Green leadership rules so restrictive, Elizabeth May would struggle, says Sask. Green leader

The contest to find the next Green Party leader is off to a rocky start, with leadership hopefuls and a former party insider complaining about how restrictive the race rules are.

Green Party launches 5-month leadership race

Two former leaders of the Green Party of Canada Elizabeth May, left, and Annamie Paul in 2019. Naomi Hunter, the provincial leader of the Saskatchewan Greens, says that the party's leadership contest rules are so strict they would all but rule out Elizabeth May from running for the leadership. (Cole Burston /The Canadian Press)

The contest to find the next Green Party leader is off to a rocky start, with leadership hopefuls and a former party insider complaining about the restrictive rules governing the race. 

The Greens released the contest details and began accepting leadership candidates on Tuesday. With a strict bilingual requirement, a low-entry fee and a short contest period: people within the Canadian Green movement say the rules may not set the party up for success after a tumultuous year. 

"It seems that we are putting rules in place that our most successful leader, Elizabeth May, could not achieve if she became leader," said Naomi Hunter, the provincial leader of the Saskatchewan Greens.   

Hunter and a handful of other candidates have expressed early interest in leading the Greens in the wake of former leader Annamie Paul's departure from the party after the 2021 federal election. 

The main obstacle for Hunter is the race's language requirements. Applicants must demonstrate proficiency in English and French at an advanced level or what's known as a B2 level according to the European Common Framework of Reference for Languages. Indigenous applicants are exempted from this requirement.

It's a requirement May, an anglophone, didn't have to meet when she was elected leader of the Green Party, Hunter notes. When May became an MP, she faced criticism for the quality of her French.

Hunter said she believes the national leader should be proficient in both official languages, but it shouldn't be a barrier to entry into the job. Applicants should be able to learn on the job. 

"That rules out most of Western Canada that already feels very marginalized politically," Hunter said.

Other leadership hopefuls, like Najib Jutt, said the strict language requirements would eliminate many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and persons of colour), like him, who may not have grown up speaking French or English but speaking another mother tongue. 

"I'm also concerned about other people who would have a similar barrier, such as me," said Jutt, who also worked on Paul's election bid. "I'm an immigrant to this country. I speak two other languages."

Short leadership race, $1,000 entry fee

The leader of the Green Party of Quebec, Alex Tyrrell, who is fully bilingual, also has issues with such a high language requirement. However, Tyrrell, who is also considering another run for the federal Greens, said he's more concerned with the shorter campaign. The last time the Greens searched for a leader, the party held a race that lasted at least eight-months. 

This time candidates have just over five months to campaign before a final vote is held, and results are announced in November. The federal campaign coincides with the Quebec provincial election, and Tyrrell said it doesn't provide enough time for relatively unknown candidates to build their profile within the party.  He fears a high-profile candidate could parachute into the race and have an unfair advantage.

"It doesn't really give people very much time to become known or to tour the country or to build up momentum," Tyrrell said. "So it seems to me that it's a format that would favour, you know, somebody who was very well known." 

The $1,000 entrance fee ranks among the controversial aspects, as well. During the last leadership race, the entrance fee sat at $50,000 before the party reduced it to $30,000 when the pandemic limited fundraising. 

Now the low cost of admission could provide a platform for candidates with discriminatory views to enter the race and embarrass the party, that's still rebuilding its image after the messy exit of its former leader, Annamie Paul.

The former leader's exit was marked by allegations that Paul, the first Black and Jewish woman elected to lead a federal party, endured misogyny, racism and antisemitism. 

"[It] opens up the opportunity for fringe aspects of the party to have a large stage," said Kayne Alleyne-Adams, who worked on Paul's leadership and election campaigns. "Some fringe aspects of this party are very much antisemitic, some transphobic." 

Tyrrell, on the other hand, isn't opposed to such a low fee. 

"I was very vocal opposing such high fees," Tyrell said when he ran last time. "I was advocating to get big money out of politics and have a more equal playing field."

Official contest rules could change

A week ago, the party sent its members a lengthy document outlining the proposed contest rules and giving members a chance to have their say and vote on whether they approved the rules. The party did not immediately share the results of that vote when it released its final rules. 

The Greens intended to hold a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday morning unveiling the latest rules but the event was cancelled. CBC requested an interview with Lorraine Rekmans, the president of the Green Party and a member of the contest committee, but received no response.

The party's interim leader is expressing reservations about the language testing requirement. 

"I think there are a range of ways that could have been considered for implementing (the language requirement) that would have made it more accessible," said Amita Kuttner. "I'm not sure if they were explored.

Nevertheless, Kuttner said political parties and the process to elect new leaders will never be perfect and they are encouraging Greens to run for the leadership.

"We're trying something new. It's going to be fun. I certainly hope it's going to be interesting."

Aside from a handful of interested candidates, not many contenders have put their name forward to be the next leader.

Kuttner, MP Mike Morrice and the runner-up in the last leadership race Dimitri Lascaris have confirmed they will not run.

According to the party's leadership guidelines, the party will announce official leadership contestants on Aug. 31. Candidates will be whittled down through two rounds of voting; candidates making it through the first round will be announced on Oct. 14. The final round begins immediately after, with the party announcing the new leader on Nov. 19.


David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?