With her win of Green Party leader Saturday night, Annamie Paul became the first Black leader of a major federal Canadian political party.
But although it’s “exciting,” she says it shouldn’t have taken this long.
“I have to say that it’s a pity that in 2020, one person can still embody so many firsts,” she told CTV News Channel on Sunday. Paul is also Jewish.
She won the party’s leadership in the eighth round, snagging a bare minimum of votes to defeat Dimitri Lascaris. She takes over from Elizabeth May, who led the Green Party for 13 years before announcing she would be stepping down from the role last November.
Paul, who lives in Toronto and is a non-practising lawyer, said that she hopes her presence as a Black leader will make it “easier for the next person.”
“Many things moved me last night, but one of them were the people writing to me, telling me that they were watching the broadcast live, with their children and seeing something that had never been done before,” she added.
“It’s going to make it easier for all of those kids to imagine themselves in these roles, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
In her speech Saturday night after winning the leadership, Paul mentioned some of the female leaders who came before her who paved the way, such as the NDP's Audrey McLaughlin and the Conservatives' Kim Campbell, and also important Black female politicians like the Liberals' Jean Augustine.
The amount of people eligible to vote in Saturday’s leadership election was nearly 35,000, almost 10 times the turnout in the last leadership election in 2006. Nearly 24,000 ballots were cast, according to the party.
Paul has yet to earn a place in the House of Commons — she will be fighting for the Toronto Centre seat in a by-election coming up in three weeks — but is already looking forward to the party’s future.
The COVID-19 pandemic, she said, has highlighted the need for change, and she believes that the Green Party can supply that.
“I’m very firmly of the belief that if we want different outcomes, then we’re going to have to make some different choices,” she said. “If people in Canada believe, like I do, that it’s important to have different voices at the table, if they understand that it’s going to create better public policy at a time when we need it desperately, because of the urgent challenges that we’re facing, and if they see the parties that we’ve been electing time and time again not delivering on that, then I think this is just the perfect time for them to make a new choice.”
Paul said that after watching Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s throne speech, she felt that there was an “intellectual exhaustion,” on display.
“Where the tank has just run dry,” she said.
She claimed that when it comes to the Green Party, “just looking back at our [last] platform, never mind the innovations and updates that we’ll introduce in our platform for the next election, we are proposing the policies that would have made us more resilient, had they been in place before the pandemic, and that will set us up for more resiliency in the future.”
The Green Party had said in their 2019 platform that they would introduce universal pharmacare, free dental care, an emergency response program to the opioid crisis, and re-establish the federal/provincial Health Accord.
Paul believes that the Green Party is “the home of progressive ideas, […] the home of people-focused, evidence-informed policy.”
The Green Party is not without divisions — the environmental focus within the party can swing between those wanting to invest in ways corporations can cut pollution, to those who see capitalism as one of the main drivers of the climate crisis.
As of now, May is remaining on as the parliamentary leader of the Green Party, and one of the three MPs who have a seat in the House of Commons.
As part of her campaign to become the fourth Green Party MP in the House, Paul said she wanted Toronto Centre voters to know that she “will always put them first.
“Toronto Centre has been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic, it is the centre of the opioid crisis, their homelessness has skyrocketed, and all of this under 27 years of Liberal watch,” she said.
“I’m going to be working as hard as I can to give a strong Green option to residents and to give them the option of some real representation.”
Toronto Centre is the riding that was held by former finance minister Bill Morneau, who resigned last month. Voters will head to the polls on October 26.