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Stefan Klietsch grew up in the Ottawa Valley outside the town of Renfrew. He later studied Political Science at the University of Ottawa, with a Minor in Religious Studies. He ran as a candidate for Member of Parliament for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke three times from 2015 to 2021. He is currently a Master of Arts student in Political Science at the University of Carleton.
Elizabeth May Set To Attempt A Putin-Style Comeback
The irony of Green Party participation in the alliance against Russia
The invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin's Russia and the war crimes committed by the invaders have established an unusual consensus in Canada’s House of Commons, which rarely has all-party consensus on whether the sky is even blue. As a result, sanctions on Putin's Russia and oligarch class have been supported by all parties represented in the Commons, including by the Green Party of Canada as represented by the "former" Leader and current "Parliamentary" Leader Elizabeth May. (The distinction between these different title formalities is, of course, an increasingly-blurry one.)
Accordingly, much in line with the tone of motherly care we have seen Ms. May previously express in public, in March Canadians witnessed her express heart-felt regret and remorse to Vlodomir Zelensky in the House of Commons. She apologized that Canada would not be able to offer Ukraine military support in the form of imposing no-fly zones over its territory. It is with some irony, then, that Elizabeth May is set to take a page from Vladimir Putin's own playbook on how to make a political "comeback".
Of course, this is not an opinion piece about how Ms. May, whom I know personally, is in any way the moral equivalent of a war criminal whose political opponents have been murdered at an astonishing rate. Rather, this article seeks to compare and contrast the internal function of two different personality cults. To those who say, "The Green Party is too irrelevant to be worth my attention", I say: learn how a personality-cult behaves so that your own country or preferred political party can never become one. And by gaining more insight into how Elizabeth May’s Green Party operates, we will gain similar insight into how Putin's Russia operates.
New developments provide a basis for comparison
What makes this comparison between these two political entities newly viable are the reported leaks that Elizabeth May is seeking to become Leader of the Green Party of Canada again. (Or rather, that she is seeking to become "co-leader" with a certain Jonathan Pedneault, though one can hardly doubt who would be wearing the pants in that relationship.) Before these reports even surfaced, a few Green Party members had deduced that May was likely seeking the leadership again, because of the bizarre leadership contest rules that the party's governing Federal Council had imposed that would be favourable to her. Most notably, the party has so far obscured its own leadership candidates from publicity, and is set to publicly announce the leadership hopefuls on August 31st, even as Round One of membership voting will begin on October 7th. Any aspiring leadership candidate with a name other than Elizabeth May, then, has virtually no time to make their name well known to the majority of the party's thousands of members.
Since it is a foregone conclusion that Elizabeth May will once again become the (co-)Leader of the Green Party of Canada, she will inevitably complete a political evolution strikingly similar to that of Vladimir Putin. In the case of Putin, we see a politician who was Prime Minister of Russia from 1999 to 2000, President from 2000 to 2008, Prime Minister again from 2008 to 2012, and then President again from 2012 to the present. With Elizabeth May, we see a politician who was Leader of the Green Party of Canada from 2006 until 2019, then "Parliamentary" Leader from 2019 to the present, and soon to be the "co-Leader" until who knows how long. With both of these political leaders, we have seen feints towards potential gradual diminishment from the limelight, only to have it later rubbed in that they never really did resign in principle from being the fundamental head honchos.
Comparing two personality cults
But to return to my use of the term "personality cult": the simple longevity of Elizabeth May and of Vladimir Putin in being the dominant face of their party and country respectively is not where the similarities end. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a "personality cult" as "a situation in which a public figure (such as a political leader) is deliberately presented to the people of a country as a great person who should be admired and loved". It would be difficult for May and Putin to sustain their constant public profiles if they were not loved by many of the members and citizens of their political entities. Where the term "personality cult" derives its negative connotations is in how the citizens who do not uncritically love the political leader are treated.
The Russian "justice" system is notorious for having a 99% conviction rate and questionable independence from the Russian government, most exemplified by the recent criminal conviction of Putin's poisoned political opponent Alexei Navalny. The Green Party of Canada has a kind of internal prosecution process of its own, that being the membership reviews that appear to likewise convict the accused at a 99% rate. (I have been subject to these reviews myself. Ironically, in one of the only publicly-disclosed cases, Green Party of Quebec Leader Alex Tyrell was expelled from Green Party of Canada membership on the allegation that he was too sympathetic to Russia's own personality cult government.) The only instance I can find of a member being prosecuted and not convicted by the sham membership "reviews" is the persecution against former Green Party "Leader" and six-figure-salaried lawyer Annamie Paul.
With personality cults we also often see some understanding and recognition by supporters that their political entities are indeed stagnating. Many Green Party of Canada supporters are disappointed to have only had a few MPs elected over decades of their party's existence, never-mind the reversal of many years of progress with the party's 2.3% vote share in 2019. But many party supporters have been more eager to blame the Canadian political system, most particularly the First-Past-the-Post electoral system, more for their lack of political progress than their own party leadership. With sympathizers of the Russian government, there is surely an understanding that the welfare of the Russian people has stagnated over recent decades, notably including a lower expected lifespan than Chinese citizens. But Putin sympathizers deflect the Russian government from responsibility by propagating conspiracy theories about some scheme by a nebulous cabal within NATO to oppress the Russian people.
Finally, with personality cults we often see that as dissidents are not given space to express dissatisfaction with their political leadership, they tend to give up on internal reform and instead quietly fade away. With Russia, many citizens have given up on their political system and quietly emigrated from their homeland, with the result that many of the Russians most critical of the Russian government are Russian emigrants, Garry Kasparov being an example. Likewise, many of the strongest critics of Elizabeth May are former rather than current members of the Green Party of Canada.
One personality cult is less impactful than the other
Elizabeth May's Green Party of Canada and Vladimir Putin's Russia are not personality cults of equal significance, of course. Our country is by proxy effectively waging a de facto war with one of these cults, whereas the other cult is merely sitting irrelevantly on the sidelines. But all personality cults are similar insofar as they are stagnant forces as far as the world is concerned. With the Green Party's cult of personality leader-who-never-really-left about to make her political "comeback", maybe the Green Party will rise in the polls back above the no-constitution People's Party, and maybe the party will elect an MP here-and-there. But the Green Party will remain fundamentally irrelevant, and you the reader will now know why.