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‘What are equity-seeking groups?’ Confidential report reveals Greens’ problems supporting diverse candidates in 2019


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‘What are equity-seeking groups?’ Confidential report reveals Greens’ problems supporting diverse candidates in 2019

OTTAWA—A confidential report prepared for the federal Greens details the party’s shortcomings in recruiting and supporting diverse candidates in the last general election, the Star has learned.

It’s the same problem beleaguered leader Annamie Paul has said the party officials trying to depose her don’t want her to address.

Sean Yo, a top member of Paul’s political circle who ran her byelection campaign in Toronto Centre last year, said Paul’s push to increase diversity is “central” to the challenges she is facing within the party.

“I think that others who have obstructed and frustrated her leadership see this as a distraction, and that everything is just fine, and interpret her strength and determination as something that’s unwelcome,” Yo told the Star on Thursday.

The report, which was obtained by the Star, was drafted last year by a Toronto-based firm called DiversiPro, with input from the party’s diversity co-ordinator who was laid off this week.

The authors surveyed representatives of riding associations across the country. Of the minority that responded — representing 63 Green electoral district associations (EDAs) — 29 per cent said they had no strategy to recruit equity-seeking candidates for the 2019 election, while 35 per cent said they did not understand what that means.

“What are equity-seeking groups? We don’t sell shares in our EDA,” said one unnamed respondent quoted in the report.

The report said this is a “glaring indicator of a lack of information about diversity issues in the party,” and concluded “it is clear that the party has a lot of work to do before it truly embodies its core values of respect for diversity and social justice.”

Paul declined to comment about the report through her spokesperson on Thursday.

The internal party report was made as part of a push to address a lack of diversity after the 2019 election, when the party ran fewer visible minority candidates than the far-right People’s Party, according to a report by The Canadian Press.

That push also included hiring a diversity co-ordinator, Zahra Mitra, who helped create the confidential report before she was laid off this week along with two staffers in Paul’s office. This spring, Mitra penned an email to dozens of party staffers that decried the Greens’ “very real problem with racism” and accused unnamed officials of hampering efforts to make the organization more inclusive.

Now Paul is facing a direct threat to her leadership as the party’s top governing body — the federal council — prepares to hold a vote on July 20 that could lead to her removal. The vote was called over Paul’s handling of a controversy involving a top aide who denounced Green MPs’ comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Last month, Paul accused unnamed officials of making “racist” and “sexist” allegations against her, and tied their resistance to her efforts to make the Greens “the most diverse party in federal politics” through an open recruitment drive called the “Time to Run” campaign. She told reporters that “this kind of change… is often perceived as a threat to the existing institutional gatekeepers,” and said members on the party’s top governance body who are seeking to oust her oppose her diversity efforts.

Judy Green, who ran against Paul in the leadership race last year and recently resigned from her local riding association in Nova Scotia, said she was told she would not be allowed to run for the party in the next election. In an interview with the Star, she said she supports Paul’s push for diversity but that her efforts to recruit fresh candidates are pushing out more experienced Greens.

“People who’ve been working very hard, who were building teams, who were prepared to represent the Greens in the next election, have been cast aside,” Green said.

But the party’s decision to address diversity predates Paul’s leadership, which began in October 2020.

Prateek Awasthi was the Green party’s executive director until he resigned last fall amid controversy over his handling of harassment complaints at a previous job. He said his top task when he was hired after the 2019 election was to increase diversity in the party, and he implemented changes like mandatory training for leadership candidates and federal council members, as well as a process to deal with complaints about discrimination.

Based on interviews with 36 equity-seeking candidates from the 2019 election, the diversity report found that several of them experienced racism and sexism from Green members during the campaign, including comments about their appearance and “jokes” about their gender or race.

“A lot of those painful experiences were shared and the party decided that it would take this seriously,” Awasthi said, referring to the origins of the diversity report.

However, despite what he perceived as good intentions, Awasthi said he confronted skepticism from top officials who felt the diversity push was unnecessary.

“They were sort of shocked at the implication that they might have any unconscious bias because of how they loved the planet,” Awasthi said.

And that might be part of the problem Paul is having in the party as she pushes to bring in diverse candidates, he said.

“You can’t Kumbaya your way out of systemic racism, right? It’s tough work. And that was sort of the source of the resistance.”

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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