Quebec's Green Party leader eyeing federal job if Elizabeth May steps down

Alex Tyrrell says members are looking for a young, leftist, bilingual leader at the helm of the federal Green Party ahead of the next election.

Members have launched petition demanding open race for Green Party leadership

Green Party of Quebec Leader Alex Tyrrell wants to see the federal party run on an 'eco-socialist' platform. (CBC)

The leader of the Green Party of Quebec said he's considering running to be Elizabeth May's successor and that the party needs to develop a platform that Canada's left can rally behind.

While the federal Green Party leader has not confirmed that she is planning to step down, a group of party members including Alex Tyrrell launched a petition last week asking for an open leadership race to ensure the "long-term prosperity of the party."

Under Tyrrell's leadership since 2013, the Quebec Greens went through a leftward shift that he wants to see happen on the federal level as well.

He said the federal party has to learn from the mistakes of the 2019 campaign, which he said can be summed up in the party's slogan: "Not Left. Not Right. Forward Together."

"There was ambiguity on the question of abortion. There was ambiguity on the continued exploitation of the tarsands, Quebec independence, Bill 21. There's a lot of things that were kind of miscalculated," he said.

"Right now, the party is sort of a left-right coalition," which he said has left the federal party struggling to gain support.

The Quebec Greens are "eco-socialists," meaning they support expanding social programs, such as public health care and education, in addition to protecting the environment.

The provincial party, which supports federalism and is against Quebec's religious symbols ban, does not hold a seat in Quebec's National Assembly.

The Federal Council of the Green Party of Canada met this weekend in Ottawa, with an agenda that included a meeting with May and newly-elected Green MPs Paul Manly and Jenica Atwin.

A spokesperson did not confirm whether succession plans or a leadership race was discussed and didn't immediately respond to questions about the petition.

Tyrrell said he hasn't yet heard from the party about the petition. He said he's going to watch for developments over the next few days before deciding to officially throw his hat in the race.

Ottawa Citizen political columnist Susan Riley, meanwhile, said the party needs change despite the impact May has had on the Greens in her 10 years at its helm.

"[May] is exhausted from doing the job," Riley said. "She's 65 years old. The Green Party needs a generational change. Clearly she's taken it as far as she can take it."

Looking for 'radical' solutions

Tyrrell said the petition was the best way to gather support from Green Party members across the province, and that members are looking for a young, leftist, bilingual leader at the helm ahead of the next federal election.

"We're faced with a rising youth-led climate movement. People are asking for somewhat more radical solutions to the climate crisis," he said.

While Tyrrell isn't calling for May's resignation, he said her staying on as leader for the next federal election would be "a bit of a stretch."

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Montreal on Sept. 27 to demand action against climate change. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

He said he has a lot of respect for what May has done for the party — notably representing the party on the federal debate stage and being the first Green Party leader to win a seat.

But with Green representation now both at the federal level and in some provincial legislatures, and with a new wave of youth-led climate activism, Tyrrell said the ground has shifted.

"Things have come quite a long way since then, and there are really a lot of people that would be ready [to lead]," he said.

May and Tyrrell have previously been at odds over the issue of whether to continue the extraction of bitumen from Alberta's oilsands — oil that Tyrrell said needs to "stay in the ground."

Rob Breakenridge, a columnist for the Calgary Herald, questioned whether the party is a vehicle for May's political career, or something more. 

"The party … has a big challenge ahead, without Elizabeth May as leader, to convince us that it's anything other than Elizabeth May's personal, private property," Breakenridge said.

With files from Jaela Bernstien