Green Party of Canada (GPC) leader Elizabeth May has found herself embroiled in controversy surrounding candidates the party has nominated for the upcoming federal election.
Ousted New Democratic Party (NDP) MP Pierre Nantel, who had previously criticized NDP leader Jagmeet Singh for “ostentatious religious symbols,” is now running on the GPC ticket in Quebec.
GPC deputy leader Daniel Green has said that he is completely fine with “dissension” from GPC members like Nantel on the issue of Quebec’s Bill 21, the bill that bans public employees from wearing religious symbols.
The controversy unraveled further when May stated that members of her party would not be prevented from attempting to reopen the abortion debate.
Though the leniency of May to allow for those with authoritarian and bigoted views in her party is greatly disturbing, her core value of not getting involved in the views or votes of members is significant, given how hyper-partisan the Canadian political system is.
This dynamic is evident in every area of Canada’s parliament. Party members vote with the party leader, always. Virtually every bill voted on in the House of Commons will have the same result: the Liberal party voting one way, Conservatives voting another and the NDP similarly all voting together.
With recent votes pertaining to everything from pardoning those convicted of simple marijuana possession to physician-assisted suicide, one cannot simply make a partisan call on whether or not to support them.
But the leaders of Canada’s most prominent parties do anyway. If a majority government wants a bill passed, it gets passed.
This exact same dynamic is evident in provincial legislatures. Elected representatives similarly vote with the party and leader they represent, which inevitably leads to laws passed which fit that party’s agenda rather than the interest of voters or the population at large.
When low-level politicians are not complicit in this structure, their political aspirations can be crushed with the snap of a finger.
This can include things like being demoted within the party by being removed from a cabinet position like Liberal MP MaryAnn Mihychuk, who was removed from her position of minister of employment, workforce development and labour in 2017.
It can also include being ousted from the party entirely.
In 2017, Assiniboia MLA Steven Fletcher was booted from Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative (PC) party after having a disagreement over the Efficiency Manitoba Act. The PC caucus stated that Fletcher had violated party principles such as “supporting the party platform.”
When a politician is kicked out of a party not only do they lose all of the funding it provides during elections, but a great deal of volunteers who canvas and contribute greatly to them being elected.
Simply put, you’re expelled from your party and have no backup plan. Your career as you know it is gone forever.
It is not hard to understand why MPs and provincial representatives hesitate before speaking or voting in a way that contradicts the party leader.
The broader solution to this issue is to reconstruct political parties that understand the importance of personal philosophy over a specific platform and create philosophical principles that candidates must abide by to qualify.
Parties must pay close attention to how potential candidates feel about social and economic issues before they’re hired in the first place.
Most importantly, parties like this must underline a policy of fireable offences.
This would ideally include any sentiment of racism or bigotry like that of Nantel.
May is absolutely right when she says, “Democracy will be healthier when constituents know that their MP works for them and not their party leader.”
But her internal party lawlessness is short-sighted and could contribute to the normalization of authoritarian positions.
While the Greens represent one extreme where minorities are ignored, the status quo represents another. One where hyper-partisanship rules and leaders always achieve their own agenda.