Excited to be Green - an interview with Prateek Awasthi

Green Party of Canada

In late April, 2020, the Green Party of Canada announced the appointment of Prateek Awasthi as Executive Director. In his new position, Prateek will work closely with our Federal Council, providing strategic and operational leadership, preparing annual plans and directing party operations.

In advance of starting his new job next month, Prateek agreed to answer a few questions to help GPC members and supporters get to know our new chief executive.

Tell us about your background.

I was born to a family of political activists, feminists and trade unionists, and have witnessed that change is not only possible, but inevitable, when people organize. I grew up in a tiny village in a forgotten corner of western India. We moved to the nearest city when I started school, and I ended up studying law, economics and public administration so that I could make public institutions work better for the people they’re supposed to represent. I started work at the United Nations in New York, spanning a period that began with the 2008 economic crisis, the emergence of Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, and ended with the adoption of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. I worked to bring youth organizations, networks and movements into global decision-making processes. When my wife and I discovered we were expecting a child (incidentally, the same night a certain reality TV star defied the polls to get elected to the White House!), I quit my job to move to Toronto, to be closer to her family and raise our kids here. I was lucky to land on my feet at Engineers Without Borders, where as Director of Policy and Advocacy, I was privileged to support university students and young professionals across Canada to demand greater leadership from Canada’s federal government on the Sustainable Development Goals. How’s that for summarizing a lifetime in one paragraph?

Have you been involved in politics before?
I’ve been involved in policy-making processes as an advocate since I was 16, at the national and global level. While working as a staff member at the UN, I was not allowed to participate in domestic politics in the United States. At my job with EWB, I advocated on behalf of a registered charity, so I had to remain non-partisan. A part of my hesitation, and I feel a lot of young people share that, was a cynical view of politics being all about winning at any cost, considering ethics as an inconvenience, and treating people as disposable. So this is my entry into party politics and, I’ve got to say, I am thrilled it’s with the Green Party of Canada. I am so proud that we do things differently, and grateful that I don’t have to sacrifice my principles to bring about political change.

What particularly appeals to you about the Green Party?
The values of the Global Greens resonate very strongly with me. Participatory democracy, non-violence, social justice, sustainability, respect for diversity and ecological wisdom are at the core of my being, and I have tried to embody them at every stage of my career and personal life. I love the grassroots strength of the party and am inspired by the commitment of its members and volunteers. I have been impressed by the authenticity, commitment and courage of so many Greens I have had the privilege of meeting. I feel honoured to join this wonderful community, and feel proud that we do things differently. Finally, as a father, I can’t help but worry about the world I will leave behind for my daughters. I feel Canada and the world need Green policies, now more than ever, if future generations are to survive and thrive on this planet.

What attracted you to the job of GPC Executive Director?
It’s rare to find a job that brings together something you’re passionate about, gives you meaning and purpose and is the best use of your professional skills. I feel lucky to have found this one. I’m passionate about bringing in new people, particularly from historically discriminated communities, into the political process.

Unfortunately, politics often attracts the wrong sorts of people and I truly believe that if we are to reclaim our democracy, then ordinary, kind and decent people need to step up and get involved. That’s easier said than done and there are many barriers, formal and informal, that prevent good people from seeking public office. I want to put my knowledge, skills and experience at their service, in a spirit of allyship and solidarity.

As a pragmatist (après tout, je suis “pratique”), I would not have applied for this job if I didn’t think we had a real chance of winning. Millions of people took to the streets to march for climate action, and I think the political winds have shifted in our favour. Young people are leading the way, and we’ve got to work in equal partnership with them if we want to convert this unprecedented public mobilization into political change.

Green politics is stronger than ever in Canada. What do you see as the next steps for the party in the coming years?
We have a historic political opportunity right now. Climate change is on top of voters’ minds, and no other party has the legitimacy that we have on this issue. Young Indigenous people are organizing across Canada, and we have the opportunity to align our platforms. Last year, we put forward Mission: Possible, an inspiring platform with bold ideas on a range of issues. Thanks largely to the leadership of Elizabeth May, the Green Party is now recognized as a national party, and Canadians are paying attention. We now have to be strong enough to be able to seize this moment.

We have inspiring leaders, dedicated volunteers and capable staff, and now the question is, how do we best work together and win? What is our roadmap to get to official party status? How do we imagine getting to become the official opposition? What does the path to forming government look like? We have to start by building a shared understanding of the lessons learned from previous elections, and what it means for us going forward. Based on an evidence-based assessment, we’ll need an ambitious, achievable and resourced strategic plan that takes into consideration the most likely scenarios. We will have to contend with new challenges, including increased scrutiny and expectations as a ‘serious’ national party.

I am hopeful that we will build on our strengths, and be well poised to make history in the next election. In the context of a minority parliament, that could be sooner than we think.

You are arriving at the GPC at a time of great change. How will you manage a party in transition?
Next week, there will be a new Federal Council, and in October, we’ll have a new party leader. These are going to be spirited contests, but I am confident everyone will move forward as one, putting our differences aside to focus on what unites us. I look forward to working with the new council in a spirit of partnership, transparency, and accountability, and charting our strategic path forward.

It will be incredibly difficult for any new leader to fill the shoes of Elizabeth May, and the comparisons with her will be inevitable, both internally and externally. We are lucky to retain her unparalleled expertise in parliament, and fortunate to have the wise guidance and support of Jo-Ann Roberts through this transition. I look forward to supporting our new leader’s entrance to the national stage as an inspiring, engaging and effective spokesperson for our policies and values.

The convention itself is an exciting opportunity for members to renew our policy agenda, and that brings with it a huge responsibility to not only advance the specific issues that interest each one of us but also to think strategically about how we place ourselves on a policy spectrum in relation to other parties, and what signals we send to our base of voters, as well as the potential undecided voters we wish to invite into the Green Party.

All these changes are tremendously exciting, and offer us huge opportunities to bring millions of Canadians into a conversation on the future we want to build together.

And starting a new job in the midst of a pandemic. That’s going to be different.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the global response to it is unlike anything we have seen before. Millions of people are losing their jobs, so it feels weird to start one. Ordinarily, I would have met our staff, council and members in person, and have no idea when that will be possible. I can imagine this uncertainty has not been easy for anyone, and I look forward to being able to support our staff and EDAs through this difficult time. It is immensely inspiring for me to see the hard work of our amazing caucus, Elizabeth, Paul and Jenica, in making sure that Canadians don’t fall through the cracks of the federal relief effort, and that everyone has the resources they need to get through this crisis. We’ve got to share the stories of their contributions, including by making sure that support goes to workers rather than owners of fossil fuel companies.

Any other thoughts on the challenges that lie ahead?
As a political party in fourth (or fifth) place, we’ve got to play to our strengths. We have to create a culture of constant experimentation, embracing failure and the relentless pursuit of innovation so we can leapfrog beyond the capabilities of other political parties. We have to build an inclusive culture and safe spaces so that we can attract and retain the most talented and diverse candidates, volunteers and staff. We need funds to get our message across. In this current context that will be extremely challenging. We need to find ways to unleash the full potential of our biggest resource: the energy of our members and volunteers. At the same time, we have to put in place systems to make sure we’re all working towards the same results with a common strategy and a shared narrative. There are interesting models of distributed organizing out there that try to strike the right balance between autonomy and centralization. I’m curious to discover what will work best for us.

What’s your favourite book, TV series and sandwich?
I just finished reading This is an Uprising by Mark and Paul Engler and it’s fascinating. It explores the organization and strategies behind non-violent mass movements across the world. When I feel like returning to an old classic, I always find new meaning in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. My favourite TV show is Star Trek (The Original Series, of course! Although the Next Generation is a close second). Favourite sandwich? That’s a tough one. Does a Montreal bagel with cream cheese count?

What’s some news in the world that you don’t think is getting enough attention?
Last year, we got a glimpse of the event horizon of a black hole for the first time in human history. It was a remarkable feat of science and global cooperation. I am still in awe!


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