Politics

Green leadership candidate accuses Elizabeth May of 'consolidating power' in the party

The head of the Green Party of Canada's Quebec wing is accusing outgoing leader Elizabeth May of consolidating her power within the party through her position as parliamentary leader, and through her husband's position on the party's federal council.

Alex Tyrrell says it's inappropriate for May's spouse to serve on the party's federal council

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, accompanied by her husband John Kidder arrives for the federal election leaders' debate in Gatineau, Que. Monday, October 7, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

The head of the Green Party of Quebec is accusing outgoing leader Elizabeth May of consolidating her power within the party through her position as parliamentary leader, and through her husband's new position on the party's federal council.

"People have said that the Green Party is a one-person party. The reality is that over the years, the Green Party of Canada has been run top-down by Elizabeth May," said Alex Tyrrell, the leader of the Green Party of Quebec and a candidate to replace May as national leader.

"[May] is continuing to go in that direction, and consolidating power at a time when she's recently stepped down from the leadership makes it so that the Green Party will be continually dependent on Elizabeth May."

Tyrrell — whose application to run for the leadership has not yet been approved by the party — is an outspoken voice in Green politics and has criticized the federal party's performance in the 2019 election. He's also accused May of adopting ambiguous stances on the oilsands and candidates' views on abortion.

Before May stepped down as leader in November, Tyrrell launched a petition asking for an open leadership race. May remains the parliamentary leader of a caucus of two novice MPs.

Her husband, John Kidder, sits as the English vice president on the party's federal council.

"It's like she's regretting her decision now," Tyrrell told CBC. "Instead of stepping back, she's consolidating power."

Tyrrell displaying his 'ignorance,' says Kidder

May was not available for an interview, but her husband dismissed Tyrrell's comments as ill-informed. 

"He's making statements that show either an ignorance of the role of the governing body or are designed to stir up fecal matter where none needs to be stirred," Kidder told CBC News.

Kidder said his role within the party is limited to governance. He said the federal council represents the party's membership, much as the board of directors of a corporation represents its shareholders. The council directs party staff, he said, but it also controls party funds and calls special membership meetings, and can suspend and expel members.

It's separate from the parliamentary role May plays, Kidder said. He added that if the council has to make a decision that affects his wife directly, he would declare a conflict and recuse himself.

"I am deeply in love with my wife and I think she is fantastic," he said. "I'm a governance guy, she's a politician. They are very different roles, and if Alex doesn't understand that, then perhaps he needs to study up on how these things actually work."

Iced out of the federal party?

Tyrrell denies trying to stir trouble within the party. Instead, he said, he's trying to renew the Greens after a disappointing election result. He also claims his public criticisms of May have created a chill between himself and influential people in the party.

"It's very difficult to (renew the party) when you have people that are so entrenched in it that, you know, are latching on to power, refusing to step aside and let the new generation take over," Tyrrell said. "It's frustrating."

Tyrrell said that May and Kidder should step away from leadership roles in the party.

"What it is right now is a personality cult," he said. "The decisions are made by Elizabeth May and her entourage, and nobody questions them."

Tyrrell has also questioned May's planned appearance at campaign events with some candidates in the race, including Annamie Paul, at a virtual event later this month. Tyrrell says these appearances were designed to position favourable candidates in the lead.

Paul responded to Tyrrell's comments in an email, saying that "diversity is the Green Party of Canada's greatest challenge/weakness," and the party ran the "least diverse slate" of any party in the last election. Research, Paul said, shows equity-seeking groups have difficulty fundraising.

"Therefore, this is a reasonable measure to level a playing field that has been severely skewed in favour of certain groups for hundreds of years," Paul stated.

"Elizabeth has stated publicly that she will not be endorsing anyone, and she is able to help all candidates that fall into the relevant category."

Leadership candidates aren't concerned

Of the four official leadership candidates whose applications have been accepted by the party, most say they support the work May and Kidder do in the party. Paul, Amita Kuttner and David Merner all say they believe the spouses will operate independently of each other.

"I don't feel the same way as Alex," Merner told CBC. "The guy (Kidder) is a rancher from Ashcroft. He's not going to be told what to do or what to think or how to vote on the national council."

The fourth official candidate, former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray, was not available for comment.

Green Party of Quebec Leader Alex Tyrrell says he wants to see the federal party run on an 'eco-socialist' platform. He's raising concerns about John Kidder sitting on the party's federal council. (CBC)

Merner, who attended the couple's 2019 wedding, said Kidder would need to recuse himself from council decisions that affect May, such as decisions about her compensation or reimbursement of her expenses.

Dimitri Lascaris is also an unofficial leadership candidate; like Tyrrell, his application to run has not yet been accepted. While he shares Tyrrell's view that the party needs to move further to the left, he said he respects party membership's decision to elect Kidder.

"I think we should give John the benefit of the doubt," he said. "I'm not convinced at this point this is wrong."

About the Author

David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.

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