Annamie Paul made history two months ago when she became the first Black permanent leader of a federal party in Canada — but polls suggest she has yet to make an impact on support for the Green Party she leads.
When Elizabeth May resigned as Green leader after the 2019 election, she gave up her spot as the longest-serving leader of any Canadian party with seats in a provincial legislature or the House of Commons.
That change at the top doesn’t seem to have registered with the average Canadian. Not yet, at least.
When Paul took over the Greens on Oct. 3, the party had the support of 6.1 per cent of Canadians, according to the CBC’s Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data. Today, support for the Green Party is one-tenth of a percentage point lower — essentially unchanged.
Support for the Greens has been stable in every part of the country, with shifts of no more than 0.3 percentage points in the Poll Tracker over the last two months in every region except Atlantic Canada and British Columbia.
WATCH: Green Party Leader Annamie Paul reacts to the Trudeau government’s fiscal update
B.C. and Atlantic Canada are the only places where the federal Greens have seats, making them very important places for the party. But the Greens’ position has only improved marginally in both regions — up 0.9 points in B.C. and 1.1 points in Atlantic Canada.
While that’s a (small) positive trend for Paul, it still puts her well below the party’s performance in the 2019 election, when the Greens took just over 12 per cent of the vote in B.C. and Atlantic Canada. Today, the party still stands at under 10 per cent in the two regions.
The Greens’ two seats in B.C. are not in much danger. May, who intends to run again, won her seat of Saanich–Gulf Islands by a margin of 29 points last year. Running as an incumbent MP, rather than a national leader, is not likely to put much of a dent in May’s support.
Paul Manly won the neighbouring riding of Nanaimo–Ladysmith for the Greens by just under nine points.
The third Green seat — Jenica Atwin’s in Fredericton — might be somewhat at risk if the Greens don’t increase their support in Atlantic Canada. She won the riding by 3.3 points — but the Greens are scoring 3.4 points lower in the region as a whole now than they did in last year’s election.
Paul needs to become better known
New leaders can enjoy a bit of a honeymoon after being installed in their new posts. But that doesn’t always happen — especially when a new leader was relatively unknown before taking the job.
When Justin Trudeau took over the Liberals in 2013, he already had a high public profile and his party got a boost in the polls that lasted for two years.
The comparatively unknown Andrew Scheer got no such immediate boost when he became Conservative leader in 2017. Under their new leader Erin O’Toole, who just marked his 100th day as Scheer’s replacement, the Conservatives stand only one percentage point higher in the polls than they did before O’Toole won the leadership at the end of August.
Paul has a similarly low profile. A recent poll by Abacus Data found that just 29 per cent of Canadians had a strong enough view of Paul to form either a positive or a negative impression of her. Those opinions were split down the middle — 15 per cent positive to 14 per cent negative.
Another 32 per cent said they had a neutral opinion of her, while 40 per cent admitted they didn’t know enough about her to say either way.
That combined 72 per cent who were either neutral or didn’t know enough about Paul is higher than such ratings for other party leaders, according to Abacus Data. When O’Toole became leader, 56 per cent of Canadians had either a neutral opinion of him or none at all. That number was 57 per cent for the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh and 61 per cent for Scheer when they both became party leaders in 2017. It was just 36 per cent for Trudeau in 2013.
It’s clear that Paul hasn’t yet made much of a personal impression with voters. Just 1.8 per cent of Canadians think Paul would make the best prime minister, according to the latest results from Nanos Research. Over the past few years, May never scored below two per cent.
Can the Greens repeat their Toronto Centre performance?
These are just polls, though. How do they square with the Greens’ impressive performance in the Toronto Centre byelection on Oct. 26?
Reprising her candidacy in the riding in the 2019 election, Paul increased her share of the vote by 25.6 points, closing the gap on the Liberals’ Marci Ien to less than 10 points. That was quite a showing in a solid Liberal seat where the Greens have little history of strong results.
Paul can take credit for that. The Green vote share in nearby York Centre, which also held a byelection on Oct. 26, fell 0.7 points from the last election. That boost in Toronto Centre was because of Paul.
The danger for the Greens, however, is that they might take the wrong lesson from those results.
It’s easier for candidates to have more influence in a byelection — when turnout is low and voters are more attuned to who is on the ballot — than in a general election. Paul is from Toronto and her gains were impressive, but she will need another big lift to take the seat during a national campaign when her attention — and that of voters — might be elsewhere.
The Greens would be better advised to find Paul a seat with a pre-existing base of Green support upon which she can build. There are ridings in B.C., southwestern Ontario and Prince Edward Island that could fit the bill. May did that in 2011 when she decamped to Vancouver Island after failing to win a seat in 2008 in Nova Scotia, where she grew up.
As the head of a small party without official status in the House of Commons, it’s not easy for a Green leader to build a national profile. Paul still has her work cut out for her — at least until the next general election campaign gives her more of the spotlight.