Editorial: Race enters Green, NDP pre-election struggle

With an election call expected any day, the Green Party of Canada got a major boost this week – in New Brunswick, of all places – though it quickly turned rather ugly.

On Tuesday, media outlets reported that 14 former provincial NDP candidates and the party’s executive member for Atlantic Canada had defected to the Greens. A declaration of support, released that day at a press conference in Moncton, contrasted Green Leader Elizabeth May’s visibility in the province to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s total absence since winning the leadership in 2017, and encouraged all New Democrats, New Brunswickers and Canadians to vote Green on Oct. 21.

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It seemed like a major coup for the Greens, and like their spring byelection win in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, the breakthrough came at the expense of the NDP. While the New Democrats appear to be on the downslide, the Greens have been rising on the strength of electoral successes at the provincial level, Ms. May’s high trust quotient, and most of all, the public’s heightened sense of urgency about climate change.

Yet by Wednesday, coverage of the New Brunswick defections was focused almost solely on racism, the NDP were on the attack, the Greens were on the defensive, and CBC of course was all over it.

The sordid business started when one of the defectors, former NDP official Jonathan Richardson, said he had encountered racist attitudes toward Mr. Singh among some NDP members, especially on the Acadian Peninsula, where the rural population is quite homogeneous and apparently doesn’t get out very much. In a nutshell, Mr. Richardson said he believed Mr. Singh’s ethnicity was a factor in the party’s failure to secure any candidates in the province. He later clarified that he had never discussed the issue with any of the defecting candidates but by then assumptions about why they defected had already been made – or pretensions to that effect had been settled on – and the Twitter missiles were flying.

Mr. Richardson’s point was made awkwardly, but under interrogation on As It Happens, he explained it better. As the NDP’s eyes and ears on the ground in New Brunswick, he said he felt obligated to tell the party brass that diversity was a challenge in parts of his province and that Mr. Singh needed to spend some time there so that NDPers would feel more comfortable voting for him. But in Canada, diversity can never be a challenge, it must always be a strength. Or as Ms. May phrased it in a statement issued Wednesday: “Canada’s strength lies in its diversity.”

What else could she say? We’re about to enter an election campaign that could set new records for brazen attacks, unfounded claims, low blows and irrational appeals.

Put on your hard hat.

UPDATE: Since this editorial was published, the number of defections to the Greens has been revised downward, with five of the former candidates reportedly saying they remain loyal to the NDP.

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