Annamie Paul is leading the Green Party's national campaign — but hasn't left Toronto once
Its low-carbon footprint campaign strategy could cost the party at the polls, analyst says
In the past, the Green Party has run national campaigns with small carbon footprints — using Teslas and trains and keeping air travel to a minimum.
This year, that low-emissions approach has reached a whole new level. Instead of Via Rail, Annamie Paul and her team are walking, carpooling and using Toronto transit.
According to a CBC analysis of the Green Party leader's itineraries, Paul has campaigned outside the riding she's contesting personally only once — and that was only to visit a neighbouring Toronto riding.
With almost half the campaign over, there's still a chance Paul may travel beyond Ontario.
"If I'm going to travel judiciously without a big carbon footprint, it's something that makes sense to do a little bit later on," she told a news conference on Thursday.
Paul will attend the televised leaders' debates in the Ottawa region on Wednesday and Thursday. Sources have hinted she might travel to the Maritime provinces, where the party hopes to pick up seats in Prince Edward Island and return the Fredericton riding back to the fold.
A Toronto-based leader's tour wasn't always the plan.
According to sources not authorized to speak publicly, the Greens had a preliminary but detailed plan for Paul to tour most of the country well in advance of the snap election. According to that plan, Paul would have split her time between campaigning in her own riding and touring in a low-emissions bus.
But the wheels on the national leader's tour quickly fell off in late spring — after New Brunswick MP Jenica Atwin defected to the Liberals, the party's governing council attempted to remove Paul and the party disclosed the financial difficulties it's been having.
Greens hurting in the polls
If the events of the past several months within the Green Party can be described as civil war, Paul's supporters say it's a war she's won — an attempted confidence vote against her failed and the party's members have elected a new governing council that's seen as more reflective of Paul's vision for the Greens.
But the infighting inflicted a substantial political cost on the party: it was unprepared for a snap election. And Paul may not have long to savour her victory. Her supporters quietly acknowledge that she doesn't have much of a political future if she doesn't win her riding of Toronto Centre and retain the party's share of the popular vote.
According to Éric Grenier's CBC Poll Tracker, the Greens are now polling below the People's Party of Canada. Grenier said this could be linked to Paul's lacklustre campaign focused on Toronto Centre.
"It probably helps the Greens to win Toronto Centre if she is staying in that riding for the entire campaign, but it does seem to have hurt the party everywhere else," said Grenier, who also is the publisher and writer of theWrit.ca.
Traditional national campaigns have never been the Greens' strongest point. In 2019, CBC accompanied then-leader Elizabeth May on a 1,346-kilometre whistle-stop tour on a Via Rail passenger train from Halifax to Montreal. The quick on and off rallies were often held at the mercy of train schedules and were described by one Green staffer as "shotgun rallies."
Only when May's train departed was it discovered that the Greens hadn't asked for Via's permission. Via Rail reprimanded the party for using its service for what a spokesperson called "partisan purposes."
Campaigns matter and so do debates
Major political parties like the Liberals and Conservatives plan their cross-country tours weeks in advance, with every minute scheduled with surgical precision. These traditional campaigns are considered information bubbles by journalists because their messages and visuals are highly controlled.
Many believe these riding-by-riding tours give the party and local candidates a boost. Tamara Small, who teaches political science at Guelph University, isn't convinced.
"One of these hilarious things about parties is that they always say that they're ... running in 338 ridings. Okay, no, you're not," she said. "Parties focus on the ridings that they can win."
The Greens ran a full slate of candidates in 2019. In 2021 the Greens have just 252 confirmed candidates, with none in Newfoundland and Labrador or in Nunavut's single riding.
Next week's leaders' debates could go a long way toward deciding Paul's political fate, Small said.
"I'm one of these people that think the debates are the start of the election for lots of people. That's the date for me," Small said. "That's the day where people are like, 'Okay, there's this thing on tonight that I should watch.' Lots of people watch debates."
May said she believes her successor will "knock it out of the park."
May also argues that, based on her own experience, no one should write off Paul's chances of winning the Liberal stronghold of Toronto Centre. She said she recalls being told on a radio show that she wouldn't be able to win a job as dog catcher, much less as a member of Parliament.
"The pundits are often surprised by Greens' success, just as when I won the seat in Saanich–Gulf Islands," May said. "I can confidently predict that people will continue to say to Annamie Paul that she doesn't have a chance of winning in Toronto Centre until she does."
WATCH CBC's coverage of the Green Party's 2019 train tour
CBC analysis/tracking of the leader's itineraries done by senior parliamentary producer Phil Ling