

But that figure could drop, she suggested. The Greens, she said, don’t want to become like the Conservatives, accused of unfairly disadvantaging some candidates over others.

“We’ve signalled that we’re keeping an eye on that, depending on how this goes and how hard it is for people to have face-to-face fundraisers and that sort of thing.”

For now, the contest’s deadlines remain the same.

“At this point, moving that date would be unfair to those who have publicly announced,” Roberts said. The first cut-off is June 3.

By then, candidates will have to fork over $10,000 if they want access to the Greens’ 23,000 members’ names and contact information, submit 100 signatures from across the country — 20 of which have to be from members younger than 30 — and have gone through the party’s vetting process.

That ensures candidates don’t have undisclosed criminal records and that all contestants will abide by and respect “Green values,” as outlined in the party’s platform, including, for example, that they “support a woman’s right to choose as a legal right.”

“We learned something in the last election,” Roberts said.

Last fall, during the campaign, the Greens were plagued for weeks by the abortion issue. In September, Elizabeth May, then the Green Party leader, said the party was reviewing the candidacy of one Ontario candidate after year-old anti-abortion statements came to light. She then left the suggestion open during media interviews that the Greens could reopen the abortion issue because the party doesn’t whip votes. The party later insisted there was “zero chance” an elected Green MP would reopen the abortion debate.

Later in October, another candidate in Ontario was turfed after social media posts confirmed she didn’t share the party’s desire to fight for universal access to safe abortion services.

There are so far six candidates vying to replace May:

  • Annamie Paul, a lawyer and international affairs specialist from Toronto
  • Alex Tyrrell, the leader of the Green party in Quebec
  • Amita Kuttner of Burnaby, B.C., who holds a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics
  • David Merner, a lawyer and public servant who unsuccessfully ran for the Greens in a targeted riding on Vancouver Island
  • Dimitri Lascaris, a lawyer who ran for the Greens in London, Ont.
  • Judy Green, a grandmother from Nova Scotia who has held numerous jobs, including with the Canadian Forces.

By the end of July, candidates will have to hand over a $30,000 deposit, and by the end of August, another 150 signatures, with 20 signatures coming from members in each of five of six regions: Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, British Columbia, and the North.

This week, the party decided to hit “pause” on its normal fundraising activities, Roberts said.

In a Tuesday email to Green members, Roberts said that with so many businesses closed and people laid off it was not the time for fundraising as usual.

“There are so many people facing financial uncertainty, including, with this decision, our own GPC staff. But we all agree right now that the most important thing on everyone’s mind is staying healthy and ‘flattening the curve,’” she wrote.

Some monthly donors have put their donations on hold, Roberts said, while a few others have told the party they can afford to donate more.

Tories cancel June leadership convention

Thursday — one day after the deadline to become an official contestant passed — the Conservative party announced it is cancelling its June 27 leadership convention.

The party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) said that with social-distancing measures, it is “no longer possible” to meet the deadlines to process memberships and donations, or print, process and count the mail-in ballots received in time for an end of June vote.

The committee said it would re-evaluate the situation on May 1, but for now the membership cut-off date to vote in the contest will be pushed back from April 17 to May 15.

“The leadership election will be suspended until there’s greater clarity on the outlook of returning to an operational standard that allows for a proper administration of the leadership election,” the group said in a statement.

LEOC also called for a “suspension of leadership fundraising,” saying it would not process direct donations and urging candidates to refrain from contacting party members until after May 1.

The group had previously turned a blind eye to requests from three other candidates vying for the leadership to postpone the deadline for entry because they felt it was inappropriate to be asking for in-person signatures or money while public health officials are asking people to stay home in self-isolation.

A cowboy hat is left inside an empty ballroom at the Conservative national convention in Halifax on Aug. 25, 2018.
Darren Calabrese/CP
A cowboy hat is left inside an empty ballroom at the Conservative national convention in Halifax on Aug. 25, 2018.

In an email to party members Friday, leadership contestant Derek Sloan warned that the party had not delayed the vote, it had just suspended the announcement.

By severely restricting the activities of leadership candidates for five weeks, Sloan wrote, the party was “handing a huge advantage to the most well-known candidate and presumed front-runner, Peter MacKay.”

If LEOC wants to “terminate” the ability of candidates to raise money, then the party has to make a firm commitment in writing that the vote will actually be delayed, he said.

Aside from Sloan, a social-conservtive MP from Ontario, and MacKay, a former Harper-era cabinet minister and the co-founder of the Conservative party, there are two other contestants in the race: Erin O’Toole, an Ontario MP and former Veterans Affairs minister, and Leslyn Lewis, a lawyer and another social conservative from Ontario.

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