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The Green Party Had So Much to Gain, but Failed to Launch

If Elizabeth May stays on, it won't be because of her sway with the youth.

by Sarah Berman
Oct 22 2019, 3:53am

Photo by Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press

Canada’s Green Party wasn’t able to turn hundreds of thousands of Canadian climate marchers into a significant breakthrough in parliament this election. The party won three seats late Monday, with a stagnant 6.2 percent of the popular vote.

Jenica Atwin was the only new Green candidate to nab a confirmed seat in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Leader Elizabeth May was re-elected in Saanich-Gulf Islands, and Nanaimo-Ladysmith incumbent Paul Manly hung on to his spot in the House of Commons.

There were earlier signs that the Green Party was not going to achieve the breakthrough that some predicted after the party landed a second MP in a May 2019 byelection. That win came on the heels of P.E.I.’s Green Party becoming the province's official opposition. Some even speculated the Greens could overtake the NDP for the first time in 2019, after the party set a $1.4 million fundraising record.

When May released her full platform on September 16, she prefaced it by comparing climate crisis to the challenges faced by Allied forces in World War II. “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing, and baffling expedience of delays is coming to a close,” read a quote attributed to Winston Churchill in the Green platform. “In its place, we are coming to a period of consequences.”

Pundits seemed to agree the Greens had the most ambitious climate plan of all the parties, at a time when we only have 11 years to curb carbon emissions by nearly half. May’s plan included cancelling the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and a ban on fracking, as well as an all-party war cabinet to coordinate climate adaptation efforts.

But the Greens’ “all hands on deck” war story became a distraction rather than a feature. May was immediately called out for getting her history wrong, and remembering the Hollywood version of Dunkirk.

Around the same time, a youth-led movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of Canadians to march in climate protests; a half million assembled in Montreal to hear Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. The Green Party and its war narrative didn’t seem to reflect the diverse, forward-thinking movement young people wanted to be part of.

The party also failed on other key issues, including its attempts to address racism. May repeatedly went on the defensive asserting there was no place for racism in her party, even as her candidates came under fire for saying New Brunswickers might not be ready for a candidate that looks like the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh.

The final nail in the coffin seemed to arrive on Saturday. A looping video clip of May started circulating on social media, showing the Green leader attempting a dance move briefly enjoyed by TikTok teens earlier this year.

The awkward “hit the woah” clip seemed like a blatant attempt to recreate the million-and-counting views New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh earned a few days earlier with an addictive lipsync meme.

May’s TikTok cameo actually appeared on an East Coast cosplayer’s feed days before Singh’s memorable E-40 post—but it didn’t matter. The narrative that May could only muster an appropriative imitation of what Singh had naturally seemed to take hold, and the Green party suffered endless dunks for it.

If May stays on as leader, it won’t be because of her sway with the youth.

Follow Sarah on Twitter.

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