OTTAWA — Green Leader Annamie Paul sought Thursday to frame a legal challenge from her own party as the work of a "small group" of outgoing executives, as she tries to push past the turmoil still roiling the Greens in the shadow of a looming federal election.
Backed by sign-toting supporters at her campaign office ribbon cutting in downtown Toronto, Paul said the court action was not sanctioned by federal council — the Greens' main governing body.
"This was not a decision of our council. This was a decision of a small group that did not seek the approval of council for their decision," she said.
The party submitted court filings Wednesday that aim to overturn arbitration orders to cancel a non-confidence vote against Paul by the council. The notice of application also seeks to resume a review of Paul's membership in the Greens that would lead to her suspension from the party, but that the arbitrator froze.
Two senior party sources say several federal council members found out about the lawsuit only after party president Liana Canton Cusmano sent an email, obtained by The Canadian Press, to party members Wednesday afternoon.
The submissions in Ontario Superior Court ended a brief ceasefire between Paul and party brass, though Paul took issue with any depiction of "infighting" and said a coterie of councillors whose terms will expire in under a month are behind the court manoeuvre.
“I am not feuding with anyone," she told reporters outside her new office at the heart of Toronto's Church and Wellesley neighbourhood.
"There is no infighting going on. This is really a one-sided attack that is focusing attention where it shouldn’t be."
Paul declined to speak further to the legal proceeding that revives the threat to her leadership, seeking to refocus attention on party priorities such as climate change, housing affordability and drug policies.
She did not directly address why she moved to stop a non-confidence vote slated for last Tuesday if only a handful of party brass opposed her.
Paul, who was elected leader in October but has no seat in the House of Commons, expressed optimism at her prospects in the Toronto Centre riding despite two losses there in the past two years and the party's recent revocation of $250,000 in funding that had been earmarked for her campaign.
“There’s no question that having support from the central party would help," she said, but insisted momentum is growing as she canvasses the area daily.
The Greens aim to furnish a candidate in all 338 ridings if an election is called, Paul said, adding that the nominees are far more diverse than in past elections. The party has nominated about 55 candidates so far.
In Wednesday's legal application, the party along with the Green Party of Canada Fund say an arbitrator exceeded his authority in requiring party executives to cancel their non-confidence vote against Paul as well as a review of her party membership.
The documents state that Paul's employment contract was with the Green fund, a separate legal entity that controls the party purse strings, rather than with the party proper or its federal council. The arbitrator "erred in law" because he had no authority to impose orders on an entity that is unconnected with Paul's contract, the filings argue.
Despite that distinction, multiple sources say it was federal council rather than the fund that voted not to renew the contract of senior Paul adviser Noah Zatzman.
The decision came after Zatzman made comments on social media in response to Green MPs' posts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stirring up controversy in May that culminated in Green MP Jenica Atwin defecting to the Liberals.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters not public.
Paul mulled the possibility that the next slate of party executives could be equally recalcitrant when council turns over on Aug. 19 following elections.
"I’m not taking anything for granted at all," she said. "I’m assuming good will, that people that are running for our council are seeking to do so in the best interest of our party."
Paul came in second to Liberal Marci Ien in a Toronto Centre byelection last fall — they earned about 33 per cent and 42 per cent of the vote respectively — to replace former finance minister Bill Morneau in the riding.
The Liberal stronghold has been held by the party since 1993 and has been won by prominent Grits including Bill Graham and Bob Rae.
Toronto Centre encompasses wealthy neighbourhoods as well as some of the most disadvantaged in Canada, with a gentrified Cabbagetown butting up against shelters, payday lenders and Regent Park and St. James Town.
Paul came in fourth place when she ran there in the 2019 general election.
There are now two Green MPs in Parliament, including former leader Elizabeth May.
The party has been riven by power struggles and factionalism for months as Paul attempts to steer the Greens in a new direction.
Since October, Paul has steered the party toward more socially progressive ground that encroaches directly on NDP turf, calling for a guaranteed livable income, universal pharmacare and free post-secondary education.
She has also reiterated her call for a national housing strategy, decriminalization of drug possession coupled with safe supply programs, and ending the ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2021.
Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press