Running for Co-leadership of the Green Party: A Marriage Not of Convenience, but of Purpose

Elizabeth May

As Policy readers can imagine, there have been many and varied reactions to the news that I am throwing my hat in the ring to be Green Party leader – again.

The overwhelming response is “Why?” with a significant dose of “Are you nuts?”

The prospect of running for leader of the Greens in tandem with a much younger partner, with both of us running to change the leadership structure of the party, makes the prospect entirely different.  Delete “again.” Jonathan Pedneault and I are running to be co-leaders for the first time.

Turning to the first question, “why?”

I would not be doing this if the April 4th report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had been reassuring. The Liberals are building their climate plan claiming net zero by 2050 will ensure our children a livable world. The IPCC  report knocked the stuffing out of that notion.  The only way to hold to 1.5 degrees C, or even the far more dangerous 2 degrees C of average global  warming, is to ensure Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions globally stop rising and start falling (or in IPCC terms, “peak”) at the latest before 2025.

I had trouble breathing as I took in that one key conclusion. It was the first time any immovable “do or die” IPCC timeline had loomed as soon as “before 2025.” It was the first time the IPCC had put the window closing on 1.5 or 2 degrees in the same sentence. I stopped measuring the time remaining to avert catastrophic global changes from years to months. Adding to my panic was the Liberal-NDP Confidence and Supply Agreement, effectively removing political heat until 2025 – after the window on a liveable world will have closed.

Two days later, the Liberals approved Bay du Nord – another one billion barrels of oil to be drilled, pumped and burned to make “peaking” before 2025 impossible. The next day, the budget yet again committed to the completion the Trans-Mountain pipeline to boost exports of bitumen. With UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemning any new fossil fuel investments as “moral and economic madness,” Justin Trudeau was doubling down on madness.

Those days in early April set me on a course of exploration to answer my own internal struggle: “what more can I do?”

I considered quitting politics altogether to work in a global climate effort. Many of the people I asked for advice challenged me as to why I was not considering the obvious. Why not run for leader of the Green Party of Canada?  It was a tough question. The obvious answer – because I knew I would be the target of nasty attacks and abuse – was a poor excuse. If being leader of the party held any prospect of making a dent in climate action, how could I allow a bit of personal unpleasantness to stand in the way?

Among the friends I consulted were other elected Green MPs from other countries. Many of them work as co-leaders. While an unfamiliar concept to most Canadians, co-leadership works in many countries where Greens are in power-sharing arrangements. The German Green co-leaders of their last election are now the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Energy and Economy. The New Zealand Green co-leaders hold Cabinet posts in government. Green co-leaders have served in coalition governments around the world, including Scotland and Sweden.

With UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemning any new fossil fuel investments as “moral and economic madness,” Justin Trudeau was doubling down on madness.

By late May I was hoping to find someone who could be as different from me as possible, but who shared my values and work ethic. And amazingly enough, I found him.

In June, Jonathan Pedneault came to meet me at my Ottawa apartment to ask for advice as he considered the prospect of running for leader.  I am pretty famously unable to manage a “poker face.”   Jonathan was so impressive, so earnest and with extensive experience in the conflict zones of the world, it was hard not to blurt out at first meeting “what about running as co-leaders?”

It took a few additional meetings for me to ask about a Green partnership.  We were on an all too familiar zoom call. I watched as Jonathan’s brain registered my question. Within 30 seconds, he said, “Let me call you back once I have a plane ticket to Victoria.”

We spent a week in early July figuring it all out. We interviewed each other, probed for skeletons in each others’ closets and ultimately wrote up a memorandum of understanding confirming our commitment to each other.  We worked through the process of how we could offer a shared platform within the Green Party leadership rules conforming to the Elections Act as well.

His online presence confirmed an extraordinary track record. Where, as a teenager, I had decided I was an environmental activist for life, Jonathan made the same adolescent pledge to human rights.  Neither of us has ever wavered.

Jonathan first entered a war zone at 17, smuggled into Darfur with Sudanese rebels.  He had managed to talk Radio-Canada into a documentary on the latest betrayal of the world’s genocide pledge – “never again.” He has worked in the hellish places of the world as journalist, film-maker and investigator for both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. He knows that the links between climate and war are real. He has lived it.

His last work as staff to Human Rights Watch was to be in Ukraine for the first ten days of the war. Processing the world in polycrisis – pandemic, climate, war and looming famine – he felt the pull to return to Canada and change careers to pursue elected office. Seeking a political home, he decided the Green Party aligned most with his values. He also decided we were a bit of a fixer-upper.

I am now enthusiastic about a prospect I had rejected over and over again. I know we can rebuild this wonderful Green brand. We can and will elect a lot more Green MPs. And well before the next election we can be far more effective in forcing our government to act before it is too late.