Annamie Paul is Canada's first Black leader of a federal party. She says it shouldn't have taken this long
The Toronto-based human right lawyer was elected Saturday as new leader of Green Party of Canada
Annamie Paul was elected leader of the Green Party Saturday, becoming the first Black permanent leader of a federal political party in Canada.
Paul, who is also Jewish, says she's surprised it took this long.
"I shouldn't represent so many firsts in 2020," said Paul, a humans rights lawyer based in Toronto.
"We need to continue to reflect on that, and we need to do better," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.
Paul said Canada is missing out if it can't tap into the "tremendous pool of talent amongst our diverse communities."
But she hopes her election means "it's going to be easier for the next one, and the next one, and the next one."
"Every time one of these doors is open, you hope that it's opened for good — and that's great for Canada because we have so much diversity and so much talent within it."
Paul, who was born in Canada to Caribbean immigrants, was elected Saturday after seeing off seven competitors in eight rounds of ballots. She replaces Elizabeth May, who led the party for 14 years.
During the campaign, she and another candidate were subjected to racial and anti-Semitic slurs during a campaign event, an incident which "tells me that we still have work to do," she said.
"It's completely anathema to our core value of respect for diversity, to have any members that hold those views," she said.
"I would say that the best response that Green Party members could have in terms of rejecting all of that was to elect me, so I'm grateful that they did."
Other parties 'intellectually exhausted'
One of the more moderate candidates, Paul ran on a robust environmental agenda that she says will help Canada fight climate change, which she has called "an existential threat to human life."
In the final round of counting, Paul won 12,090 votes to beat self-described "eco-socialist" Dimitri Lascaris into second place, with 10,081 votes.
Lascaris campaigned to push the party left, with a plan to defund the police, dramatically decrease military spending and implement a wealth "cap" to do away with billionaires in Canada.
Paul rejected the idea that she was taking control of a divided party.
"This is just the normal, healthy exchange of ideas that happens," she said.
"Green Party members are passionate people, but we understand that we share the same core values."
She added that the other candidates have already pledged to work with her, and that there will be a policy convention next year where Green Party members can decide the policy ideas they want to pursue.
She described the other federal parties as "intellectually exhausted," and accused the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives of looking to the Green Party for their policy ideas.
"They haven't been able, unfortunately, to create a compelling narrative about where we head next as a nation," she said.
Canadians want different choice, different outcome: Paul
Speaking to CBC News, CEO of polling firm Abacus Data David Coletto said the Green Party faces a problem in marking itself apart from the other parties.
"I think the challenge for the party today remains: what does it stand for and how does it compete with a crowded group of parties on the centre left … who all have strong environmental platforms?" he said.
"They really are competing against the same voters in that space."
According to a national survey recently conducted by the polling firm, 66 per cent of respondents said they would not vote for the party, while 34 per cent said they would either vote for the party or would be open to the idea.
The survey was conducted online from Sept. 23 to 28 with a representative sample of 2,400 Canadian adults and weighted to match Canada's population by age, gender, education, region and official language.
In the 2019 federal election, the Green Party increased its seats in the House of Commons from one to three. Paul will now seek to raise that number to four by running in next month's by-election in Toronto Centre, the riding previously held by former finance minister Bill Morneau.
Paul said that in 2019, many people "decided to vote strategically," in the tightly contested race between the Liberals and Conservatives.
"And so they were avoiding voting against something and not for something," she said.
After months of the pandemic, Paul said that Canadians "don't want to go back to the way things were, [and] are going to be looking to make a different choice because they want a different outcome the next time."
"My job as the leader is going to be to share a very exciting, good-news message about the future we can build, that is so compelling that they're going to want to take that final step and vote for us."
Written by Padraig Moran with files from CBC News. Produced by Paul MacInnis and Samira Mohyeddin.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.