Thursday, July 29, 2010

Green Party Voting: Much More Than Just Going Through the Motions, Part 2(b) Everything Else

Part 2(b): Everything Else

Organizing & EDA's

I've already blogged fairly extensively regarding the so-called “Benmurgi Motions” (ok, apparently it's just me referring to these motions as such...I guess I'm not much of a trend-setter), so I'll leave motions G10-c14 through c23 alone. Check out my earlier blog, "Local EDA Autonomy Under Fire at Green Party BGM: Reviewing the "Benmurgi" Motions Pertaining to Proposed New EDA Responsibilities" for reasons why I'll be voting RED to all of those motions.

There are a few other motions of interest under this sub-heading, however; both pertain to the Revenue Sharing Agreement.

G10-d01, Change in Revenue Sharing Agreement – GREEN.

Right now, the per vote subsidy our Party receives through Elections Canada legislation is split equally three ways: between the Central Party, EDA's and something called “Provincial Organizations”. If you're not familiar with what a Provincial Organization is, don't feel bad, unless you live in B.C. That's because the Party currently has no Provincial Organizations in place except for in British Columbia. We have other “provincial associations”, such as the recently created Quebec Wing (kudos to all involved with that, by the way), but those associations don't receive revenue from the RSA. So what happens to the almost entire 1/3 of the revenue then?

Currently, it's being held on to by the Central Party as there isn't anyone to disburse it to.
This motion seeks to simplify matters by calling for a change to the Revenue Sharing Agreement which would see the per vote subsidy split equally between the Central Party and EDA's, period. The affect will be to put more money into the hands of local organizations to assist them in building stronger associations and being better prepared when an election happens. Since I'm an advocate of putting all of our eggs into the SGI basket as a short-term strategy, and I'm an advocate of over time increasing the health and strength of our EDA's, this motion makes sense.

In contrast, G10-d14, Improving the GPC Revenue Sharing Agreement – RED – creates a convoluted formula which specifies not only where revenue can go, but how it should be spent. The motion itself isn't bad, but in contrast to the more easily understood G10-d01, this motion is difficult and provides for a smaller portion of revenues being made available to EDA's.

Council Structure and Obligations

There are 7 motions under this heading, all of which would change our Federal Council to one degree or another. Before beginning, let me say this about the structure of our Federal Council. I believe that our governing body is just too big to maintain much flexibility. In fact, decision making itself has always been a challenge. That's not necessarily a knock on our elected Federal Councillors (although I really would like to see a few more take-charge Councillors in place of the “defer for more study” types Council seems to attract). Remember, most of Council's business is conducted over the telephone one Sunday night a month. Their agendas are huge and impressive. When I see the work which actually does get accomplished, I am in awe of Council, because it's clear to me that despite their less than ideal circumstances, they're trying to make things work. It also makes me realize that I couldn't do their job. So I'll just remain critical from the sidelines, although sometimes I will also cheerlead.

But sometimes things get bogged down. Clearly, in my opinion, change is needed. Maybe a task-force should study a better governance structure and report back at the next BGM. I'm serious about that because, with one small exception, I'll be voting RED for all of the motions in this subheading, because I don't believe that the changes here being proposed are going to address the substantive issues with Federal Council.

The only motion that I'm going to support is G10-c25, Francophone Co-chair – GREEN. I believe it's time that we started taking both of our official languages a little more seriously around here. This motion will go a ways to ensure that outcome.

General Meeting & Party Procedures

G10-c13, Delegate Proxy Voting By-law – GREEN, is clearly the outstanding contentious motion in this field of 8 motions, and the one which, if implemented, would have the biggest impact on our Party.

Right now, our Constitution contemplates a proxy voting system for General Meetings, but we don't have a by-law which tells us how to do it (sort of like Special General Meetings, except the Constitution actually provides more clarity for the proxy issue, as it specifically calls for a by-law prior to implementation). I have to tell you, I've always been very uncomfortable with the notion that whoever can afford to come to a Biennial General Meeting gets to decide the outcomes of numerous constitutional and policy matters. While I understand that there is an opportunity for influence through an online voting process, the truth is that the really gritty matters are likely going to be workshopped, so the BGM is where all of the action is.

I couldn't go to Pictou last year; I couldn't take the time off of work, nor frankly could I afford the money to get there and stay there. I voted online, but my voice on the weighty matters was effectively shut out. I was at least looking forward to watching the debates through the live-streaming from the general meeting...but alas, that's another matter.

There are some options available to us as a Party. Other parties allow EDA's to appoint delegates and subsidize their trips to a general meeting. Some parties are moving towards virtual meetings, which eliminate the need for national travel altogether. I think that the Green Party should be investigating those options a little more seriously. In the meantime, though, why not proxies? If I can't make the general meeting, I can at least give my vote to a trusted individual whom I have confidence will cast a ballot in keeping with my wishes. That way, I'm given a voice on matters which are of interest to me.

Think of this year's BGM: a handful of members are going to decide on how we elect a leader, and ultimately whether or not we have a leadership contest this year. These are huge decisions. Maybe it will come to pass that those at the BGM won't have to make those decisions at all, because the membership might have either voted GREEN or RED to those motions before the BGM. I just don't think that's going to happen, though, so a handful of Members who can afford to get to Toronto or who by happenstance already live close to there...they'll be the ones deciding. Here in Sudbury, only a very small portion of our membership is going to be able to pay the BGM fee and make the trip. A number of our truly engaged members are going to be shut out from having any further say as to what goes on in their Party. To me, that doesn't seem right. So I'll be supporting the proxy motion.

Shadow Cabinet and Policy Development

A number of motions under this subheading seek to create a process for online policy ratification between General Meetings. Right now, we have an opportunity to develop a “Living Policy” document/process, so that we don't have to wait for two years between General Meetings for new policies to come forward and be adopted by the of Membership of the Party.

I'm opposed to creating an online policy process, because many of our members are not online. And many of the members who are online are not engaged in wikis or other web 2.0 tools for the purposes of communication and sharing. Simply put, if we move to a policy process which relies on online voting, particularly a process which doesn't notify each and every Party member, we would be creating an opportunity whereby a significant number of members would be disengaged from the policy development process.

Member engagement is very important, and it's true that relatively speaking, very few members are currently engaged in the policy development process at all. However, there at least now currently exists the opportunity for them to do so, and without having to figure out how to interact with others online through the use of internet tools. It's one thing to cast a vote for something online; it's another to have a respectful and meaningful discussion using wikis. Heck, using email for a respectful and meaningful discussion is often a challenge for some of our members. If you through the bloggers in there, who only know how to slag one another, well, wouldn't that be a recipe for disaster?

Seriously though, let's stick to the process we have. I'll be voting RED to G10-d04, Living Policy Wiki, and G10-d06, A Continuous Policy Development Process, and G10-d08 (also) A Continuing Policy Development Process.

Policy Motions

You know, I've always considered myself to be a bit of a policy wonk, but here I am, near the end of the Green Party's online voting time, and I've barely mentioned policy at all. Maybe that's because this year's crop of policy motions seem to be, generally speaking, a lot more carefully thought out than those offered in 2008/09. I'm going to be voting GREEN on most of the motions on offer, and YELLOW on a few. Very few motions are going to be RED for me. Let's look at those which are.

G10-p11, Reducing Carbon Emissions – RED. This motion will take our existing policy of a revenue neutral carbon tax and turn it into some sort of different beast. Rather than government holding on to the money raised through a carbon tax for whatever purposes it sees fit (including providing a subsidy for those who may be hit harder by a carbon tax, such as the poor or rural Canadians), this motion will provide an equal dividend back into the pockets of Canadians. So, you pay the carbon tax, you get a cheque back from the government as compensation. Sounds nice. But what it doesn't do is build the sort of Canada which I for one think we need to start building.

I just think that we can be doing more for the greater good rather than catering to individuals by sending them a cheque in the mail. Let's use this revenue to benefit society. Let's not treat it as a bribe to voters who might be unimpressed with program.

G10-p25, Wind Turbine Health Studies – RED. Look, are we for renewable energy sources such as wind power or not? This motions seeks to muddy the waters by calling for a study to be undertaken by Health Canada which looks into something known as “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, which is apparently a health risk to people living near turbines.

Wind Turbine Syndrome makes for a good coffee table book, but it has few supporters in the realm of real science. Certainly mention of Wind Turbine Syndrome has made little impact in the world of peer reviewed scientific literature. WTS, though, like a loon a norther lake at dusk, the call of the NIMBY. Only it's a lot more annoying than said loon.

What this motion will do is to put a moratorium on wind projects until such a study can be completed. It sends the wrong message to Canadians: if the Green Party is concerned about Wind Power, well, what do they stand for? For a whole host of reasons, I'll be voting RED for this one.

G10-p12, Senate Reform and G10-p13, Aboriginal Representation in the Senate – RED.
I'll be voting against these motions because in my heart of hearts, I don't believe we should have a senate. Therefore, I'm not going to waste my time arguing for its reform. A better position for the Party to adopt, in my opinion, is the abolition of the senate altogether. I know that I'm probably in the minority in our Party on this one, but that's the way I feel: the only thing I want to make it work better is to have it not be there to work at all.

Intergovernmental Relations

I'll be voting RED to all of the motions in this section, except for G10-p15, Intergovernmental Relations Committee – GREEN. Mostly, I'm concerned about the perception of creeping federal influence/interference into provincial jurisdictions, and the potential need for Constitutional amendments (I'm one of those Greens who is very reluctant to talk about opening up our Constitution – not because I don't think we need to make some changes, but because I fear that we'll make too many).

OK, that's all I've got to say about that.

Green Party Voting: Much More Than Just Going Through the Motions, Part 2 - Leadership Motions

Part 2 (a) - Leadership

After taking a little heat over Part 1 of this 2-part series of posts related to online voting in advance of the upcoming Green Party BGM, I'm going to keep this post a little shorter and a little more focused. In my last post, I explored how the voting process can, and is, being manipulated to the advantages of some. When manipulation occurs, though, there needs to be two parties involved: those manipulating, and those being manipulated. It's my hope that when Members of the Green Party go to cast their ballot, that they are able to see through the bias which is, in some cases, right in front of them, and vote with their hearts and minds.

Now, onto business. I'm going to share with you how I will be casting my own ballots for some of the more contentious and/or interesting motions. This isn't being done with the goal of influencing your vote, although I understand that my words might play a small role when it comes to making up you mind. Likely, I'm overselling myself here, and truth be told, I understand that this blog won't be read by very many (especially not those who haven't yet made their minds up, given the late date of publication), and, frankly, I don't pretend to believe that there is really anyone out there who gives two figs about what I think in the first place!
Now, with that in mind, let's go forward.


There are 5 motions under the heading of “Leadership” on which Members will be voting on. Motion G10-c29, “Party Leader Term”, sponsored by our Federal Council, is the one which gaining the most attention amongst Greens in the blogosphere, while motion G10-d11, “Commitment to Leadership Race” has been receiving some coverage in the national media. Let's look at these two motions first.

I'll provide the number and name of each motion, followed by my coloured voting preference, for each of the motions that I'll be looking at.

G10-c29, Party Leader Term – YELLOW

This is the controversial motion being proposed by our Federal Council which, if passed by the Membership, will change the way in which our Party elects its national Leader. It will replace the current process of having a fixed 4-year term for a Leader, with a new process which will mandate a review of the leadership after each Federal Election (unless the Leader becomes the Prime Minister, in which case, there is no opportunity for a review). A “review” will consist of “confidence votes” (my term) being cast by the Membership; if the Leader fails to obtain 60% of the votes of all Members of the Party in good standing, the Leader shall step down and a leadership contest will commence.

This motion proposes a completely different route which Greens would undertake in the future to elect a leader. Instead of the expiration of a 4 year fixed term being the trigger for a leadership contest, it will now take the expressed will of the Membership through a review process after a Federal Election to force an end to a Leader's term. No bones about it, the proposed process is quite different from what we're used to as Greens.

It is the process which currently exists for just about all of the other political parties in Canada, however. I am not aware of any other non-Green Party in Canada which uses fixed terms for the expiration of a leader's term. Some have suggested that fixed terms are problematic in that a term could expire at the wrong time in an election cycle—either right before an election is called (which could find the party flat-footed with a new and inexperienced leader led to slaughter when the election comes – or which could carry the momentum which a party experiences when a leadership contest is held, carrying that momentum right through the election itself; you'll have to take your pick on this one whether a leadership contest right before an election is a good or bad thing; personally, I'm of the opinion that it's very problematic) or having an election called during the contest itself. Certainly, those fears have been expressed by many Members of our Party, including the majority of Federal Councilors who voted to authorize that this motion be brought to the Membership at the BGM.

Of course, there have been a lot of other reasons discussed as to why this motion is necessary. Some of those reasons just aren't supported by the facts. These reasons include the requirement that a Leader step down during a leadership contest; coupled with the fact that an election could be called during a leadership contest, so Greens would be disadvantaged during a Federal election by not having a leader in place. Based on my understanding of the federal legislation which guides elections, and my understanding of the role played of our governing body, Federal Council, between BGM's, it seems apparent to me that the power exists to appoint, including re-appoint, a Leader during a Federal election. Of course, that's just my opinion. As it is my opinion that the Leader isn't actually required to step down during a leadership contest (although I respect that a leader, for the sake of appearing arbitrary, may wish to do so). Others have also pointed out the biggest flaw in this argument: how is moving from a fixed term to a leadership review process going to safeguard the Green Party any better against having a federal election called during a leadership contest? Fact is, it won't. The timeframes for a review and contest could still mean that we wind up in the midst of a federal election when a leadership contest is called, although the chances of this happening are greatly reduced when there is a majority government.

Some have suggested that it might simply be better to hold our leadership contests in August, because historically there have been the fewest elections called during that month. But there's no motion on the table to do things this way.

My tentative support for this motion isn't based on any of the arguments above, and I have to say that I'm quite dismayed that many of the supporters of this motion have relied on specious political arguments (at best) to advance their support for this motion. I'd much prefer to put it out there, and let the Members decide what's best to do. So, here is my take on the whole discussion.

Currently, we have a fairly popular Leader in Elizabeth May. We currently don't have anyone else in this Party with nearly the same national “presence” of May. Since the 2008 election wrapped up, we've been developing a strategy of focusing our limited resources in getting our Leader elected in the next election. Some have called this the “Putting All of Our Eggs Into One Basket” strategy. Like it or not, it's what our governing body has decided to do. The theory here goes this way: if we elect a Green to parliament, and a dynamic Green with national recognition at that, voters will see that there really is an alternative for them when the next election is held. Also, we'll gain considerable national media exposure because Elizabeth May is a little dynamo. Some have pointed to the Reform Party here as well; back in 1989, Deb Gray was elected the first MP for the Reformers, and eventually that Party grew to become the Opposition, and when merged with the PC's, the government.

I largely buy into this strategy, but it does have its detractors. Others feel that we should be focusing our limited resources on building strong Electoral District Associations with identified supporters in each of our communities, so that when the writ is dropped, we'll be able to count on a strong core of supporters and voters. Actually, that's my preferred way of doing things. But the Green Party's presence in the vast majority of electoral districts is so very thin on the ground that I believe it would be a very long-term process to pursue this strategy alone without also electing one or more Greens to parliament. For me, it's extremely vital that our Party elect someone, somewhere, this time around. Elizabeth May and Bob Bell probably have the best chances. That's where our resources need to go.

With my support of the campaign strategy in mind, I believe it would be foolish in the extreme for this Party to go into a leadership contest right now. Which is where we will be going if G10-c29 isn't approved by the membership, because that's what our by-laws require. While a leadership contest could lead to some renewal in the Party, the timing just isn't there. Right now, our current leader's position within the Party really isn't going to be challenged successfully by anybody, particularly not within the 4 short months now available for the completion of a leadership contest. If May is perceived as having a strangle-hold on the leadership, what self-respecting leadership hopeful would dare challenge right now? A better strategy for leadership hopefuls would be to wait for the next election, and see how well May fared. If she fails to win her seat in Saanich, she'll be vulnerable. If she does win her seat, but Green vote share slips, her leadership of the Party could still be questioned (why are we taking this step backwards?) and a case could be made for replacing a dynamic media-savvy individual (who now has work to do in parliament) with a nuts-and-bolts, build it from the bottom up technocrat.

I also think that the public will perceive our Party to be one in conflict and crisis. Why are the Greens getting rid of Elizabeth May? She was the only one doing anything, wasn't she? Do they really think they can do better? Who are they going to replace her with? Is David Suzuki running?

At this time, in the summer of 2010, with a federal election expected somewhere out there on the horizon, likely within the next 9 months, that's the sort of confusion in the mind of the public which I believe we do not need. Not as a national party, and not as a party which has chosen to put all of its eggs into one basket. Certainly May's own campaign in SGI will be dampened if she gets dumped as Leader. Further, forcing May to fight a leadership contest in the first place, one in which she has categorically stated she would resign to fight, she will not be able to focus her energies in SGI, the riding in which she wants to get elected. Instead, her energies will be all over the map – literally, as she'll be involved in a national campaign to re-become the Leader.

In my mind, having a leadership contest right now is just plain bad: a bad idea for serious leadership contestants, a bad use of resources, leaving a bad bad bad impact on the perception of our party in the minds of the voters. And that's not to mention any lingering ill-will which might remain at the surface amongst Greens ourselves after the outcome of the contest (not that that ever happens, eh?).

So, in my mind, we've got to do something about this. There is actually another motion on the table for Greens to vote on which would, in fact, do something: G10-c12, “Amendment to By-law – Allow Extension to Leadership Term”. This motion would have the effect of permitting Fed Council to arbitrarily extend the Leader's term for up to one year, while keeping the 4 year fixed term in place. It would clearly get us out of our current situation. But, what next?

I also believe that there needs to be some flexibility in the Constitution and its by-laws whereby a relatively popular leader shouldn't be distracted from fighting for their continued position in a leadership contest which likely won't lead to a different outcome anyway. Let the leader's popularity be expressed by the Membership through a review process instead. If the Leader remains popular, that's your answer.

Of course, some have suggested that a popularity contest isn't the best way to elect party leaders, and there are several points in favour of that argument. One of the biggest: who actually casts their ballot in favour of or against the Leader? Although our party is grassroots and in favour of open democracy, we have a hard time implementing some of those concepts amongst ourselves. In this case, it's fair to say that the typical Green Party members isn't very engaged with what's going on inside of the Party. Most often, the typical Green won't be voting for motions through an online process, or be able to make it out to the BGM. The typical Green doesn't usually vote for Fed Council positions either. Yes, likely the typical Green would be more apt to vote in a leadership contest, and maybe a little more apt to vote in some sort of review process, but largely our Membership has not been all that engaged in decision making within our Party.

This means that any current Leader is going to have an advantage in any review process, unless of course the media spot-light has been so intensely focused on that Leader's shortcomings that Members can't help but see the faults in all of their gaudy glory (something which no Green Party Leader in Canada has yet to face). Maybe in part to counter this, our Federal Council has set the threshold of acceptance at 60%. Seems just about right, maybe, or even a little low?
Not at all. And thanks to Stephen Lefrenie for pointing this one out to me. The threshold of support required to avoid a leadership contest is actually 60% support of all members in good standing (that's paid up members). It's not 60% of the votes actually cast. It's 60% of all voters. So that means if Green in good standing doesn't cast a ballot at all, they can't be counted on to support the current Leader.

And here's why I think we need to workshop this motion. Although a sitting Leader will have an advantage in a review process, given the level of engagement of our Party Members, the approval threshold is out of line with reality. Certainly a leadership review, under these rules proposed by our Federal Council, will almost always lead to a leadership contest. And I'm not sure that that's the sort of flexibility we were looking for.

No, we need to change this threshold, and bring it up to 67% of the votes actually cast. If Greens can't be bothered to cast their ballot, their opinions (whatever it might be) shouldn't be counted against the Leader. It'm all for grassroots democracy, but if voters don't bother to vote, I can't endorse giving their voices equal weight to those who do cast their ballots. So we need to workshop this motion.

I'm very surprised that our Federal Council decided to structure this motion in this manner, given the almost certain outcome of almost always gauranteeing that a leader fail a review. The optics of failure are incredible, especially in the national media. Why set our leaders up for this kind of negative exposure, especially if they receive a majority of the votes actually cast? Maybe that's not what happened though. Maybe, after the several months which this motion was being considered, perhaps they just missed this little implication. couldn't be. Could it?

G10-d11, Commitment to Leadership Race – RED

Given that I generally support Federal Council's motion to change the way in which we elect a Leader, I can't support this motion, which suggests that we Greens follow our Constitution and have a leadership contest now (to begin no later than October 31st, according to the motion). So, that's a big issue which I can't reconcile.

What I also find interesting about this directive motion, though, is that it actually directs the Party to violate our current Constitution and by-laws. Right now, our Constitution and by-laws require that we elect a leader in 2010. This motion, despite some flowery language about the need to respect our Constitution, would direct that we ignore the Constitution and extend the contest into 2011. Again, it's amazing how language can say one thing, but actually lead to something else altogether.

With that in mind, is it any surprise that one of the sponsors of this motion is Sylvie Lemiuex, who has recently told Greens through the national media that she wants to be our Leader? She's referenced this motion a few times now to the media as well (at least, I believe she has mentioned this specific motion...she actually keeps referring to a motion which she will “introduce” to the Party at the BGM in Toronto. If there is a second motion out there with her name on it pertaining to the leadership question, best of luck introducing it as an “emergency” measure, given that this issue has been percolating now for at least 6 months, and given that Lemiuex has fully participated in the process of submitting motions. So I have to think that she actually means G10-d11 when she talks to the media about “her motion”).

Despite the fact that this motion might not even be brought up at the BGM (because it might be RED-voted down by the Membership), Lemiuex seems bent on portraying herself as the saviour of the Constitution while proposing to violate that same Constitution of ours for not better reason than her own political gain. By proposing to extend the leadership contest into the spring of 2011, she will give herself more of a chance to build a national profile. She will be able to continue to chastise our governing body, Federal Council, by not following the Constitution (which says we'll elect a leader in 2010) despite the fact that it would be her motion which led to the violation. And she'll have the leadership contest end dangerously close to the time in which the federal budget is brought down; that's the budget which is going to be the most likely trigger to a federal election, by the way.

This action of hers makes me very angry, mostly at the political cynicism demonstrated by Lemiuex, who claims to be a champion of process but who, in her first foray onto the national stage, seems determined to grind that process beneath her boot-heel. But I'm also angry at Federal Council for permitting this motion to be voted on by the Membership in the first place. It has no right to be there. It is a directive motion which would direct that our governing body, Federal Council, violate the Constitution. The motion does not seek to amend the Constitution or by-laws; it calls for an outright violation. It should have been ruled out of order, and the Membership ought not to have been asked to vote on something which would put Federal Council in such an awkward situation.

And those are probably even better reasons to vote RED on this motion.

More to come in later blogposts, folks, time permitting. I honestly didn't think having a new baby would impact on my time so significantly. And with that in mind, there's further testament to my own powers of observation!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Green Party Voting: Much More Than Just Going Through the Motions, Part 1

Part 1: How to Influence People and Game the Vote

I've now finally had the chance to go through all of the 73 motions which Green Party members are being asked to vote on through an online process, ending August 2nd. This is going to be the first of a two part post regarding the motions. Here, I'm intending to provide some of the background which has been going on, as there have been attempts to influence voting in this Party. Some of these attempts are the normal sorts of things which happen in any organization. Other attempts have been, in my opinion, unethical and require an investigation.

Now, let's get on with it.

Online Voting

As you may know, Members can vote for each motion in 4 different ways: Green, Yellow, Red, or Not Applicable. If 60% of all Members, through online voting, cast their ballots to “Green” a specific motion, the motion will not be debated by Members at the upcoming Biennial General Meeting in Toronto later in August; instead, the motion will be considered “passed”. 60% Red means the motion is “defeated” without debate. I'm not sure what might happen if a motion receives 60% “Not Applicable” (or whatever it is called), but all other voting outcomes for motions will lead to them being “workshopped” on the floor of the convention.

Given the nature of our Party, what this voting process has led to in the past, and is anticipated to lead to in the future, is one heck of a lot of workshopped motions. Now, when a motion is workshopped, the idea behind it might seem that the motion itself is salvageable, despite it having some flaws in the opinions of online voting. This seems sensible: if you cast a Yellow ballot, that means that maybe you generally approve of the idea, but you see an operable problem with the motion. In a workshop situation, the motion itself can be modified by participating members, as long as the “spirit” of the motion is maintained. Later, on the last day of the General Meeting, the workshopped motion will be voted on all of the members present, as recommended by the workshop. That's if there's enough time to get to a specific motion.

Sometimes, the above scenario is reflective of why a specific motion might be workshopped. However, it's not the only reason why a motion might be workshopped. Some motions are just so very polarizing that half the members who vote might vote Green, while the other half votes red. There's only very little middle ground, if any.

This year, there are a few significant motions which I have no doubt will fall into the “polarizing” category. The trick with these motions then becomes which side can pack the workshop and command the agenda at a specific workshop session to ensure that a specific motion receives the time and consideration needed for a vote to occur (because sometimes the clock runs out, and some motions are left off the table). Of course, if you can count the members who are known to be in favour or against a specific motion, that's going to drive things. If the opposing side shows up in large numbers, maybe your side's best strategy is to use meeting rules to have the motion put off until the end. Sometimes, the workshop ends up arguing over the rules instead of a motion, which runs down the clock too. Alternatively, unfriendly amendments can be proposed, which need to be debated and voted on individually before a motion can be accepted or rejected. This, too, runs down the clock.

Of course, the best approach is to make sure that your important motions, if workshopped, have enough members present to vote in favour. The best way to do that is to make sure that the General Meeting is accessible to the majority of your supporters, and not accessible to the other side's. Of course, with the General Meeting being held in Toronto this year, it's arguable that this meeting is going to be just about as accessible as it gets for everyone in the country. This mistake in venue selection may lead to some interesting outcomes for our Party.

Unless, of course, the Membership in its wisdom, votes to Green light and Red light certain motions altogether, preventing them from reaching the floor. Ultimately, that's the best strategy: influence the Membership by whatever means necessary to get them to vote in a certain way.

And that's what's happening in our Party right now, particularly over several motions related to the way in which our Party elects a Leader.

As you may know, our Federal Council has endorsed a motion to change the way in which we elect our Party Leader. Currently, our Leader serves a fixed-four year term. One of the interesting things about this is, besides being the only national party to elect our Leader in this way, the 4 year term of our current leader ends this year, and a leadership contest must be called sometime in 2010 under the current provisions of our Constitution and by-laws.

There is a contrary motion which has been put forward which sets up a time line for a leadership contest to be held, starting in 2010 and ending in 2011. A third motion, if accepted, would allow Fed Council to extend a Leader's term for one year. If all of these motions are defeated, Federal Council will have to hold a leadership contest which elects a leader in 2010, as per our current Constitution.

A few interesting things have happened since the motions were put up on our website for voting by the membership, in attempts to influence voters, even though no one will admit to it.

"Party Opinion" (now "Considerations") Preface

The first interesting thing happened when the motions first went public. Each motion was prefaced by text referenced as the “Party Opinion”. For some of these motions, these opinions expressed simple messaging, such as “this motion builds on existing policy”. For other motions, the opinion could be quite biased: “This motion will lead to ridicule of the Party”. In some cases, in my opinion, the “Party Opinion” was an outright falsehood, such as those Opinions attached to many of the “Benmurgi Motions” which I've previously written about, where the “Party Opinion” expressed that the motion would simply codify existing practices in circumstances where there is no practice at all. And with regards to the Leadership motions, the “Party Opinion” clearly expressed a preference for Federal Council's motion.

I understand that after a number of members complained to Federal Council, that the “Party Opinion” title was changed to the term “Considerations” although the opinion expressed was not changed, and have been allowed to stand. I've heard that the intention in writing the opinion in the first place was so that the opinions could offer information about conflicting motions which would assist voters in casting ballots, and to counter the bias in the inoperative clauses of submitted motions (the “Whereas” components of motions) by intentionally questioning motion assumptions and showing an alternative bias.

It's true that many of the motions submitted by party members and other units of the Party attempt to bias voting outcomes by including specific information in the inoperative Whereases which might be true, somewhat true, not entirely true, or just plain wrong. And almost always, if there is another side to a specific argument, the Whereases will not give it the light of day. After all, since it's all about influencing voter intentions, why tell a bad story or worse, maybe have voters think for themselves and investigate matters before casting a ballot.

The point here is that there is so much bias within the pre-operative text, and in the “Considerations” that an astute voter really needs to be careful when casting their ballot. But whoever decided to counter that inherent bias with offering a “Party Opinion” went way too far. In the case of the inoperative clauses, where a voter detects bias, you can find out just who sponsored the motions, and hold those people accountable. Maybe send them an email and ask why they said what they said. Or engage the authors in one of the online forums (which has happened). For the “Party Opinion” however (now the “Consideration”), there does not appear to be any one particular person or group of people to hold accountable. Further, since the Party Opinion/Considerations preface each and every motion, it's the very first thing which a potential voter is going to read. A biased “Consideration” is absolutely going to influence a voting outcome. And most of the Considerations in my mind are biased.

There must be an investigation into this, and those who wrote the “Party Opinions” must be identified and held accountable. Given the nature of the comments made on certain motions, there is no doubt that those who have taken this action have their own Agenda. This sort of vote-influencing isn't right, and should never have happened in our Party. As it stands now, our Federal Council and our entire National Office must share the blame and stain of the “Party Opinions”, if for no other reason than there isn't anyone else to blame. I would hope that our Federal Council will vote to get to the bottom of what happened, who was responsible, and to take actions to ensure that a travesty such as this does not happen again. It is completely irresponsible for un-named individuals in our Party to be given such a pulpit from which to preach their preferences and try to influence voters. Let's collect the facts behind this, and determine the appropriate course of action once all of the facts have been collected. If, after the facts are collected, that means firing staff or turfing some members from our Party for unethical behaviour, so be it. But let's get at the facts first of all.

One last item on this: I've seen a tiny bit of this around the blogosphere, but I think it's worth repeating, as I've suggested that those responsible have their own Agenda here. Since we are voting online, who is going to be counting the votes received? Might it be those who were responsible for the lopsided and biased “Party Opinion” in the first place? Given that attempts have already been made to corrupt the voting process in such an unaccountable way, and that these attempts have been allowed to stand, there absolutely needs to be transparency with regards to vote counting, including entrusting individuals not associated with the “Party Opinion” to count votes, and releasing all vote totals for the motions. Even then, as the Party has allowed these prefaces to continue in place, I'm sure that some Greens are going to have a difficult time believing the results.

****UPDATED JULY 27 2010. With regards to the preceding paragraph, I have received information from a very reliable source that all of our online vote counting is always handled by an independent third party. I was neglectful in raising this issue as a concern in my blog earlier. I should have dug a little deeper before expressing the concerns I raised. I was quite remiss for not having done this.****

Email from Elizabeth May

On June 29th, I received an email from our Party Leader, Elizabeth May. Before I go on, I want everyone to know what my own bias is with regards to our Leader: I have been, and continue to be, solidly behind Elizabeth May. I believe that she is an incredible asset for the Party, and that the Party should be doing all that it can to ensure that she is elected in Saanich Gulf Islands in the upcoming Federal Election whenever it may be.

With that said, I was both sad and angry to receive this June 29th email, because I believe it misrepresented some significant facts regarding the motions to be voted on by members through the online voting process.

In the email, May claims that there are “some resolutions would cause an immediate leadership race, forcing me to resign”. There are at least three falsehoods in that one statement. Let's examine them individually.

First, there is only one resolution which would lead to an immediate leadership contest being held: motion G10-d11, “Commitment to Leadership Race” requires Federal Council to call a leadership contest no later than October 31st, 2010. It is the only motion which would lead directly to a leadership contest.

The next issue is one of omission: May doesn't say anything at all regarding the fact that the Constitution and By-laws of this Party currently require a leadership contest to be held in 2010. While this omission may seem a minor point to some, for many of our Members who are not as informed about the goings-on inside of our Party, May's email would lead them to believe that some of the motions, and presumably the people behind the motions, are working to oust her as Leader. Again, it's the Constitution and its by-laws which would trigger the contest in 2010; the only motion before the Membership, G10-d11, a directive motion, is essentially one which requires Federal Council to follow the Constitution (to a degree – more on that later).

The third item: is it true that our Leader must resign during a Leadership contest? There's been considerable debate around this question, and there may be at least one Legal Opinion which has been either offered to Federal Council, or that Federal Council has been made aware of. What I can tell you is that our Constitution and its by-laws do not require the resignation of the Leader during a leadership contest. Just as sitting members of Federal Council are allowed to continue on Council even while campaigning for re-election, the Leader, who is largely just one more member of Federal Council from the perspective of our Party's Constitution, is also allowed to retain the leadership role during the contest. From the Constitution's perspective, it's that simple.

But of course, it's not necessarily that simple. I've heard that it would be both almost impossible to remain leader during an leadership contest, due to Elections Canada rules, and unethical even if possible. Quickly, the problems with Elections Canada rules have to do with the notion of fighting a contest of any sort while receiving certain advantages from the Party, such as a paycheque, or access to membeship lists, or even a blackberry. Sorting out what an individual might be using to advance their cause as Leader versus Leadership Contestant might be very tricky indeed.

However, our current Leader has already shown that it is possible to separate her leadership duties from those Elections Canada obligations and rules which govern contests. Recall that when May sought to become the nominated candidate in Saanich Gulf Islands, she had to go through a candidate nomination contest, because another individual came forward to challenge her. She did not resign from her role as Party Leader to do so. The other nomination contestant, after losing to May, did file a complaint with Elections Canada regarding the very issues identified above: money and access, which were not made equally available to him during the nomination contest. Elections Canada declined to take any action, essentially vindicating May.

Now admittedly the nomination contest was restricted geographically, so the comparison between it and a national leadership campaign is somewhat strained. However, recall that the Party was operating a campaign office, through the local EDA, while the nomination contest was going on, and that May continued to receive her pay from the Party (at least I've not heard otherwise) and continued to be able to access the Party's resources (which I know she did, because there was a posting made to the Party's website during this period which told Party Members, including those in SGI, that she was running to be candidate there).
My point is, though, that Elections Canada took no action.

The ethics question around whether a leader should resign their position to fight a leadership contest is different. All I can say is that the Constitution of the Party does not require it. Not even the authors of the “Party Opinion” preface to the motions have not identified the requirement for our Leader to resign if motion G10-d11 were to succeed. There are no specific provisions in Elections Canada's legislation which require it, although it might be difficult to remain Leader during a leadership contest, and certainly would likely have the appearance of bias. Again, though, suggesting that the Leader is required to resign during a contest just isn't correct. And that's what May did in her email of June 29th.

Had May limited her efforts to encouraging more Party Members to vote for motions through the online process, and simply suggested that there are motions which will significantly change the direction of the Party, that would have been fine. But May clearly went too far in her email by claiming “some resolutions would cause an immediate leadership race, forcing me to resign”, even if she sincerely believes that she must resign as leader during a leadership contest. By presenting her opinion as fact, she crossed a line. She may wish to explain to Members how she, IN FACT, didn't cross any line, but until she can point to a clause in our Constitution or by-laws, or a section of Elections Canada legislation which clearly states that a leader must resign during a leadership contest, she will fail in doing so.

What Elizabeth May needs to do now is go on the record and apologize to Members for this misleading statement of fact. I'd also suggest, but not demand, that she consider also apologizing for the omission of the information regarding the Constitution and its by-laws related to the 4 year fixed term leadership requirement as well. May should apologize in person, at the BGM in Toronto, and issue her statement in a follow-up email to the members. Only when there has been recognition that a wrong action has occurred can a healing process begin.

And friends and Members of the Green Party of Canada, make no mistake that May's email, the Party Opinions, and the goings-on at Federal Council with respect to our Constitution have created a very tense situation leading into the Toronto BGM. Right now, we really could benefit from all sides taking a step back, and letting some of the healing within our Party take hold, especially if we are going to be united in fighting the next Federal election.

However, I'm not optimistic that we'll be able to scale down the current escalating situation. I fear that the damage has been too extensive, and that even an apology by the Leader of the Party for these recent actions, and whatever else she might want to apologize for, isn't going to fill-in this rift.

The Widening Rift

Sylvie Lemieux, the Green Party's past and current nominated candidate for Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, is seeking the Leadership of this Party because she is dissatisfied with the way in which our current leadership (including Federal Council) has decided to try to change our Constitution regarding leadership contests than to follow it. Many others in this Party have gone one step further, and suggested that the fact that they are doing so in Year 4 of a 4 year term is unacceptable and unethical. And some believe that the definition of “4 years” should have resulted in a leadership contest culminating at the August BGM, rather than being put off to be called at some point in the future.

What Sylvie Lemieux's public declaration that she wishes to challenge for the leadership of this Party has done is to turn her now into a lightening rod. Those Party members who may have had a grievance with the leadership over whatever issue, or those members who share the concerns about Federal Council's desire to change the Constitution at the 11th hour, rather than follow what is prescribed, now have an individual, a face, a name, to turn to. Lemiuex has become Anger Personified in this Party.

Whether you agree with Lemiuex's actions or not (and for the record, I think her announcing her desire to be Leader at a time when there is no opportunity for a leadership contest to happen is, frankly, amateurish, and divisive to our Party), what can't be ignored is the impact that this event is likely now going to have on our Party situation. Lemiuex isn't going to go away, whether or not there is a leadership contest held this year. She is going to linger around as an overt challenge to our current Leadership, and likely continue to publicly oppose the decisions of the leadership, be they from May or from Federal Council.

This may not be a disaster for our Party, but it's hardly the sort of thing which a Party with no seats in the house needs at this time. Certainly, she is going to be a divisive distraction in all of our efforts. It would be best if she publicly withdraws her challenge, should the Membership in its wisdom endorse Federal Council's motion to change the Constitution to remove the 4 year Leader term limits. But I don't think that's going to happen.

I'd have a little more respect for Lemieux's concerns with regards to upholding the Constitution of the Party if she wasn't one of the endorsers of resolution G10-d11, the (strangely, in my opinion) named, “Commitment to Leadership Race”. First, from an operative perspective, there isn't any need at all for this Motion. If the other Leadership motions are defeated by the Membership, the Constitution and by-laws continue to provide direction: a leadership contest must be called and a leader elected in 2010.

If the idea behind this motion was to provide clarity regarding the Constitutional requirements for a leadership race, the motion doesn't accomplish it. In fact, it only goes to muddy the waters even further. As it is a directive motion, it does not seek to amend the by-laws, specifically subsection of the by-laws, which sets out the fixed term requirement and identifies that the leader shall be elected every 4 years, starting in 2006.

Instead, what G10-d11 does is call for Federal Council to begin a leadership contest no later than October 31st of 2010, and to have that contest conclude no later than April 30, 2011.
April 30, 2011? What's up with that? If our Constitution and its by-laws are to be “respected” in their current form, and as this motion doesn't seek to change the Constitution or its by-laws, why is this motion calling for the allowance of a leadership contest to conclude in 2011, which isn't in keeping with the current wording of the Constitution and its by-laws? That's hardly the sort of “Respect” one would expect from such a motion.

Again, the current by-law is clear: a leadership contest must elect a leader in 2010. Why, then, this call for an extended leadership contest? Initially, when I first read the motion, it made no sense to me at all. Now, with recent events, including one of the motion co-sponsors publicly challenging our Leader of the Party, things have started to fall into place. Could it be that Lemieux is concerned that a shorter leadership contest would not benefit her, and as a result, she is calling for a longer contest, even if it is outside of the bounds of our current Constitution and by-laws which she claims to want to uphold?

Playing Games

I'm getting very concerned about the level of gaming which has been going on lately in our Party, and particularly with our Party's Constitution and By-laws. Seems like some in our Party are using these instruments in ways not originally intended. These documents, which set out the governance rules of our Party, should be treated as promises to the Membership by those in positions of authority. While there is an amendment process in place which must be respected, what's happening lately is an abuse of process.

It started with Federal Council's desire to find a way around the 4 year Leader fixed term, back in the fall of last year, when it became apparent that a federal election wasn't going to happen in 2009. Extra-consitutional options were initially explored, and disposed of, before Fed Council settled on the idea of endorsing a motion to be presented to the Membership at the BGM. I finally applauded this way of resolving what was quickly becoming a Constitutional Crisis, because I believed that presenting a clear option to the Membership was likely the best we were going to be able to do to resolve this situation amicably.

When the motion came to be endorsed by Federal Council, I was happy to see that it was a fairly clear and operative motion, with only one (significant) flaw, in my opinion, which appeared to be only as a result of oversight, and not because of bias. Since being posted online for voting, though, coupled with “Party Opinion” preface, and with a misleading and inaccurate email to Party Members, the motion to change the Constitution from Fed Council has lost more than some of its neutrality. It is being gamed.

And whether as a result of that gaming, or for other politically motivated reasons, a challenger to our Leader has now publicly stepped forward, even though there is no leadership contest currently underway. This challenger claims to want to respect the Constitution of the Party, but she sponsors a motion which would prolong the very leadership contest she wishes to fight. This has turned her motion into nothing more than a self-serving headache which our Federal Council would have to figure out how to reconcile with our current by-laws should it be adopted by the Membership. To my knowledge, Lemieux hasn't even bothered to explain her actions. Perhaps she feels that the motion is actually in keeping with our by-laws.

Shades of Grey

Which brings me to my final point here in Part 1. When it comes to policy, by-laws and the Constitution itself, there are always going to be shades of grey in any text. This can and will lead to differences of interpretation, and often not everyone is going to agree on how something should be strictly interpreted. Even something seemingly innocuous, such as “4 years” can be (and is) open to considerable interpretation. So conflict over interpretation shouldn't be unexpected.

What is unexpected to some, however, is how political some of these interpretations can (and have) become. The fact is, though, that's the nature of decision-making. Those who are charged with making decisions in this Party are operating in a political environment: they are elected by the Membership to govern. They've made their decisions, and they can now be held accountable to the Party for making them. That's the way that the process must work. Decision-making is a political process; it is not a neutral process. It can't be.

Where some things seem to be going off of the rails have more to do with ethics and respect. While decision-making is a political process, we as Greens should not be engaging in deliberate misrepresentations of facts to further our own positions. That's wrong, even though it may work. And I've started seeing a little too much of that for my liking in the last few weeks. I'm starting to become a little embarrassed to be a Green right now.

Therefore, I'll offer one last suggestion: it's time to consider shaping up, and in the process of doing so, trying to heal this very real rift between elements of the Party. Healing has to begin through an overt process; those who need to apologize for actions taken should do so. Those who authored the biased Party Opinion pieces need to step down from their current positions while an investigation takes place which will lead to resolving this matter. Those who have stepped forward in effort to take political advantage of this situation must back off until the timing is right for an appropriate challenge to the Leadership. In a very real way, the future of our Party's success very much depends on us getting this right. We risk more than not electing an MP in the next election should we fail in this task.

Part 2

Part 2 of this post will look at how I'll be voting on certain motions, and why. As far as influencing voters go by publishing my own voting intentions, I will suggest only that I'm going to be as upfront as possible with my own bias.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sylvie Lemieux's First Mis-Step of Her Leadership Campaign: Announcing Her Intention to Lead the Green Party

It was brought to my attention earlier today that Ottawa-area Green, Sylvie Lemieux, officially launched a challenge for the Green Party's leadership at a barbecue hosted by municipal councilor and nominated Green Party candidate Bob Bell, in Guelph held this past weekend (see this article from the Guelph Mercury: "Race to Challenge Green Leader Launched in Guelph"). This came as a tremendous surprise to me, as there hasn't been a leadership contest called at this time. In fact, the Party will be voting on motions at our upcoming Biennial General Meeting in Toronto this August which will determine whether there is to be a leadership contest at all this year. Her announcement, however, was likely anticipated by some party-insiders.

Now, I don't know Sylvie Lemieux at all. Many of the readers of this blog probably don't know much about her either; she's a relative unknown in this Party, although she was the candidate for the Glengarry-Prescott-Russell electoral district in the 2008 election, coming in 4th with 5.3% of the vote in the district currently held by Conservative Pierre Lemieux. This riding used to be a Liberal stronghold, held by Don Boudria. Sylvie Lemieux is also currently the nominated candidate for the Greens in GPR for the next election.

The Guelph Mercury describes Lemiuex as a former supporter of leadership hopeful David Chernushenko, which lends credence to some of the comments I've seen around the blogosphere about Elizabeth May's leadership being opposed by those who were unhappy with the leadership results in 2006. Chernushenko, as you may know, is no longer with the Green Party; I understand that he is currently seeking a seat on Ottawa's municipal council.

There's obviously some history to what's been going on (or not going on) with the leadership contest in the Green Party. You must know by now that our Constitution requires that a leadership contest be held in 2010, but at the present time, no contest has been called. Motions are currently before the membership for online voting which may lead to the postponenment of a leadership contest, or doing away with a contest altogether in favour of a leadership review to occur after the next election. There is also a motion before the membership which requires our Federal Council (the Green Party's governing body) to uphold the Constitution of the Party and begin the leadership contest process; Sylvie Lemieux's name appears as one of the "sponsors" of this motion, so presumably that's the motion she was referring to in the Guelph Mercury article (although it's presumptuous to suggest that she'll be "putting it forward" at the BGM in August, because if the membership votes it down pre-BGM through the online voting process, there won't be anything more to this at the BGM. I just hope that she's not referring to trying to introduce an "emergency motion" of some sort from the floor at the BGM, because under our Party's rules, that's not at all an appropriate time to do so).

As I've expressed in this blog before, I will be supporting the motion sponsored by our Federal Council which seeks to change the way in which our Party elects its Leader. I'm troubled by the notion of having fixed and inflexible leadership terms as per our Party's Constitution. National polling continues to suggest that we're in store for more minority government situations. Given that our Party advocates some form of proportional representation to replace the current First Past the Post electoral system, it's fair to say that we're comfortable enough with minority governments and coalitions to advocate for a higher level of electoral uncertainty than what Canada has traditionally come to expect. In order to take full advantage of our own Party's policies regarding proportional representation, we as a political party need to become more flexible with our decision-making structure. The fixed-term leadership contest provision in our Constitution does not allow us the degree of flexibility we need.

But whether you agree or not with our current fixed leadership term, or whether you support (or not) Federal Council's motion to change the way in which we elect a leader, I suspect that you will find Sylvie Lemieux's move to challenge the current Party leadership as problematic, sophomoric, and in really bad taste. So much for Party unity, Sylvie!

Look, I know that not everyone lines up behind the leader of any political party. Usually, though, if you don't agree with the Leader, you either suck it up and wait it out; leave the party until a more opportune time; or quietly seek to change the outcome, maybe even building your network for a challenge when the time arrives.

Lemieux is an unknown and unaccomplished Green. Her political instincts seem to be very lacking with this outrageous move to openly challenge for the leadership of this Party over the weekend. She's chosen neither option for disgruntled party members, and instead has decided to create an option for herself by openly announcing the challenge. Likely with the hopes of attracting other disgruntled Party members to rally 'round her flag before some of the bigger names have stepped up.

Of course, the bigger names are likely building their networks as we speak, but they're politically savvy enough not to tip their hands until the right moment: that would be when the current Leader resigns or a leadership contest is called. And that's the proper way for serious candidates to approach the job. Challenging the leader when there is no formal mechanism for challenge is the height of hubris.

But...let's not completely discount Sylvie Lemieux at this time. By announcing her challenge in Guelph at Bob Bell's bbq, she's making a statement with regards to the sort of backing from higher-profile party members she's trying to receive. Guelph, where Mike Nagy ably represented this Party in the last Federal election, is one of those ridings which we have a pretty good chance of contesting, and by all accounts, Bob Bell, who sits on Guelph's city council, might just be the right guy to do it. It's also been suggested that our current party leader has some popularity-related issues in Guelph (although I've heard nothing about Bob Bell's thoughts on this matter outside of what's reported in the Guelph Mercury article). By announcing her challenge to Elizabeth May at Bob Bell's place, Sylvie Lemieux has thrown down the gauntlet which she hopes will be picked up by dissatisfied Central Ontario members, many of whom tend to be from the more "right side" of the political spectrum.

If this is the banner she hopes to carry into an at this time hypothetical leadership contest, she's certainly going about it in a strange way by becoming a lightening rod for Elizabeth May supporters throughout the Party, and especially those from everywhere outside of Central Ontario. She's suddenly become the poster-child for those Ontario Greens disgruntled with the 2006 election who want to dump our current leader. That might be a fine poster to be on...if there were a leadership contest. Without a contest, I'm sorry, but it is to laugh.

No doubt the other parties will be having a field day with this latest news out of our Party, which is just now starting to filter into the mainstream media. Did Paul Martin ever openly challenge Jean Chretien when Chretien was leader? How about Chretien when Turner was leader? The sort of action taken by Sylvie Lemieux just isn't contemplated in other national parties. By declaring an open challenge to Elizabeth May's leadership, she's apt to make our Party look like an amateurish laughingstock. If it was just making herself look that way, that's one thing, but I've no doubt that the media and the dog-eat-dog blogosphere is going to have some fun with this. Way to go, Sylvie.

As I indicated earlier, I don't know a lot about Sylvie Lemieux. Heck, I might even agree with a lot of what she stands for. But I do not and will not agree with issuing an open challenge to our Party's leadership this past weekend, at a time when there is no mechanism to actually reach out and seize the leadership. Sylvie Lemieux has made her first mis-step, and it's a doozy.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Local EDA Autonomy Under Fire at Green Party BGM: Reviewing the "Benmurgi" Motions Pertaining To Proposed New EDA Responsibilities

I've been a negligent boy lately. Negligent for not paying enough attention to what's been going on in the Green Party with regards to the upcoming Biennial General Meeting, being held in Toronto this coming August. Motions have been available to be viewed on the Green Party's website for some time now, and just tonight I've finally started to turn my attention to them.
I, along with all on-line Greens, received a letter from Elizabeth May, telling me that the motions being proposed for the General Meeting are significant, and may end up changing the structure of the Party. May says that she could be forced to resign if some of the motions are passed. Serious stuff indeed. But going through these motions is going to take significant time, which is something that I haven't had as much of lately as I would like.

And my goodness, there are a LOT of motions being proposed. This is going to take longer than even I had hoped. It's no wonder that so many Greens are turned off by this process, that they don't bother to vote. You'd better be prepared for a marathon when you log in. And best of luck trying to figure out exactly how these governance-related motions will really work. I suppose the people who put all of this together figured voters could use some help. They have kindly provided a “Considerations” section as a preamble to the motions, which seeks to identify what the motion will do, whether there are conflicts with other motions being proposed or with existing by-laws of the Party. Swell.

Well, no, not so swell. Tonight, I decided to tackle those motions of primary importance to me, as CEO of the Sudbury Federal Green Party Association. Specifically, the 15 motions grouped under the “Organizing – EDA's” heading. What a marathon. Here are my observations on the first of many of the proposed motions.

But first, a quick discussion of those “Considerations” which preface the motions. In some cases, the “Considerations” are fairly short, and imply that the motion is seeking to codify an existing situation. Where I came across those Considerations, I was uncertain whether the situation described was really one which was in existence for everyone or not, but the situations did seem to largely be “best practices”. On first glance. When you dive into the actual wording of the motions, I was left with the impression that the situations being described in the motion were vague or ambiguous. Hardly the right approach for creating true best practices.

On other motions, the “Considerations” were quite lengthy, and in my opinion, biased against the motion. No surprise that these motions appear to have been sponsored by some members who have been vocal regarding their concerns with the Party's direction, either their blogposts or comments made on other blogs. The bias was very apparent to me, and in some cases, including misrepresentations about specifics of the motion itself (for example, motion G10-d12, the Considerations suggested that the Second clause of this motion contradicted the Constitution. No, it did not contradict; it created a situation which would be considered ambiguous, but it was not an outright contradiction. The use of the word “contradiction” here likely would bias a casual reader of this motion to potentially vote against it).

Interestingly, those Considerations failed to pick up on a glaring oversight perpetuated in many of the motions, sponsored by long-time Greens and some members of Federal Council. These motions often referred to “Riding Associations”, despite the fact that there are no such units in the Green Party of Canada. We have “Electoral District Associations” whose jurisdiction corresponds to many of the 308 Electoral Districts which comprise Canada. Just a small matter, you say? Maybe so...maybe we all know that a “Riding Association” and an “Electoral District Association” are intended to be the same thing...but what about those that don't know? What about those who go looking for a definition in our Constitution and fail to find one? What should they assume? Better: why the imprecision of the language used in the first place, especially when using the correct term required no greater effort?

Yet the Considerations failed to remark on this imprecise use of language. Indeed, the Considerations remained silent on a large number of ambiguous points.

EDA Responsibilities and Consequences

A number of the motions being considered will create numerous new responsibilities for EDA's, and set out consequences (financial and de-registration) as potential consequences for an EDA which does not follow these new responsibilities. All of these motions seem to have been sponsored by the same group of Greens. Since Ralph Benmurgi's name appears first (alphabetically) on the sponsor's list, I'll refer to these as the Benmurgi Resolutions (and they are: G10-c14 through c23).

The Benmurgi motions, taken together, will create new reporting and other requirements for EDA's beyond which are currently required by the Party. Many of these requirements are could be considered “best practices” in building responsible relationships between EDA's and the Central Party. However, the structure of these motions is problematic, due to the vague wording which is used. Although many EDA's and Central Party have great and wonderful relationships, there is sometimes friction. The Benmurgi motions, through their vagueness, completely stacks the deck against the EDA in favour of the Central Party. In short, the Benmurgi motions leave lots of room for interpretation, and since the consequences of not being responsible fall squarely and only on the shoulders of the EDA's, they're the ones who may end up getting burned due to a lack of precision in the language used.

By way of example, I offer the following (beyond the use of the term “Riding Association”, which is present in every motion, and which I've already explained really has no meaning as far as our Party's Constitution could suggest that since the Benmurgi motions refer to something which doesn't exist, they have will have no impact on the relationship between EDA's and the Central Party...but I'm not going to be that one this time).

G10-c14, Riding Association AGM's, requires that an EDA hold an AGM every 15 months, and that minutes are submitted in a timely manner to the Party. Seems pretty straight-forward, and certainly providing the minutes to the Party seems like a best practice. Except...who is the Party? There is no unit of the Party in the Constitution which is identified as “the Party”. Indeed, where the Constitution refers to the Party, it is implying each and every member and each and every unit. The Party is ALL OF US. So, as CEO of a “riding association” which has just had a General Meeting, who do I submit the Minutes to in order to be in compliance with this motion? Maybe I'll have to post them on the website somewhere, so all Greens can view them. Again, a lack of precision in language here, where imprecision wasn't necessary. Why not just say submit the minutes to the correct organizer, or maybe to the Chair of Federal Council, or to the Chair of Campaign Committee, or whoever would be the right position to send them to? Trivial? Maybe; but when it comes to best practices, ambiguity is problematic.

G10-c15 indicates that the Party (whatever that might be) must provide EDA's with candidate nomination rules. That's fine, I'll support this Benmurgi motion, but only because the motion doesn't require an EDA to use those rules. Hmmm...for those who thought otherwise, look again. EDA's were caught up in having to use Campaign Committee's candidate nomination rules last time because there were clauses in local constitutions which required the use of Central Party rules. I know because my EDA was one of them, and we had some issues with the rules. We amended our Constitution to change the requirement for using Central Party rules so that we are now responsible for making our own rules. The requirement for using Central Party rules was found in the original “template” constitution which our EDA had adopted, provided to us by the Party. Once we identified this issue, our members unanimously endorsed amending our Constitution so that we will have more autonomy in the future to develop rules which make sense in our Electoral District. Easy as pie...

G10-C16, however, seeks to change all of that. Part of this motion requires that an EDA has an adopted Constitution. Fine, great idea. But wait. The motion goes on to clarify that the Constitution of EDA's will be one “provided by the Party”. Hmmm...why not let EDA's create their own constitutions? Further, this motion goes on to indicate that any amendments to a local constitution must be approved by the Party. Yes, APPROVED. That's veto power over a local EDA's governance document folks, and that's very insightful as to where all of these Benmurgi motions are leading: together, they will severely curtail EDA autonomy.

Again, I'm not sure who “the Party” is here. Maybe that's all of us at a Biennial General Meeting (and won't it be fun to have to go through all of the local constitutional amendments as well the next time we have a BGM?). So...approval is required, but the by whom isn't identified. This is vague and ambiguous, and frankly shoddy work on the part of the sponsors, especially when there was no need to create this kind of ambiguity.

Allow me an aside here, regarding the “template” constitutions, which would presumably be the “basic” constitution referred to in this motion. Beyond the issue of who gets to set candidate nomination rules (which would also be impacted by this motion), there are other problems with the templates which have been provided to new EDA's. Specifically, the template constitutions indicate that only members in good standing are allowed to vote. This is in direct contradiction to the Green Party of Canada's Constitution, which (in By-law 1) indicates in Section 1.1.1 that all
Members have the right to vote. Section 1.3.1 refers to when a member ceases to be a member, and Section clearly indicates that a member ceases to be a member only when not in good standing for 12 consecutive months or more. This means that “lapsed” members remain members and are eligible to vote, despite not being “members in good standing”. In this instance, the template provided by the Party is in contradiction to the Party's Constitution. I've brought this to the Party's attention in the past, and I've blogged about it as well, but nothing appears to have been done (unless this is addressed in a motion which I've not yet reviewed, which is possible).

One last thing about this motion: to which EDA's is it intended to apply? The motion says “Riding associations will adopt a basic constitution provided by the Party....” When I read this, to me it means that to be in complicance, the Sudbury EDA will have to go and adopt this new basic constitution, despite the fact that we already have a constitution. You have a different interpretation maybe, one which suggests that those EDA's with constitutions in place would be exempt? Why would you think that? It says “Riding Associations”, presumably meaning EDA's. It doesn't make any allowances for those with Constitutions in place already. The lack of additional language here implies that all EDA's will have to adopt the basic constitution. The motion could have been more specific if it intended otherwise. But it's not more specific.

Again, more evidence of a poorly worded motion leading to ambiguities. But what is clear is that this motion will strip EDA's of local autonomy.

G10-c17, riding associations will provide contact information for CEO's and FA's to the Party. Again, not sure who the Party is. However, this motion really is codifying a best practice. It galls me that we actually need something in our Constitution and by-laws to trigger this, but I understand that this has been an issue.

G10-c18 provides a process for the assets of de-registered EDA's to be transferred to the Party and held for up to 2 years, until a new EDA can be registered. I would like this if I knew to which unit of the Party the assets were to be transferred to. Also, I'm not sure what the mechanism for transfer will be. Will someone from the Central Party drive out to the EDA and pick up the banners and signs, or will the now-former CEO have to continue to store them in her garage?

G10-c19 requires that a copy of the local EDA's Constitution, certified by the CEO, be forwarded to the Party and kept on file. I see the need for the Central Party (presumably the National Office) to have on file the right copy of any local Constitution. What I don't understand, though, is the need to have a CEO certify a copy. First, if the earlier Benmurgi motions are passed, requiring all EDA's to adopt a new, basic Constitution, and only the Party can approve amendments to it, then the Party will always have a copy of the current Constitution on file.

I suppose that motion could fail, though, leaving the current situation. Since it's a best practice to submit a current copy of a local constitution to the National Office, I would generally have no problem with that. But...why a Certified copy? What does that mean anyway? That the CEO has to physically sign it, or will a simple email with the Constitution suffice? My interpretation is this: the CEO will have to sign it in front of a notary. That's the only way to “certify” a document. Why else would the motion use the word “certified” when it could have used the word “provided”? The CEO has no special powers of certification just by virtue of being a CEO. Do you disagree with my opinion? That's fine, and I guess we'll find out who is right about the term “certified” when it becomes an issue between the Central Party and your EDA. And as we'll see, those consequences could be significant.

G10-c20 requires that all Officers of the EDA be members in good standing. This Benmurgi motion is not in keeping with the approach to members set out in the GPC Constitution, however it doesn't actually contradict it, as it deals with a bit of a different issue. But I'm not sure why valid members of the Party should be denied being Officers of the EDA. Don't see it that way? Go back to the GPC Constitution and try to find where it says that lapsed members aren't members. You won't find it.

This Benmurgi motion is problematic for a few other reasons. First, it's not unusual for someone on a local Executive to forget to pay their Party dues right on time, even with all of the notices we receive from the Party to do so. Right now here in Sudbury we have a member of our Executive, who is also an Officer of our Association as per Elections Canada, who is a lapsed member (despite all of those reminders...and if you're reading this and you know who you are, please, pay up!). Many EDA's, though, have only the CEO and the FA identified as Officers. That may seem fine, and that may be the advice you've received from your organizer (it was the advice we received, given because every change of Officers needs to be documented with Elections Canada; the more officers, the more potential changes).

But what would happen to an EDA where both the CEO and the FA forget to pay their dues, if this motion is passed? This Benmurgi motion has no flexibility at all. It simply states that all Officers must be members in good standing. If an Officer is no longer a member in good standing, they are no longer an officer, file the paperwork with Elections Canada. If ALL Officers cease to be members in good standing and are no longer Officers of the EDA, what happens to the EDA? It goes bye-bye, that's what. There will no longer be continuity; there will be no one left to call an election of Officers or appoint them for that matter, because the EDA will have ceased to be.
Given that this motion is a) not in keeping with our Constitution, and b) seeks to create more situations where EDA's can fall apart through oversight, this Benmurgi motion deserves to bite the dust.

G10-c21, indicates that an EDA must provide all financial information as requested to do so by
Federal Council. At least this Benmurgi motion identified the appropriate requesting unit.

Anyway, this one seems harmless, right? But what if Fed Council has a real hate on for a particular EDA (and don't think it hasn't happened). Council requests a copy of each and every transaction, dating back to the establishment of the EDA (despite the fact that CEO and FA ran away to Mexico together, taking the only copies of the receipts with them). My point is that EDA's will have to comply with even the unreasonable requests from Fed Council. And not doing so could lead to serious consequences. Due to the vagueness of this motion, local autonomy for EDA's will suffer.

G10-c22 sets out the first set of consequences for not complying with the earlier Benmurgi motions: Your EDA may be denied it's portion of the funding it is supposed to receive through the Revenue Sharing Agreement (RSA). Seems like a fair consequence, eh? Maybe it would be if the requirements for compliance were clear. But they're not clear. They're vague and ambiguous, and open to interpretation. And therefore open to abuse.

If we pass these Benmurgi motions, EDA's will be surrendering an incredible amount of autonomy to the Central Party. The Benmurgi motions will completely alter the existing power structure of the Party, and completely in favour of the Central Party with little benefit and significant headaches to local EDA's. Remember that EDA's are comprised largely of volunteers who are just trying to do the best job they can (and the other part of our composition consists of volunteers who aren't trying to do the best job that they can, but I believe those people are a minority throughout Canada). Point is we're volunteers, and we get pretty demotivated when we're crapped on. The Benmurgi motions are a bit of a demotivator, to say the least.

Which leads us to G10-c23, the last Benmurgi motion, which indicates that EDA's which are not in compliance with a number of things, mainly those taken from previous Benmurgi motions, can be de-registered. There are a few extra things thrown in here for good measure which I'd like to explore.

First off, I understand that this motion will not mean that all non-compliant EDA's will be automatically de-registered by the Party. That would be foolish to think. However, given the number, and vagueness, of the items to which an EDA must be compliant, the door will be open for the Party to de-register an EDA very easily if this Benmurgi motion is passed.

This motion requires that an EDA's Constitution be consistent with the GPC Constitution. I agree that's a worthy cause, and we should always strive for consistency. But who determines what “consistent” really means? In my job, that's a word that I have to ponder a lot, “consistent”. I'm still not absolutely certain that I know the meaning. I like to think that I'll know consistency when I see it, but certainly my take on “consistent” is not at all “consistent” with that of others.
In short, there's a lot of disagreement about what it means to be consistent, at least in my workplace.

(If you're wondering what I'm going on about here, I work for the Provincial Government, and one of the land use planning policies that exists in legislation is that all decisions made by local governments, such as municipalities, made under the Planning Act shall be consistent with the provincial policy. So, was expanding that settlement area into prime agricultural land consistent with provincial policy? Maybe it was...maybe not. That's what we look at).

The point here is that an inconsistent Constitution, whatever that is, could get your EDA deregistered.

And what about if your EDA doesn't share the purposes of the Party? What does that mean, anyway? What if your EDA has nominated a candidate to run in the next election, but the Party decides that it's going to enter into a strategic voting pact with one or more of the other parties. First, who would have authorized such an action, and second, if your candidate was told not to run, how would that be in keeping with the purpose of the Party? Who gets to decide?

If the above example seems extreme, what about this one: and EDA is told to hold a candidate nomination meeting and follow the rules provided by the Party. But the rules are not in keeping with the Party's Constitution. What's the purpose of the Party here? To nominate candidates, or to do so in compliance with the Party's Constitution? Yet EDA's have been told to do just that in the past. So you could be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

What I'm getting at here is that the wording is vague and open to considerable interpretation.
Yet all of the power for de-registration will lie with the Central Party. The scales will be tipped so far in favour of the Central Party, that if an EDA disagrees with even the interpretation of what it means to be compliant, they could still be out of luck. Not holding an AGM once every 15 months is one thing, but what about that “certified” copy of a constitution tucked away in a filing cabinet at National Headquarters? Or what about having a consistent constitution?

Here's my analysis: these Benmurgi motions go too far. There may be one or two which I can individually support, assuming that a “riding association” is intended to mean an EDA. But only G10-c14 and c15 seem to fall into that category. The others are too vague. They are ambiguous. And they are open to interpretation. And given that they will create a power structure within the Party which is completely tipped in favour of the Central Party, I can not support what they are trying to do.

Look, we keep saying that this is a grassroots party, and then we encounter this sort of attempt at power consolidation. I want to devote my time and effort to going out there and getting our nominated candidate elected, but instead here I am at 3 AM writing about yet another attempt at grabbing power being made by the Central Party (if you know who the sponsors of the Benmurgi motions are, you'll see that most are affiliated with Central Party governance).

Rather than club EDA's over the head with these new requirements and create situations where potentially non-compliance can lead very quickly to funding being withheld or an EDA being de-registered, why isn't the Central Party trying to support it's volunteer driven EDA's by establishing and codifying clear best practices, and providing EDA's with the tools necessary to carry them out? Some may feel that the Benmurgi motions seek to do just that, but if all that these motions wanted to do was codify best practices, why the imprecise language, which drastically tips the scales against local EDA autonomy? Sorry, but it looks to me like these motions are seeking to create every opportunity for the Central Party to punish what they view as wayward EDA's, and punish quickly and decisively.

And that's no way to run this Party.