Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tragedy Strikes "Share the Road" Ride in Greater Sudbury

What was supposed to be a ride to promote cycling safety and awareness in Sudbury turned tragic when a cyclist was struck by an oncoming vehicle on Long Lake Road in front of about 200 cyclists. I was one of the cyclists in the front of the pack who saw the horrible accident take place, after looking up at the sound of screeching brakes. We were taking part in a ride organized by the Ontario-based Share the Road Cycling Coalition, on a beautiful evening in Sudbury. We had just stopped for a moment of silence to pay tribute to cyclists across Canada who have been injured or killed while taking part in an activity they enjoyed.

At this time, there is only a little news on the condition of the cyclist who was struck, although I heard from other cyclists that he was conscious. Emergency personal were on the scene immediately after the accident happened. Tonight's online edition of the Sudbury Star is reporting that the cyclist was injured, but not killed.

This was the second annual ride organized by Share the Road (http://www.sharetheroad.ca/). Eleanor McMahon, founder of Share the Road, gave a little speech before the ride began, and indicated her happiness to back in Sudbury again. McMahon's own story is a tragic one: her husband, OPP Sergeant Greg Stobbart, was killed while on a training ride in 2006. It was this terrible event which prompted McMahon to found Share the Road, which promotes grassroots cycling advocacy and attempts to influence cycling law at the provincial level of government.

When McMahon was in Sudbury for last year's ride, she challenged Sudburians to become cycling advocates. I took McMahon's challenge seriously, and this past Earth Day, with the considerable help of local cycling advocate Dan Barrette, the Sudbury Cyclists Union was born. Throughout the summer, Dan and I, along with a number of others (too numerous to mention here) have begun to build a truly grassroots advocacy organization. Local advocate Pete Paradis has been leading a Cyclists Union ride every Sunday afternoon, leaving from our downtown Farmer's Market at 1pm. The Cyclists Union, although in its infancy, worked with the Coalition for a Livable Sudbury to show support in front of our municipal council for the Sustainable Mobility Plan, prepared by Rainbow Routes. In the near future, we will be showing our support for the Bicycle Advisory Panel's plan, and we hope to be seriously involved in the 5-year review of the City's Official Plan, which should be commencing in a couple of years.

The seeds planted by Eleanor McMahon last year in Sudbury have indeed begun to take root. There is a heightened awareness of cycling issues now in our community, especially since local Sudbury Star staff writers have had their own near-death experiences while cycling on our municipal roads. Cycling has suddenly become a very topical issue, which can only be a good thing in an election year, although Sudbury Star editor Brian McLeod doesn't believe the issue is receiving the attention it deserves, given that Greater Sudbury has been labelled "Canada's Second Dirtiest City" when it comes to carbon emissions from personal vehicles (see: "Debate on Cycling Lanes has yet to take centre stage - Point of View", Friday August 27 2010). Tonight, Eleanor McMahon acknowledged the formation of our grassroots organization in her speech before the ride.

However, I was disappointed to see only one individual running for municipal council actually take part in tonight's ride. Ward 12 candidate Jeff MacIntyre walked the talk (or more correctly, “rode” the talk) tonight, completing the entire 15 km circuit of Sudbury's south end. I wish that I lived in Ward 12 so that I could vote for Jeff.

I rode tonight with the Green Party's nominated candidates, Fred Twilley (Sudbury) and Christine Guillot-Proulx (Nickel Belt). The Sudbury Cyclists Union also had a number of riders participating in tonight's event. What I was surprised and encouraged to see tonight, though, was the number of families who came out to ride together. Children under 12 were well-represented at tonight's ride.

I also saw one rider who was wearing a photograph of her deceased sister, Sudbury native Lyn Duhamel, who was killed this past May 14th while training for an Ironman competition south of Montreal, along with 2 other cyclists. In all, 6 cyclists were struck by a pick-up truck in that terrible tragedy on a rural road which didn't have marked lanes for cyclists or even a paved shoulder. It was good to see Duhamel's sister at the ride, although it would have been better to have seen her under different circumstances. I can imagine that the very act of biking now carries a completely different meaning for Duhamel's sister, and all who have been affected by a cycling tragedy.

And of course, the ride featured Canadian Olympian and Sudbury native, Devon Kershaw. Before the ride, Kershaw received a plaque from Greater Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez, who took a few moments to acknowledge Kershaw for his outstanding achievements at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Rodriguez was also heard to remark that he was surprised that there were so many cyclists who are also voters in Sudbury. Rodriguez has, in my opinion, started to hear the voice of our cycling community, and I believe that he can be counted on as an ally on Council in the coming years, should he be returned to Council after this October's municipal election.

Devon Kershaw, a true local hero, also has a tragic cycling story. Back in 2001, Kershaw's girlfriend, elite athlete Sophie Manarin, was killed in Sudbury while on a training ride. Tonight's Share the Road ride had just stopped at a memorial erected in her honour close to the Long Lake Road / Highway 17 interchange. It was in front of Sophie's memorial that cyclists paused for a moment of silent reflection, before resuming the ride. Our group of about 200 cyclists began to string itself out along Long Lake Road, heading north, back towards Science North, where the ride began and was to end.

Some of the cyclists got out in front of the police escort, including me. I stopped on the shoulder, along with several other cyclists, as we waited for the rest of the group, and the police escort, to catch up. The police had stopped traffic farther the south, allowing our group to cross Long Lake Road. This section of road wasn't particularly busy at the time, but traffic does move quite fast through the area.

Standing on the shoulder while still mounted on my bike, I noticed that there were some cyclists heading south on Long Lake Road, on the far shoulder. I wasn't sure whether they were part of our ride or not; they may have been riders who got too far out in front, and were circling back to join the larger group. Or perhaps they were just other cyclists just out to enjoy the beautiful evening. I looked back to watch the group still crossing Long Lake Road, and saw that most cyclists had made it across the road and were now heading towards me on the northbound shoulder.

It was then I heard the screeching of brakes. I turned in time to witness the impact: the cyclist, who was in the southbound lanes, had been struck by a vehicle. He was sent flying about 10 feet into the air, and came crashing down onto the front of the vehicle. His bike was mangled, and he came to rest on the asphalt. Immediately, some of the cyclists in the very front of the pack raced out onto the road. All southbound vehicles came to a stop, including a motorcyclist, who may have begun to administer CPR. Another cyclist and myself also ran onto the road and began waving our arms to attract the attention of the police escort who was working to get the last of our group across the road and onto the northbound shoulder. After a moment, the police escort on his motorcycle raced up the street, and he was joined by another police car.

We cyclists stood in horror, shocked in our disbelief. How did a ride, to promote cycling safety, turn tragic in the blink of an eye?. Eventually, we were told to move along and away from the accident. As I rode north past the horrific scene, I heard emergency workers ask the cyclist a question, and I was heartened to hear that he was able to make a verbal response. As I rode on, I passed other cyclists, some in tears. Everyone wanted to know what had happened. No one that I spoke to seemed to know all of the facts.

It's unclear to me where the cyclist had been coming from, or if he was even with our group. He was struck in the southbound lanes, while we were heading north. He may have been tempted to ride across Long Lake Road to join our group, seeing that the police had stopped traffic heading north. Southbound traffic, though, in this location, was still travelling towards where the police escort was located. The vehicle which struck the cyclist was likely going around 70 km/h or so. I can't speculate any further than that, and I'm not even sure in which direction the cyclist was travelling when he was hit. I only witnessed the impact. That was...too much.

The rest of the ride back to Science North was largely carried out in silence. We had all lost our enthusiasm. When we arrived back at Science North, we heard that ride organizers Devon Kershaw and Eleanor McMahon had stayed behind at the accident scene, so we cyclists began to disperse in a somber mood.

Every day cyclists venture out onto the streets of Sudbury, we are taking our lives in our hands. Sudbury has almost no cycling infrastructure (less than 12 km of bike lanes...and this for a City of over 150,000 people). At the first few meetings of the Sudbury Cyclists Union, I heard the horror stories shared by other cyclists, who came out to support and take part in our new grassroots organization. The stories, each unique, resonated with everyone. Far too often, cyclists are in danger just riding around our City, whether it's on their way to school or work, or just out to enjoy a beautiful day on their bikes. Due to the dangerous conditions of our roads, many cyclists in Sudbury use the sidewalks instead, which often puts them into conflict with pedestrians, or with motorists at crossings where the sidewalk enters an intersection or runs along a driveway. The long and short of it is that there are very few safe places for cyclists to ride in this City, and that's yet another tragedy.

Our municipal Council and staff must start taking the needs of cyclists seriously. When repairing roads (which is a cottage industry here in Sudbury), the addition of cycling infrastructure, such as bike lanes or even just painted signs alerting motorists to the presence of cyclists, must be taken into consideration. Rather than build faster roads for more cars, we need to build safer streets for all users: motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The concept of the “complete street” isn't new, but there is a long way to go yet before it becomes the accepted norm in Greater Sudbury. In the meantime, how many more cyclists and pedestrians will be injured in my community?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Saving the World's Oceans Requires a Sustainable Solution

This letter was submitted to the Editor of the Sudbury Star for publication, in response to an earlier letter published by the Star, “Build Oil Refineries to Save Oceans” (published Thursday, August 26, 2010). UPDATE: this letter was published in the Tuesday, August 31st edition of the Sudbury Star, under the headline "More refineries not the solution".


I agree with the concerns raised by the letter's author that we, as a society, must do a better job of protecting our oceans. The recent BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is just the latest in a series of economic and environmental disasters which have befallen our oceans in our quest for resource exploitation. In the past, over-fishing has collapsed fishstocks, and notably for Canadians, led to the closure of the Atlantic cod fishery. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which cause global warming, are also leading to the acidification of our oceans. As a result, coral reefs throughout the world, which support myriad fish and plant species, are being destroyed.

The author of the letter, however, proposes a very unconventional method for “saving” our oceans: by building more oil refineries in Canada. The author appears to have missed the boat when it comes to acknowledging that we live in a closed biosphere, where pollution in our air leads to considerable impacts elsewhere: in our soils, in our lakes and rivers, and in our oceanic waters. The economic cost of dealing with pollution are staggering; witness the ever-growing price-tag affixed to the BP clean-up. To better the health of our oceans, comprehensive solutions which consider all impacts, environmental and economic, are the only ones which have a realistic chance for success.

Links between global warming and the health of our oceans, including the abundance of marine life on which global fisheries are reliant, are well established. Along with raising the pH level of ocean waters through the absorption of carbon (acidification), our oceans are under threat due to increased melting of land-based ice in Greenland and Antarctica, which threatens to lower temperatures and alter ocean currents. In all cases, the health of marine life, as well as our own health, will be irrevocably altered.

To continue to mine our soils and ocean floors for fossil fuels to power our economy, and build expensive infrastructure for a rapidly depleting and harmful energy source does not make sense, either from an environmental or economic standpoint. A much better solution for the health of our planet and our economy would be to invest our scarce resources into building a society which is sustainable in the long term. Such a society would utilize renewable resources to power its economy, and encourage people to lead healthier lifestyles.

We've witnessed the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico unfold throughout this past summer. It's impacts will continue to be felt for decades to come. If we are truly concerned about the health of our oceans, it's time for us to clean up our economy. Only comprehensive solutions which consider all impacts should warrant public and private sector investment. Building more oil refineries to save our marine environment isn't anywhere near being a good solution.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Green Party Voting, Part 4: Greens Question Commitment to Wind Energy

Proposed policy motion G10-p25, Wind Turbine Health Studies, was greenlighted by the Membership through the online voting process, receiving support from a majority 66.3%of members. On the surface, this motion appears to actually do little more than call for a study to be undertaken by Health Canada. What the net result of its approval might do, however, is call into question our Party's commitment to alternative energy sources.

For the purpose of discussion, I'm going to reproduce the motion in its entirety here, including the inoperative Whereases, which shed some light on what the authors of the motion were trying to get at. Take a close look at the motion, and you'll see that there isn't actually any reference to something called “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, but really, the motion alludes to WTS in a significant way. Here's the motion:

Motion Preamble:

WHEREAS the Green Party of Canada recognizes the vast potential for wind energy in Canada;

WHEREAS the Green Party of Canada with the Canadian Wind Energy Association has set goals for Canadian wind energy generation;

WHEREAS many citizens in communities with wind turbines claim to be experiencing sleep deprivation, headaches, and heart complications related to wind turbines;

WHEREAS one of the largest obstacles preventing accelerated wind energy development is resistance from citizens near planned turbine sites;

WHEREAS the largest investment Canadians make, their home, is affected as much by real health risks as perceived ones;

WHEREAS many provincial governments have compromised their objectivity with respect to wind energy development;

WHEREAS the Green Party of Canada considers healthy people and healthy communities as necessary for a strong Canada;

Motion Operative:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Green Party of Canada seeks to have Health Canada initiate an epidemiological study on the human health effects of wind turbines in the interests of public health and safety.

What might the effects of the operable clause be? How will the operable clause actually play itself out when Green MP's are elected to parliament? Will Green MP's remain defacto advocates for wind energy, as per Vision Green 2010, or will we need to qualify our support for wind energy by stating that until an epidemiological study is carried out by Health Canada, sorry, the jury is out on new projects.

An additional concern: no matter what we say on the campaign stump, there is now an increased likelihood for other parties to point to this new policy of ours and question whether we are really committed to wind energy as a viable alternative energy source. They'll question why our Party has bought into the coffee-table book notion of WTS being espoused by every NIMBY organization in Canada which opposes wind turbines wherever they may be. They'll ask us what about all of the other health studies which have been conducted throughout the world which arrive at the same conclusion: there are no noticeable health impacts from turbine blades.

Now, I know that I'm simplifying this issue quite a bit, and I don't profess to be an “expert” on wind energy. What I do know is that the NIMBY crowd has been making a lot of hay out of WTS, and generating a lot of kerfuffle in the media. I also know that the we in the Green Party have always prided ourselves on basing our policies on the best available science of the day. And with regards to the science behind WTS, there just isn't any credible, peer-reviewed science out there; there is only junk science.

Again, while the policy we've just adopted doesn't come right out and put our Party in opposition to wind power, it certainly questions our commitment, as the “Party Opinion / Considerations” which preface this motion attempted to red-flag for the voters.

This new policy of ours is going to be an albatross around our necks. I sincerely hope that Cabinet keeps this out of our platform until it can be revisited in the future. I'm saddened and embarrassed that our Members didn't take into consideration the political consequences of this anti-wind generation motion before voting to green-light it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Green Party Voting Results, Part 3: Greenlighting the Inoperable "Benmurgi Motions" Adds Confusion, Changes Nothing

Green Party Voting Results, Part 3: Greenlighting the Inoperable “Benmurgi Motions” Only Adds Confusion, But Actually Changes Nothing

Back on July 10th, I blogged extensively about what I dubbed the “Benmurgi Motions” (“Local EDA Autonomy Under Fire at Green Party BGM: Reviewing the “Benmurgi Motions” Pertaining to Proposed New EDA Responsbilities”). In a nutshell, I took great exception to motions G10-c14 through G10-c23, the “Benmurgi Motions” (named by me only because Ralph Benmurgi's name appears first in the list of sponsors – and that the only reason). The concerns I outlined in my earlier blog were numerous. I believe that these motions were largely ill-conceived, and will fundamentally change the relationship between the Central Party and local EDA's by establishing an unbalanced power relationship.

Well, looks like not many of the Membership shared my concerns regarding this series of motions. All were greenlighted by the Membership, with the lowest level of support being 76.6%, which is quite high. Clearly, the will of the Membership is that EDA's be subjected to the will of Central Office. I do not agree with these motions, but the Membership has spoken.

So, what happens now? You'll note that, with the prefacing “c” letter in the motion title, these motions are intended to be amend the Constitution or By-laws. These aren't directive motions (no “d”) or policy motions (which would have a “p”). As Constitutional / By-law motions, one would presume that the motions themselves seek to either amend one of these documents by changing something which is already there, removing something which is currently there, or adding something new.

Unfortunately, not one of these 10 motions actually seek to do that. Nowhere in the text of these motions is it even indicated which of the documents the proposed wording is intended to go into. Is it supposed to be added to the Constitution or one of the By-laws? If a by-law, which one? Is it supposed to be an addition, or is it intended to replace existing wording?

To compare, let's look at the wording for another motion which has received a lot of comment in the blogosphere, that being G10-c29, Federal Council's motion to do away with the 4 year fixed term for our Leader, and replacing it with a “leadership review” process. Here's what that motions says:

BE IT RESOLVED that Bylaw be amended to " Within six months of a Federal General Election, unless the leader becomes prime minister, a Leadership Review, where all Members in good standing may vote, shall be held. The date of the Leadership Review vote will be set by Federal Council and may coincide with a General Meeting. The Leader's term shall end if Members in good standing do not pass a resolution endorsing the Leader by at least 60%.

You'll note that there is reference to where the intended amendment is supposed to be located. In this case, G10-c29 seeks to amend By-law by replacing it in its entirety with the new wording. Seems pretty clear. And from this perspective, G10-c29 is an appropriately worded motion.

Not so for the Benmurgi motions. Without any references to where new wording is intended to go, it's not at all clear now what can be done with these motions.

If you think that this argument is semantic, and full of sour grapes, well, it isn't (well, maybe there are some sour grapes – but they wouldn't be new; I raised this issue earlier in my blog, and on the forums for each of these motions; there hasn't been any response to what I've written publicly about how these motions, in absent of a location in the Constitution or by-laws, are intended to operate). From a semantic point of view, though, there are real issues here.

First of all, if these motions are intended to amend the Constitution, they will need to be ratified through a further mail-in vote by the Membership should the Members present at the BGM approve them. If these are intended to be amendments to a by-law, there isn't any further process for these motions to go through after they are approved at the BGM. Who is going to decide which process (ratification or not?) these motions should be subject to?

Really, this sort of discussion shouldn't be coming up now. It should have been addressed pre-submission by the committee screening the motions. All of these motions should have been returned to the original authors (probably not Ralph, but you know, I don't know who) before being posted for voting. Without operational language, there is actually no way to implement any of these motions!

So, should we go back to the authors now? What's the mechanism for doing so? The motions have been greenlighted by the Membership; clearly, the Membership is satisfied that there wasn't any issue with them, else they would have voted yellow to workshop them, or red to start over (as I did). Maybe there's a chance for the Membership to address this on the floor of the BGM, but really, should the attendees at the BGM be tasked with figuring out the best locations in our Constitution or By-laws for the addition of Membership-greenlighted text?

If the Benmurgi Motions intended to amend our Constitution, might that have impacted the way in which votes were cast? Some of our Members, after all, really believe that the Constitution is sacrosanct. What about if By-laws were intended to be amended? I don't know the answer to these questions. Some would say “likely not”, but what's the proof? Maybe the Membership voted to codify these processes, but given the lack of specific wording about the Constitution and By-laws, they didn't think that maybe either document was actually going to be altered. We can't ever state definitively what it is which motivates a voter to cast their ballot in a particular way.

So, now we're left with interpreting what these motions really intend to do. My interpretation is that they don't really seek to do anything with our Constitution or By-laws, because if they did, they would have explicitly stated so. Yes, they may want to codify procedures, but without including these procedures in one of our governance documents, there isn't any mechanism to actually compel anyone to follow these procedures. We've created a paper tiger at best, an embarrassment at worst. And one which is going to potentially lead to conflict down the road should anyone get the idea that somehow these motions, approved by the Membership, are to be located in our Constitution or By-laws.

And don't even get me started on the fact that there isn't any unit in our Party called a “riding association”!

No, I had suggested before that the Party would be prudent to initiate a dialogue with EDA's regarding some of the very real issues which our Central Party has with a number of EDA's. A dialogue could lead to buy-in by all stakeholders, and ultimately an appropriate set of motions could be presented at the next BGM. Rather a consultative process than pushing a poorly-worded set of motions through without any consultation with EDA's (and which don't actually do anything, because they don't actually amend the Constitution or By-laws).

We may yet have the opportunity for dialogue over the next couple of years, given that these motions don't actually change anything. They are an expression of the Membership's will right now, and nothing more. Without operative mechanisms, they can't compel an EDA to adopt a template Constitution, or provide a mechanism whereby the Central Party can withhold revenue from an EDA under the Revenue Sharing Agreement.

And nevermind the very real issues some EDA's will be facing when told that they must rescind their existing local Constitutions and replace them with a template provided by the Party!
No, the only real accomplishment here is that EDA's and Central Party will have yet more things to be confused about with one another, due to the lack of operative language in the Benmurgi Motions. And further confusion is really something which we should be avoiding at all costs, given that it tends to lead to frustration being experienced by people holding volunteer positions in our Party. More frustration is the last thing any of us need.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Green Party Voting Results, Part 2: Leadership Contest Issue Over? Not Quite Yet.

With the results for the Party's online voting now released, many are trumpeting the overwhelming support for our Federal Council's motion to replace the 4 year fixed term with a leadership review process as meaning that we, as a Party, won't be having a leadership contest this year. Certainly this motion received significant support from the 18.3% of Members who cast ballots to green-light this motion (and despite it's one overwhelmingly critical flaw, which I blogged about here). But does removing the fixed term from our Party's by-laws now mean that there really won't be a leadership contest this year?

The answer is: not quite yet. And that's because motion G10-d11, Commitment to Leadership Race, received a Yellow light in the online voting process, and its fate will now be resolved by the Membership attending the BGM. In short, this directive motion seeks to compel our Federal Council to initiate a leadership contest, starting no later than October 31st, and finishing no later than April, 2011.

Here's how I see it: Motion G10-c29, Party Leader Term (Federal Council's motion), and G10-d11, aren't incompatible with one another. And it's not just me who thinks so. The authors of the Party Opinion / Considerations prefaces, who were very good at pointing out incompatibilities between various motions, were silent with regards to whether one of these motions would cancel the other out. The reason: G10-d11 is a directive motion. As a directive motion, it seeks to compel Federal Council to taking a specific action. If passed at the BGM, our Council will be obligated to hold a leadership contest.

Let's look at this a little further. One thing which directive motions can't do is compel Federal Council to take an action in contravention of the Party's Constitution, by-laws or principles. Does this motion, G10-d11, seek to do that? On the surface, given that the Membership just voted to remove the mechanism which requires that a leadership contest be held in 2010, it may seem that there's a contradiction. But, let's keep in mind what Federal Council's motion, G10-c29 actually does from a mechanics point of view. Yes, it removed the fixed term for a Leader, and changed the way in which a Leader is elected. Had the current wording remained in the by-law, we would be having a leadership contest conclude before the end of the 2010 calendar year.

With that current wording removed, there isn't any mechanism which could compel Council to call a leadership contest. Unless Council takes the step of ousting a sitting leader, that is, which Council has the authority to do at any time, according to our Constitution and by-laws. In the current circumstance, though, it seems unlikely that Council would do so. So...without a requirement for a contest (because the requirement has been removed by the Members), there can't be a contest, right?

Wrong. If the Members, through an expression of their will, demand that Council hold a leadership contest, than Council should hold such a contest. And that's just what motion G10-d11 seeks to be: a motion to be approved by the Membership which directs a certain activity. And there isn't anything in our Constitution and By-laws which conflict with the notion that, if the Membership wants a leadership contest, the Membership should have a leadership contest. A sitting leader isn't offered any guarantee of continuing in that position. There are already mechanisms in the Constitution and By-laws which spell out how a Leader may cease to be a leader.

So, G10-d11 remains in play, and the matter of a leadership contest being called can't be disposed of quite yet.

However, let's look at a few points. Can we expect G10-d11 to go anywhere at the BGM, given that an overwhelming majority of voters just endorsed our current Leader, Elizabeth May. She received an 85% approval rating from voting Members. Given this high level of approval, what would be the practical point of having a leadership contest now? There would be none, as far as I can see.

Further, some are interpreting the victory of Federal Council's motion G10-c29 as meaning that the Membership doesn't want a leadership contest. And while this motion doesn't specifically reference holding (or not) a leadership contest, by virtue of it changing the operative language in our by-laws which would have otherwise compelled Federal Council to hold a contest, there is some merit to suggest that those voting in favour of G10-c29 may have made their decision to vote green in part on the notion that chances for a contest would be reduced. Indeed, G10-c29 has been sold by all sides as being, in part, a deciding factor in whether a leadership contest is held or not.

G10-d11 received a red vote by over 51% of voting Members. Had this been a simple majority situation, G10-d11 would now be dead. If the same level of support is obtained at the BGM, this motion will be dead outright. Can this motion expect to receive a higher level of support, particularly now that it's known that 85% of voting Members endorse our current Leader?
Well, maybe...I guess it depends on who goes to the BGM. If the supporters of G10-d11 are able to motivate their colleagues to attend the BGM, it's conceivable that G10-c11 could yet receive a simple majority of votes at the BGM. But I think that's very unlikely.

Finally, even if passed, what's the outcome? Federal Council will have to deal with a directive motion which compels them to initiate a certain action. What happens if Council decides to do nothing, take no action on the motion? What are the consequences? Yes, maybe motivated Greens will be able to "boot the bums out" at the next Fed Council election, but given that we don't have a recall procedure, we'll have to wait 2 years to clean house (and maybe more if there's no Federal election, because the Leader is also a member of Council). Sure, there's an appeal process through the Ombuds, but the Ombuds doesn't have the authority to make Council do anything it doesn't want to do. If Council wants to ignore a motion which directs them to take a certain action, well, I guess they can. Whether they should or not will remain a question for debate. I have my own opinion on whether Council should follow the direction of the Membership, but that's just me, and I'm not on Council. Ultimately, it's up to Council to decide what actions it undertakes or not.

Keep in mind that over 50% of voting Members have already said “Red” to G10-d11. Council might opt to not want to listen to a smaller number of Members voting in favour of G10-d11 on the floor of the BGM.

Only time is going to tell, though. It should be interesting to see what happens on the floor of the BGM; however, given the overwhelming number of voters who have expressed, in some way, their support for the current Leader, I can't imagine that G10-d11 is going to go anywhere at all. What I'm more concerned about is what might happen to those Members of our Party who will view these outcomes negatively, and tainted by a biased voting process. The jury is going to be out on that for a while; likely until after the BGM. I suspect, though, the bias inherent in the voting process will be a big topic of discussion at the BGM.

Green Party Voting Results, Part 1: Expect More Leadership Contests as Leadership Review Threshold Passed By Members is Too High

Well, the results for the Green Party's online voting in advance of the BGM in Toronto have now been posted. Using the “Bonser Ballot” method, it looks like most of the proposed 74 motions were “green-lighted” by the membership. That means those motions won't be debated on the floor of the General Meeting. A handful of other motions, including some controversial ones, were “yellow-lighted”, and they will be debated. No motions received an outright red-light, which would have disposed of a motion altogether.

As you probably have read on other blogs by this time, the controversial proposal by Federal Council to change the way in which the Party elects its leader (by replacing 4 year fixed term with a “leadership review” after a federal election), was green-lighted by the Membership, receiving approximately 75% of votes cast. While no one is yet conceding that this is the end of the discussion regarding leadership (for now), the fact is that those trying to make a case for an immediate leadership contest will now find it even more difficult to force Council's hand to call a contest.

The final step in the process of amending our Party's by-laws to remove the 4 year fixed-term for a Leader of the Party will now take place at the BGM in Toronto. It will be up to the membership present to vote to accept that motion, and other green-lighted motions. Some members may believe that action alone will bring an end to the leadership conundrums affecting the Party. They would be grossly mistaken. While Council's motion might bring matters to a close for now (depending on whether a yellow-lighted directive motion succeeds on the floor of the BGM or not --- more on that later), the fact is we Greens have voted to set our Party and its Leader up for some incredible heartache down the road.

The motion which has been greenlighted by the Membership creates a new process for our Party: that of the “leadership review”. This is a popular process in other parties; after an election, there will be a mandatory vote on whether or not the Members wish to hold a leadership contest. If the current leader of the Party receives 60% of the votes of the members in good standing, there need not be a leadership contest. Of course, even with the 60% threshold, the Leader can still decide to step down if he or she doesn't feel that their mandate has been renewed by the Membership; such an action would trigger a leadership contest.

Sounds ok so far, eh? That's what the other parties do, right? Well, yes and no. What we Greens have done is set the bar for our Leader so very high that to me it seems impossible that there won't be a leadership contest taking place after every election.

What? 60% isn't very high, you might be saying. Indeed, a motion which was just voted on by the Party endorsing our current leader (G10-d ), Elizabeth May's leadership, received about 85% of the vote. How, then, is it unreasonable to believe that a leader in the future won't receive 60%?

Apples and oranges, dear friends. The above motion, G10-d02 , received 85% of the votes cast by Members in good standing. The test for a leadership review, however, according to the motion drafted for and accepted by our Federal Council, establishes the threshold at 60% of the Members in good standing; it says nothing about votes being cast.

Think I'm out of line on this? Well, here's what the motion G10-c29, Party Leader Term, actually says (the bold, below, is my addition, to highlight the key wording):

BE IT RESOLVED that Bylaw be amended to " Within six months of a Federal General Election, unless the leader becomes prime minister, a Leadership Review, where all Members in good standing may vote, shall be held. The date of the Leadership Review vote will be set by Federal Council and may coincide with a General Meeting. The Leader's term shall end if Members in good standing do not pass a resolution endorsing the Leader by at least 60%.

You'll note that this motion does not refer to ballots or votes. It simply says the term shall end if Members in good standing do not pass a resolution by at least 60%. The motion could have went on to clarify that the intention was “of votes cast”, but it did not. Which leads me to conclude one of two things: either our Federal Council, in a nod to grassroots democracy, set this standard so high in order to encourage Party Members to cast their ballots in a very critical review process, or they goofed up. Given the number of people in trusted positions of governance who were involved in putting together this motion, and voting on its acceptance, I can't believe that the wording here is a goof-up.

A more likely scenario (for some readers): I'm totally misreading this motion, and the intent of the motion should be construed as establishing a threshold of 60% of votes cast. I concede that's a possibility, but I'll suggest it's not likely, for the following reasons.

First, this interpretation did not start with me. It was brought to my attention some time earlier through comments posted online by a prominent Member of this Party who wrote extensively about it. Given that these comments were posted behind a firewall (and I keep getting a tongue-lashing from some for repeating what's been posted behind firewalls, so I won't do so again here), I won't name the member again, or use their words to describe the situation. Suffice it to say, though, that this interpretation is not mine alone.

Second, let's look at similar wording written into our governing documents where votes need to reach certain thresholds. Perhaps we can find some additional guidance on this topic.

Our Constitution offers some direction here, for three different types of voting: 1) amendments to the Constitution itself; 2) amendments to by-laws; 3) policy creation. Let's quickly look at each.

Section 10.1.3 of the Party's Constitution provides for a process whereby Members can amend the Constitution. This section states the following (again, the bold is mine):

Amendments shall be adopted by a majority of the votes cast by Members in good standing at a General Meeting, and shall only become effective upon Members in good standing passing an identically worded amendment by a vote of greater than 1/2 (50%) of the votes cast in a Members' vote conducted by mail-in ballot, with a ballot return date of no later than one-hundred-twenty (120) days following the General Meeting at which the amendment was passed.

So here we find the language which specifies that votes must be cast by Members in good standing, with the clarifying proviso that the votes are cast at a General Meeting. Clearly, though, to amend our Constitution, a simple majority of votes cast by Members in good standing at a general meeting is all that is necessary (except for the “ratification” process, which happens afterwards, which by the way also establishes a 50% threshold of votes cast by Members in good standing).

The process for amending by-laws is found in 10.2.3, and is similar. It reads:

Amendments shall be adopted by a majority of the votes cast by Members in good standing at a General Meeting.

Again, this section of our Constitution provides a threshold which counts only votes cast.
The policy section, 10.3.1, is quite similar to the Constitutional amendment section. Let's see what its wording says:

Policy motions passed at a General Meeting shall only become effective upon Members in good standing passing an identically worded resolution by a vote of greater than 1/2 (50%) of the votes cast in a Members' vote conducted by mail-in ballot, with a ballot return date of no later than one-hundred-twenty (120) days following the General Meeting at which the Policy resolution was passed.

Indeed, the process spelled out for amending the Constitution, by-laws and creating policy are very clear and leave no room for creative interpretation: the intent is here to establish a threshold based only on votes cast. And the wording is clearly quite different than that used in our Federal Council's motion, which refers only to a resolution being passed by 60% of the Membership in good standing.

So, what are the implications here? In what was billed as the most controversial set of motions ever presented to the Membership, the voting results indicate that only 18.3% of our Members actually cast ballots. I understand that this number actually represents the highest tally of voters casting ballots through an online process in our Party.

And it stands to reason that we should trumpet this voter turn out as a mild success, given the marathon number of motions which our Membership were asked to cast ballots on. Still, the overall percentage is quite low. Can we draw any conclusions here with regards to a leadership review process?

Well, yes I think we can. Although a leadership review process is likely going to be a heck of a lot more straightforward with regards to the sorts of text that we provide to our Membership to vote on, can we really expect that a high-interest, easy to understand “Yes I support the Leader or No I don't” sort of question is going to engage a significant number of the membership that it's likely more than 60% of the membership will actually cast a ballot? I suppose it's possible...but not likely. And if 40% of the Membership doesn't vote, even if every other Member votes for the sitting Leader, guess what? We'll be having a leadership contest.

Likely, this is the position that we're going to find ourselves in after every federal election: our leader fails a review, and we'll be having a leadership contest!

My question is, why on earth are we setting ourselves as a Party up for this kind of nonsense? Think about how the media is going to portray this situation: Greens Dump Another Leader after Failing Review Process! Yes, no matter the popularity of a Leader, unless more than 60% of the thousands of members in our Party cast their ballots in favour of the Leader, the Leader will fail the review. What an absolute gift to the other parties, and what a disservice to our membership, and frankly, to whoever may be the Leader of the Party.

The answer, of course, will be to figure out a way to engage the membership so that just about every card carrying Member of our Party actually casts a ballot in a review process. I frankly have no idea how we're going to do this. Maybe we could start with personal phone calls from Green Party staff to each and every Member, reminding them to vote. Of course, we would need to be very careful that staff don't try to influence individual members to vote a certain way. Or maybe we could use a much easier voting process sent in a single email: simply click a link for Yes or a different link for No. Of course, we'd have to make sure that such a process would be secure, and that people couldn't vote more than once.

Or maybe our Federal Council simply interprets “The Leader's term shall end if Members in good standing do not pass a resolution endorsing the Leader by at least 60%” as meaning something different than what is actually stated, and instead count only the votes cast. Hmmm...I'm sure that would go over well, based on past experiences with the interpretation of what the term “4 years” means. I'm fairly certain that if Federal Council tried to interpret the by-law in a different way to which it was written that we would find ourselves mired in controversy again.

I wonder if the Party's Membership realized the implications of green-lighting this motion? I suspect that maybe they didn't. Certainly, the Party Opinion / Considerations made no reference to this issue, nor did it appear in the extensive background notes appended to the online motion. It was raised in the forums, but I suspect many voters didn't click the link to access the forums. The “Supporters of Elizabeth May” who provided a handy-dandy voting card to many Members through email urged Members to vote “green” to this motion, thereby ensuring that changes could not be made on the floor of the BGM to what Fed Council had proposed.

I blogged about this matter earlier, and urged Members to vote “Yellow” to this motion, for the soul reason so that the language in the motion could be corrected to reflect other processes which the Party uses, by counting only those votes actually cast.

But it looks like we, as a Party, are going to be stuck with this incredibly high threshold of support for our Leader in any future leadership review process. Even an incredibly popular Leader is going to have an incredibly difficult time of meeting this threshold of 60% of the Party's entire Membership. And given that we're likely going to find ourselves continuing with minority governments in this nation, and therefore will likely have federal elections at less than 4 year intervals, the outcome will be that our Party will actually be engaging in more leadership contests than had we kept the wording in our existing by-law. And the huge problem is that many of these contests might be completely unnecessary, if the sitting leader retains general popularity.

Or...do you think maybe my interpretation here is out to lunch? I hope that, after looking at the evidence to the contrary yourself, and going through the specific wording, you can see that we've actually established a different way of determining a threshold. The motion could have easily been worded to specifically reference voting Members; it was not worded in that way. Instead, it references only Members in good standing passing a resolution by at least 60%. This motion went through a review process with our Federal Council, and was approved by a majority of Councillors. For whatever their reason, this new kind of threshold must clearly be what was intended. Or it was a goof. Either way, we're now stuck with it. At least until the next BGM in two years when we'll be having at it over this section of the by-law again.


Addendum: I understand that there may still be an opportunity to address this issue. Although greenlighted motions are typically passed by the membership in an omnibus resolution on the floor of a BGM, it's happened in the past that some motions have been pulled out for further discussion and change. Motion G10-c29, would be an ideal candidate for some fixing-up. So, perhaps there is still something which can be done on the floor of the BGM to salvage the situation I've described above.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Choosing Continued Conflict Over Healing: May Beats the War Drums With Latest Blogpost

With the publication of a blogpost from Elizabeth May on the Green Party's website, “Time for a leadership race?”, it looks to me like a decision has been made by our leadership to fight things out, rather than look for a negotiated way out of the current situation our Party finds itself in regarding leadership contests. Those of us in the Party who genuinely hoped that the leadership would come to the Biennial General Meeting in Toronto looking to heal the growing rift in the Party appear to be on a road to nowhere. By “leadership” I here refer to both our Party Leader, May, and our Party's governing body, Federal Council. Even though May does not speak for Fed Council, it was Fed Council's zealous reaction against the Party's Constitution and By-laws which led to this mess in the first place.

And “mess” it clearly is. If anything, perhaps that term is starting to become a little understated.

Rather than use her blogpost to find balance between the two sides on the Constitutional matter of leadership contests, May falls back on her battle-hardened position. She claims rightly that she was not involved in Federal Council's decision to pursue the changes to the Constitution, but it has been clear for some time now, and echoed in this latest post, that she supports Fed Council's efforts to remove the 4-year leadership contest requirement. She concedes that if the membership expresses its desire to do things differently than as recommended by Fed Council, she'll go along with it. But the post itself poses a question regarding the wisdom of a membership that would vote to continue on with the process mandated in our Constitution, as she clearly sides with Federal Council's solution, stating: “Council did its best, working with a range of options. What the majority of council has put forward to the membership is a fair and sensible effort. Accepting it would solve issues not only for the immediate future, but for future leaders and unforeseeable elections.” So, if you disagree with May and Fed Council on this matter, you're not in favour of a “fair and sensible” resolution.

I absolutely agree that it was high time that Elizabeth May publicly begin the process of responding to some of the criticism and concerns which have percolated around the blogosphere regarding the leadership contest conflict. Although this conflict originated with our Federal Council, which did not want to follow the Party's current Constitution for, what remains in my opinion, some very good reasons, May herself has contributed to the current criticism directed at her through her June 29th email to the Party's membership which communicated an unfounded message about her being forced to resign as Party Leader should a leadership contest be held. May blunts her own assertion somewhat in her latest blogpost, by providing a clarification which bloggers have been writing about for months now: she indicates that the Party obtained a legal opinion which stated that, “to be prudent, a leader would have to step down in order to run for leadership due to changes made in 2003 [to Elections Canada rules]”.

This admission, or clarification if you will, moves May's message from “I will be required to step down as Leader during a leadership contest” to “To be prudent, I really really should step down as Leader during a leadership contest”. May could have expressed these nuances in her email to Members which sent during the online voting timeframe for Constitutional and By-law amendments. The nuances aren't that difficult to explain. It's quite different to have a legal opinion which strongly advocates a particular course of action, than stating as fact that there is a requirement (somewhere) for said action. Back in June, May tried to sell the Party's Membership the Party's legal opinion as fact. By not referencing this “legal opinion” and instead claiming only that the approval of certain motions would force her resignation, and by omitting critical information regarding the current requirement for a leadership contest embedded in our by-laws, she left a biased impression with the Membership during the online voting period.

In response to what I perceived as not insignificant bias in the online voting process, I blogged about my concerns (“Green Party Voting: Much More Than Just Going Through The Motions, Part 1: How to Influence People and Game the Vote”, July 25, 2010, for which I've received some pointed criticism). I have heard other members express their concerns about the perceived bias in the “Considerations” (formerly dubbed “Party Opinion”) preface to all motions, and I know that some concerns were raised by Fed Councillors at their meeting on July 11th (although Minutes of that meeting remain unavailable to the Membership, almost a month later).

May had the chance in her latest blogpost to address these concerns with the appearance of bias in both the Considerations and in her email of June 29th, which was, after all, intended to provide a “here's how I see it” perspective on the leadership contest matter. By not addressing these accusations of bias, it's likely that May doesn't have a problem with what she herself has done, and with what's being done by Fed Council to advance the cause of keeping her on as Leader until after the next election.

Again, I need to indicate that I agree with the intended outcomes of this process: I believe that it would be a disaster for our Party to go into the next Federal Election after fighting our way through what is bound to be a divisive leadership contest process, which will only return our current Leader to that position. I understand the arguments that leadership contests can build parties by signing up new members and engaging the membership, and that parties can benefit from increased media coverage. However, the negative arguments for holding a contest now are more robust in my opinion. The typical Canadian, if they are paying attention to our Party at all, will be terribly confused by efforts underway within the Party to “dump” the only widely-known Green in the Party, Elizabeth May, as Leader. The media will paint a picture of a house divided (which would be an accurate portrayal of our Party's situation), and May will most likely wind up as Leader again anyway, for four more years. But what of the Party she will be tasked with leading? Having gone through these further divisions, I expect many important Greens to throw in the towel, or at least back away from what I see as the very important initiative of electing our Leader to parliament in the next federal election.

That's where I'm coming from. I believe that the political reality is such that we need to figure out a way through this current situation so that our Party can continue on with May at the helm until at least shortly after the next federal election (and May, if unsuccessful in her bid to take SGI, should not go and do anything foolish like resigning as Leader on election night, unless a clear majority is won by the one of the other parties, or unless we Greens fail again to elect anyone to parliament. Otherwise, while behind-the-scenes machinations for power are playing themselves out, as they are likely to occur with coalition talks, we will continue to have the need of a strong and known Leader to advance our Party's position). I suspect that May and our Federal Council agree with the political rationale of keeping May on as Leader.

But those aren't the only reasons which have been advanced by Federal Council as rationale for changing the way in which we elect a Leader in this Party. Rather than simply going with the political argument, Council has contorted itself in pretzel directions to claim all sorts of things about the need for change, including the dubious claim that the leader must resign from her position as leader to campaign in a leadership contest. And it's this lack of frankness and honesty with the Membership which continues to fuel my own dissatisfaction with what I see going on in the Party.

May's recent statement that this fact is really just (likely) very good legal advice will shed a little more light on this matter for the membership, and I commend May for making this statement in her blog, finally, after asserting elsewhere (in media interviews and in her June 29th email) that she would be forced to resign if certain by-law amendment motions were adopted by the Party.
However, May didn't take the next step after her clarification: does she feel any remorse at all for misleading the membership about this matter in the past? There is no evidence that she does; there isn't even any evidence that May considers that there has been any bias in the voting process at all. Certainly, she made no bones about the process, and instead chose to endorse the actions of Federal Council without question; nor does she question her own recent actions which assist in advancing Federal Council's position.

And that's why it appears to me that the battle lines are being drawn. May and Council appear to be determined to head into the BGM with confrontation on their minds, instead of contrition for their actions which, in my opinion, have undermined our internal democratic processes. And even if the desired outcome of our leadership is one which I endorse, I can't at all be happy with the way in which that outcome will be achieved.

Until lately, the group of dissenters in the Party have been marginalized and trivialized as folks unhappy with the outcome of May's leadership bid in 2006. Indeed, many that remain in the Party who are critical of our current leadership (May and/or Fed Council) might have supported another candidate back in 2006; I don't know, because I wasn't there. I've only been here since late 2007, but in my time I've picked up a few things, and I can't help but have noticed the departure of many of the “old guard” from the Party, both before the 2008 election, and especially afterwards. Some of our best performing candidates, such as Mike Nagy and Dick Hibma, are not returning as candidates (nor is Shane Jolley, one of the most successful Greens). Others have left positions of leadership, including former Party Leader Jim Harris, and Hugette Allen, who just recently resigned from Federal Council and who indicated she would not be standing as a candidate in Okanagan-Shuswap (This bracketed comment added August 10/10: please take a look at the Comments section, for I fear I may have not clearly stated my point here -SM)

Besides telling the current story of the leadership contest situation from her own perspective, and lending her support to Federal Council's recent actions, May makes reference to her accomplishments as Leader, using about a third of her post to enumerate her many achievements. This, to me, more than anything else, shows that May is positioning herself to take on all challenges, and not just to a future leadership contest. Specifically, she's throwing down the gauntlet to the dissenters. Instead of building a bridge, May is beating the war drum in a further attempt to rally Members to her cause.

This latest blogpost is sure to fuel the increasingly vocal group of dissenters, who now have a champion in Sylvie Lemiuex whom they are able to rally themselves around. I expect to hear more from Lemiuex's camp before this week is through, as they have no choice now but to respond to May. May's decision that conflict is the better path for her to take at this time will simply continue to polarize our Party.

Two questions remain to be answered, though. First, is the Membership paying any attention to what's going on inside of our Party? And secondly, has the entire leadership contest mess been largely resolved already through online voting? Let's look at the second question first of all.
If the Membership voted to green light Federal Council's resolution, while there still may be an opportunity to tear into the motion on the floor of the BGM, Lemiuex and the dissenters will have a very difficult time making a case that their resolution should be favoured over the expressed wishes of the Membership. Their only recourse will be to point to the inherent bias of the online voting process. And while I, and others, may agree that the inherent bias reached an unacceptable level, it will be a very difficult argument for Lemiuex to make to ignore the wishes of the Membership. Therefore, this whole issue might yet be put on hold. It would be best, however, that our leadership not equate “on hold” with “having resolved”.

The first question, regarding whether the Membership at large is paying much attention to this conflict is a much more difficult one to answer. Let's wait and see how many Greens actually cast ballots through the online voting process, and that might give us an idea of actual numbers. If the number of engaged Greens remains low, say at less than 20% of the Membership, I think it would be fair to say that the issue of upholding the Constitution hasn't found much resonance with the Membership. Others, of course, will arrive at the opposite conclusion, and say that the Membership expects that the Constitution of the Party should be upheld, and therefore a leadership contest should be called. I would disagree with that interpretation; instead, I would suggest that most of our Members are likely unaware with the Constitutional requirements for holding a leadership contest, and instead are likely largely happy with the status quo: Elizabeth May as leader of the Party. I strongly suspect that if most of our Members were told that May might have to run again for her current job, they would find that circumstance to be a bizarre one.

With or without answers to those two remaining questions, however, it seems clear heading into the BGM in two weeks time that May and Federal Council have decided to fight it out, rather than attempt to find some common ground with the other side. Not that finding common ground would be all that easy to do at this point anyway, but offering apologies for past transgressions would go some way to heal the growing rift in our Party.

It doesn't look like our leadership feels that anything in the way of an apology might be in order. Had May decided that a little conciliation might have gone a ways towards healing, she would have made an attempt to acknowledge and address some of the criticism being levelled at her. Instead, she used her blog as an opportunity to rally the troops and beat the war drum.

Looks to me as the growing rift in our Party will continue to widen. Where this might go now is anyone's guess, but likely it's going to spell trouble for the Party. My best hope now remains with the Membership having voted online to pass Fed Council's motion to change the way in which a leader is elected, and in strong numbers which show a high level of engagement.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Some Good Things Going On With the Green Party

Well, I've found myself floundering in a sea of negativity lately, at least when it comes to blogging about my Party. It's true, some of what's been going on inside of our Party is really starting to eat me up, and it becomes difficult to see past the shenanigans. But there are some positive things happening with our Party, and as I seem to have found myself with a few minutes on my hands today (as my wife has taken the new baby out to the Valley to see great-gramma), I thought maybe I'd blog a bit about those positives before others in my Party start to think that I'm some kind of The-Sky-Is-Always-Falling downer sort of guy. I'm also very concerned that since I've recently taken swipes at both Elizabeth May and Sylvie Lemieux that I'm going to be branded as the resident social outcast at the Party's upcoming BGM. What can I say? I like making friends, but sometimes I don't play well with others.

I stumbled across this blogpost at Pundit's Guide earlier today, about a recently released report about federal political party fundraising. According to Alice, and based on figures released by the Party for the first and second quarters of 2010, our Party seems to be slightly ahead in terms of fundraising than where we were at this time last year. And that's no mean feat, as the Party had done a pretty good job of raising money throughout 2009, especially in Q4. Keep in mind that 2009 wasn't an election year, and it's always a little harder to pull things together in the year after an election.

Should things begin to settle down in our Party after the BGM, perhaps there's a chance of repeating our fundraising efforts. I know that Elizabeth May and Adriane Carr and others in the Party have been working very hard to raise the kind of coin we need to run a campaign which should see a number of Greens elected.

Some more good news: over in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, the local EDA will be holding their candidate nomination meeting on August 17th, right before the BGM. I understand that Elizabeth May and other Green heavy-weights will be in attendance. The nomination is being contested by what looks like two excellent potential candidates, Lynn Morgan and Emma Jane Hogbin. More information about these two Greens is available on the BGOS website. And that's great news for Greens in Grey-Bruce, and great news for all Greens throughout Canada. Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound has been one of our better performing ridings, with former candidate Dick Hibma finished second with 27% of the vote, after running a campaign reportedly costing just under $60,000 of the over $70,000 raised locally. In other words, this is a very serious riding for us; it's certainly one to keep watching.

And finally, here in Sudbury...well, technically just outside and all around Sudbury, Greens in the Nickel Belt riding now have a nominated candidate to carry our flag in the next election. Christine Guillot-Proulx will be the Nickel Belt candidate, and she's already been shaking things up in the sprawling Nickel Belt (which consists of some of Sudbury's outlying communities, along with smaller centres along Highway 17, all the way over to Sturgeon Falls). Christine received some excellent coverage in local media on the day she announced her candidacy. Here's an article from the Sudbury Star, "Young mother to carry Green colours in next federal election"; I also have heard from just about everyone watching the local CTV news affiliate here in Sudbury that Christine's TV interview (which played at both 6pm and 11:30) was inspiring! Way to go, Christine!

If you're going to be at the BGM in Toronto, both Christine Guillot-Proulx and Sudbury's nominated candidate, Fred Twilley, will be in attendance. Say hello to them, and wish them the best of success in running a Green campaign in the NDP-Liberal battleground of Sudbury/Nickelt Belt.

So there you go...it's certainly not all doom and gloom with me, and I don't really need to fill that prescription some have suggested that I consider taking.

Looking forward to seeing some of you at the BGM. Hope that a few of you might even consider sitting with me. I might need the reassurance.

Coaching Error: GPC Deputy Leader Laraque Stumbles Off The Bench

In hockey, to make the Big Team, you’ve first got to prove yourself at training camp. Usually, you’re not even going to attempt to try out for the Big Team until you’re confident enough that your skill level is close to being at where it needs to be. If you’re coaching the Big Team, clearly you’re going to cut those whose skills don’t quite measure up.

In politics, it’s not the same story at all. Sometimes, players make the Big Team without having much of necessary skills at all. Usually, though, there’s something which is driving the political coach to keep unproven, raw talent on the roster. For example, when Michael Ignatieff was drafted by the Liberals from academic circles, he quickly became an MP, and then almost as quickly made a bid at becoming leader. The Liberal “coaches”, however, kept him on the bench for a little while until he had improved on his skills….no, sorry, that’s not quite what happened. They kept him on the bench until there was no one left to put in the game.

The Green Party, too, has a bit of a history with newcomers entering the political game without having first gone through training camp. Our current Leader, Elizabeth May, was a new party member when she made a successful bid for the leadership in 2006. In her case, the Party handed her the puck and made her Captain based on the perception that she’d be able to carry the team. That she’s done so now for 4 years is testament to the skills May acquired as a lifelong activist with encyclopedic knowledge of the pertinent issues of the day. Say what you want about May: she knows her stuff.

Most often, though, in politics, those who get to play leadership roles on the Big Team have to earn their places. Say what you will about Stephen Harper and Jack Layton, but they worked their butts off to earn the “C” they proudly wear on their shoulders. Ignatieff and May might have earned their “C’s” for other reasons, but they should be no less proud of their accomplishments, given their bench strengths.

Now, the thing about being a Leader in politics, though, is that not only do you have to wear the Captain’s “C”, you’ve also got to be the coach/manager of the team. To be the manager of any team, you’ve clearly got to have an understanding of the game. Often the best Captains run into issues as managers. It’s not easy to keep everyone on the bench happy, after all, especially if you only play your stars.

Which brings us to Georges Laraque, appointed to the position of Deputy Leader of the Green Party this past Saturday. Laraque, now charged with wearing one of our Party’s “A’s” upon his shoulder, is going to be a day-to-day player for the Party. This position of leadership which he’s found himself in, primarily as the result of his national celebrity, means he’s going to have to learn the play the game fast. Clearly, there’s been no training camp for Laraque, and it’s already beginning to show with a few mis-steps. And it’s only Wednesday.

As I blogged about yesterday ("GPC Deputy Leader Georges Laraque: A Tactical Victory; A Strategic Opportunity Lost"), Laraque has already announced to the media that he’s not going to run as a candidate for the Green Party. I suggested in my blog that our Party seems to have missed an opportunity of using the position of Deputy Leader to our advantage. This is a high-profile position within our party; the only higher profile position is that of the Leader. Our Deputy Leaders are often used as stand-ins for the Leader, and have a higher media profile. Given that Laraque already has a profile in the national media, why on earth has he decided that he’s not going to run for our Party in the next election? That’s just a wasted opportunity, and I sincerely hope that Laraque reconsiders.

There have been a couple of other mis-steps as well. Laraque was appointed Deputy Leader on Saturday, July 31st. On Monday, August 2nd, Laraque’s name and quotation appears in a media release, where he identifies himself as the Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada. Unfortunately, this press release has nothing to do with the Green Party of Canada. Instead, it’s been issued by NASDAQ traded Converted Organics, announcing Laraque’s new position as a recruit to TerraSphere Systems LLC (thanks here to Green Party Member Michael Vaillancourt for posting this story to the GPC website, although I've been tipped in my own comment section that this story might have actually been broken by an anonymous poster at Report on Greens).

Here are Laraque’s own words about his new venture with TerraSphere, from the Converted Organics press release:

"I decided to leave the NHL and the world of hockey to join TerraSphere because I want to make a difference in the world, and also be remembered for my contribution off the ice," stated Laraque. "As a new deputy leader for the Green Party, I see TerraSphere as the truest form of self-sustaining economic development. Also, as a spokesperson for PETA and an advocate for the vegan diet, TerraSphere's mission to provide fresh, organic produce to urban and rural communities worldwide is in alignment with my beliefs and values."

Wow. How much is wrong here, just from this single paragraph?

Here’s our newly appointed Deputy Leader, who’s going to help build our brand in Quebec, announcing that he’s joining TerraSphere to help promote fresh organic produce. Announced by a company which provides organic fertilizers, and is in the process of buying TerraSphere Systems. Uhm…I guess his new role with the Green Party isn’t going to keep him all that busy after all. I mean, don’t misunderstand me, it’s a good thing to have our party members involved in initiatives which are near and dear to their hearts, and kudos to Georges for all of the great work he’s done. But, again, the position of Deputy Leader is a leadership position in this Party. I’m not sure how a part-time deputy is going to work for us in the long run. Again, I’m worried that we’re setting Laraque up for failure here.

Next: why is Laraque using his position as Deputy Leader of the GPC in a press release from a publicly-traded company to promote another company which they are purchasing and which has nothing to do with the Green Party? Is Laraque receiving some sort of compensation from TerraSphere for his newly announced venture with that company, or is he doing his work gratis (seriously, if someone knows, let me know). Whether this is a paid position or not, I’m not at all sure that Laraque should be using his position in the Green Party to further benefit his new bosses at TerraSphere. Through Laraque now, by implication, there is a link between the Green Party and TerraSphere/Converted Organics.

Now, I understand that Laraque is fresh off of the bench, but these are the sorts of rookie mistakes which get players demoted to the minors, often quickly and permanently. Someone needs to tell Georges to leave his other jobs at home when he’s speaking as “Deputy Leader of the Green Party”. What also surprises me here is the speed at which our new Deputy Leader has really stepped into this mess; after all, it was only three days.

And I’m not even going to discuss Laraque’s role with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) here.

Anyway, speaking of three days, Laraque was interviewed by the National Post’s Mary Vallis, and the interview (“From hockey heavyweight to Green Party draft pick”) ran in yesterday’s paper. Vallis didn’t pull any punches here, and the results are, well, embarrassing for our Party, and made me feel sad and concerned for my hockey hero, Laraque. Vallis asks Laraque about whether he’s bothered to be “used” by the Party for his celebrity. While Laraque answers that question with dignity, the fact that it’s being asked at all really says something about his appointment by our Party Leader.

Later in the interview, after Laraque mentions that he can’t drop his TerraSphere project as part of his commitment to the Party, Vallis embarrasses Laraque by asking him what his 3 favorite Green Party policies are. Our new Deputy Leader, admittedly with poise, has to answer the question in a frank way. What’s clear, though, is that he doesn’t appear to know any of the Party’s policies, being at a loss to name even one as a favorite. Given the plethora of policies our Party has adopted (and not rescinded) in our 25 year existence, it’s difficult to imagine that he wouldn’t be able to find at least one to brag to the press about.

In hockey, when a player goes on the ice and is made to look foolish by the other team because the player is clearly lacking in skills, while the fans might get upset with the player, smart fans will begin to wonder just what the Coach is doing putting that player into the game in the first place.

So, here is our new Deputy Leader, telling the press that he’s already made up his mind about not running for his Party in the next federal election. He’s caught announcing his new role in an unrelated business venture just three days after his appointment as Deputy. And he’s made to look foolish in the national media when he can’t name any policies of the Party.

It's a good thing that Vallis didn't ask him how he felt about strategic voting.

Look, I’m not pointing fingers here at Georges Laraque in his first 4 days on the job. Laraque can always learn to play the game. Instead, I think whose wisdom needs to be questioned is that of the team manager and her staff, who have thrown Laraque into the big game without any training, and without having really considered his role on the team.

In the National Post interview, Laraque indicates that he was recruited by the Party earlier this year, and specifically by former Deputy Leader Jacques Rivard. He goes on to indicate that when Rivard left the Party, he was contacted directly by Party Leader Elizabeth May and offered the position of Deputy Leader. He further indicates that he’s only just been handed a "big book" of policies to go through, and that he'll be sitting down with Elizabeth May in the near future.

Ok, look, here's the thing: Laraque was appointed to this leadership position by May, and rolled out at a press conference on the long weekend, apparently without any coaching at all. He was thrown to the media wolves to fend for himself, and given the resources which he apparently had to work with (in this case, limited to his own wits), he does a decent job, but raises a bunch of questions regarding just what he's going to be doing for the Party, how he came to be in this position, and what his level of commitment to the Party is really going to be.

Why on earth didn't someone sit down with Laraque BEFORE announcing him as Deputy Leader and exposing him to the national media and at least flip through some of the Party's policies which pertain to those issues close to his heart? If Laraque had at least gone through Vision Green 2010 before his interview with the National Post, I'm confident that Laraque would have had the opposite problem: limiting his enthusiasm to only 3 party policies. Instead, here he is out there, looking out of his depth.

Elizabeth May, who I've also long been a personal fan of, has been making some incredibly poor decisions as of late. Her fans have started to turn on her, and some of those on her team has begun questioning her decisions, including me. This latest decision to appoint a poorly prepared, part-time Georges Laraque without any coaching regarding our policies, or how to handle himself with regards to the Party and his other ventures, was a very bad one. Clearly, it was done in haste, to turn the channel on a number of other poor decisions she's made recently, including using Party resources to urge our Membership to vote down several motions being proposed at the BGM and misrepresenting those motions in the process. Those on her coaching staff have also made some bad moves, in their attempts to disguise the arguments for augmenting May's appointed leadership term through an attempt to amend the Party's by-laws. Rather than be upfront with the Membership about the fact that we need May at our helm right now if we're at all going to be taken seriously in the next election, they've twisted and contorted themselves in all sorts of pretzel directions with bogus arguments about Elections Canada rules and concerns about going into an election without any Leader at all.

I'm sure that Georges Laraque will begin to learn how to play the game of politics; he's a very intelligent guy and he's not afraid to mix it up. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and I admire him for that, even though that's not really identified as an asset in the game of politics. What both saddens and outrages me is that he has been allowed to make himself, and by extension, his Party, look foolish. This wasn't his fault; he's an unskilled player after all. No, this was a clear Coaching error, and it should not have happened.

May wanted to have a good news story going into this month's convention in Toronto. For Greens not paying close attention, Laraque's appointment as Deputy Leader will clearly be a good news item. However, most Greens heading to Toronto later this month are paying attention, and I'm certain that many are going to be scratching their heads over Laraque's part-time commitment to the team, his ventures with TerraSphere Systems (and PETA!), and his general lack of political bench strength. Those Greens won't be pointing their fingers at Laraque: it will be May who the wagging fingers will be pointing at.

May will have an opportunity at the upcoming BGM to apologize to the Membership for misleading information she provided related to the motions recently voted on through an online process. Some Party Members are already questioning the very validity of that process, given May's biased and misrepresentative email, and the "Party Opinion/Consideration" comments prefacing each motion being voted on. May will also have an opportunity to call on the rest of our Federal Council to investigate why these biased opinions were allowed to remain on the Party's website throughout the online voting period. She needs to demand an investigation into who authorized these misleading, and in some cases, insulting comments. May will have the opportunity to take these actions later this month, to show an increasingly disgruntled membership that she is taking these issues seriously. Let's see if she does.

May should learn a lesson from the world of hockey: when you're team is mired in last place and isn't performing, and when the players begin to rebel against your coaching style, and when the press begins to make you look like you're losing control, the Team Ownership will often make a move, the only move they can make, given that they can't fire the whole team and start over.

Better to start listening to your team and taking their issues seriously before it gets to that point.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

GPC Deputy Leader Georges Laraque: A Tactical Victory; A Strategic Opportunity Lost

Before I get into the meat of this blog, let me just say that I've followed Georges Laraque's career on the ice for some time. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for those who play a physical game, and who aren't afraid to mix it up. Laraque was one of those rare talents: an enforcer and a grinder who could put the puck in the net every now and then, especially at critical times. I've been a big fan of the Edmonton Oilers for some time (since being drafted to the “Edmonton Oilers” for grade 5 floor hockey, and getting my dad to go out and buy me a “Wayne Gretzky” sweater to wear); they've been my team to cheer for in the West, even though I am a dyed in the wool Leafs fan. I've even been known to celebrate grinders like Laraque through my purchase of a #10 Gary Valk jersey for a good friend of mine, and a #16 Leaf jersey (but not the #16 most Leaf fans would associate with the role of grinder; no, we're not talking about Darcy Tucker here, we're talking about Lonny Bohonos).

When Laraque joined our Party last year, I have to admit that I was more than a little surprised, but very happy. Shortly after, I saw him appear with Rick Mercer, although I think that episode might have been taped before he joined the Party. I didn't realize that Laraque was involved with the sorts of issues which I've now come to understand he's involved with: animal welfare, and helping the rebuilding efforts in Haiti. As a result of his civic pride and efforts to want to change the world, my admiration for the man has only increased. Today, it's truly at an all-time high (and I can say that even though I've now seen the cheeky road-hockey commercial...what can I say? I've been known to enjoy a Jager Bomb in my time, so I'm not opposed to mixing my booze with my energy drinks. Not sure what all the hubbub was about...or did I, a married man, miss something there?)

OK, so with that out of the way, it's time to do a little assessment of Laraque's recent appointment to the position of Deputy Leader of the Green Party, which was announced on Saturday by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in Vancouver. Our Party's other Deputy Leader, Adriane Carr, was also on hand for the announcement. Our Party held a press scrum and issued a press release, which is available on the Party's website. So far, so good.

Our Party's Constitution and By-laws indicate that the Leader is allowed to appoint up to two Deputy Leaders. The role of Deputy Leader is relatively undefined (at my place of work, we'd provide the following job description: “Other Duties As Assigned”). The position of Deputy Leader became available about two months ago with the sudden departure of our former Deputy Leader, Jacques Rivard, who left our Party to take on a position with the Bloc Quebecois.

Anyway, back to Vancouver on Saturday. The press must have asked Mr. Laraque and other Greens present at the press conference a few questions about Laraque's future role with the Party as our New Deputy Leader. Referring to our own media release, I note that the release itself doesn't say anything at all about what we can expect out of Laraque as our new Deputy. So from here on in, I'll be relying on what I've read reported in the media, and by some in the blogosphere, which actually doesn't amount to a whole lot. But what it does amount to is a little telling.

First, Laraque seems destined to try to build the Green Party brand in Quebec, his home province. Some have started to refer to him as our “Quebec Deputy”, and there's some merit to this, as the two previous Deputies to resign (Rivard and Claude Genest) were also both from Quebec. Interestingly, both Rivard and Genest were not career politicians: they came to the Green Party from the world of journalism. So there's a bit of a trend now for the Party to be appointing so-called “media stars” to lead the effort in building the Green Party's brand in Quebec. More on that in a little bit.

The second thing which was reported from the press conference in Vancouver is, for me, a little more troubling. Apparently when asked about whether Laraque would be throwing his hat in the ring to run in the next federal election, Laraque indicated that he would not be. Hmmm...there wasn't any mention of this in the Party's press release. OK, so maybe Laraque doesn't feel like he's read to run as a candidate. Seems reasonable, maybe, given that he only just joined the Party about 6 months ago.

On Sunday, the Green Party received a lot of press from all sorts of media. Elizabeth May and Georges Laraque were mentioned in places where the Green Party doesn't typically receive any press coverage at all, such as on TSN (the Sports Network), on hockey websites, etc. Of course, the major media all gave some pretty positive coverage too, although some mentioned that Laraque wouldn't be running as a candidate, and some referred to that unfortunate road hockey commercial. In general, though, the coverage was pretty good, I have to say.

Later on Sunday, the blogosphere came alive with news that Laraque was named Deputy. Generally, stories in the blogosphere seemed fairly mixed (which I believe was a positive thing, given that the political blogosphere is dominated by non-Green bloggers). Sure, some were very critical, but other bloggers, including some Liberals and Conservatives, provided mixed reviews, grudgingly acknowledging that the Greens had captured a bit of a Canadian celeb who isn't carrying much in the way of personal baggage. That can only be a good thing for any political party.

Some of the real criticism, though, focused on Laraque's role with the Party, asking questions about why the Greens were appointing a novice to be “second in command”, and presuming that should Elizabeth May be killed in a train crash, he would be sworn in as Leader. Well, clearly, not everyone understands the power structure of our Party. Keep in mind, our Deputy Leaders perform “Other Duties as Assigned”; they don't even get to vote on Federal Council (although they are invited to attend the meetings, and I think they can even listen in on the in-camera stuff). Basically, our Deputy Leaders are there to raise our Party's profile, and to perform some of the high-level work needed to build the Party.

Which brings me to my own concerns regarding Laraque's appointment. It's true that Laraque has little experiencing with Party organizing (and apparently little experience with anything much to do with political parties), yet here he is now, our new Champion for the Quebec cause. Let's look at what poor Georges has, in fact, inherited.

It's no secret that our Party is not doing well in Quebec, although we continue to poll provincially around our national figures. We've never had strong organizations in Quebec; I understand that EDA's are few and far between on the ground. Our last two Quebec Champions accomplished little with regards to building our profile in Quebec. Perhaps this also had to do with their lack of expertise with political parties and organizing, as they both came to our Party from the media.

In contrast, our other Deputy Leader, Adriane Carr, is one of the Party's biggest political animals, who knows a thing or two about organizing. I'm a huge fan of Carr. She has given so incredibly much of herself to this Party it's not even funny. Now, I'm not suggesting that all of our Deputy Leaders need to be like Carr, or have the skill set that she does, but I think that, given the political importance of the position of Deputy within our Party, and the political exposure that someone in this position is likely to receive, that really we need to have people in these positions that understand the political realm. If we don't, not only are we setting the deputies up for failure, but we're doing the Party a bit of a disservice.

Look, media will tend to focus on a Party's “stars” rather than the rest of the nobody's who operate largely anonymously behind the scenes. In other Parties, these “stars” are typically high-profile MP's. Given that we don't have any MP's, in the Green Party, our “stars” are largely the Leader and the Deputy, and maybe one or two candidates who have performed really well for the Party (and if they were still around, maybe we'd have a few more stars). So, although the position of Deputy is to perform “Other Duties as Assigned”, the fact is that the media is going to expect our Deputies to be cut from a little more refined cloth than the average candidate.

So, with the idea that our Deputies are going to be the media darlings of the Party, speaking for the Party at events where the Leader can't attend, gaining access to the media where a local candidate wouldn't have much of a chance, what then shall we make of Georges Laraque, a man with no political experience, charged with being our third Quebec Champion of the Party in the past 2 years? Hey, I like Georges, and I think that he's going to surprise many of his (and our Party's) critics. But...to foresake the opportunity and media advantage given to our Deputy Leaders and choose NOT TO RUN AS A CANDIDATE? C'mon, that's as (to borrow a phrase from a greater pundit than I) dumb as a bag of hammers.

Yes, I realize that if Laraque is going to be spending the majority of his time trying to build our brand in Quebec, maybe he will prove to be too busy to run as a candidate in a federal election. Uhm...wait a second. Wouldn't building our presence in Quebec benefit from having someone with Georges Laraque's media profile actually contest a riding in an election? Of course it would. So the fact that Laraque has ruled out running as a candidate for the Party in the next election seems to me to be an incredibly poor decision on his part, and a waste of an opportunity for the Party. Georges Laraque needs to run as a candidate, period. I don't care whether it's in Quebec or elsewhere (and by “elsewhere” clearly I mean in Edmonton, where Laraque lived for a number of years and has a Tie Domi-like profile).

So, what really has the Green Party accomplished by announcing Laraque as Deputy Leader, on a long weekend in August? Well, I guess the announcement really did dominate the media this past weekend, given that the census story is getting a bit old, and there weren't any new oil spills. Sure, it couldn't compete with Chelsea Clinton's wedding, but we have to acknowledge that there are degrees of celebrity Anyway, the point is that the August long weekend is like Death Valley for media coverage: it's the ultimate low-point of the year. Not many are paying attention. If you've got a high-profile media announcement to make, you'd either be foolish to do it on the Saturday of the August long weekend, or...you have other reasons for doing it. Say what you want about our Party, but those in charge aren't foolish.

Although we received pretty good press from the Laraque announcement on the August long weekend, clearly there were a few other things driving this announcement. And they all have to do with internal Green Party politics. First of all, we have our Biennial General Meeting coming up later this month in Toronto (August 20-22). With the recent departure of Jacques Rivard, the former Quebec Deputy, I'm sure that it made sense to those in positions of power that that talk of the convention not be about losing our high-profile Deputy Rivard to the rival Bloc (and about him coming out of the closet as being a long-time separatist). Much better to be talking about the new, media-friendly Deputy Laraque, just appointed by Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is being decisive and exercising one of her (few) Leadership perogatives. Now, truly, that's a much better story for the Party. Despite the fact that Laraque doesn't have any experience and has decided that he's not going to represent the Party in the next federal election.

Another interesting point: in the last few weeks, the Green Party has been receiving more press from the mainstream media, and has been the focus of a little more coverage in the blogosphere than we're used to getting. Unfortunately, this press has been focused on our own internal strife, and efforts underway by some in our Party to dump our current Leader (and in a few cases, our Leader's efforts to undermine our Constitution). In short, this press coverage has been a little problematic. Time to change the channel on the negative press before the BGM maybe? A little announcement with Laraque and May holding hands would certainly do that. And it has.

Keep in mind that, if you're reading my blog and you're a Member of the Green Party, chances are that you're a little more engaged with what's going on than the average Party member (I'm a fairly obscure blogger after all, and I've a tendency to write long and rambling blogs that just turn people off). The average member, though, probably heard about Georges Laraque, and may have previously heard about the Green Party being at a crossroads and efforts to dump Elizabeth May as Leader. So, for most of our Membership, the news about Laraque is, no doubt, a refreshing story. And one which shows May front and centre, taking charge, which is what a Leader is supposed to be doing.

Now look...none of this is to suggest that Georges Laraque isn't going to perform well as our Deputy Leader. Again, I think he's going to surprise some of his critics. Instead, I'm taking a bit of an issue with his appointment for other reasons, given that he has said that he's not going to run as a candidate for the Party. I think that's a terrible mistake, and a wasted opportunity for the Party. Not only do I think that Georges Laraque would make a good candidate for the Party, I believe that his being a candidate will go a long way to building the Party's profile where ever he should choose to run.

Clearly, though, Laraque's appointment as Deputy Leader was about Georges Laraque: it was about Elizabeth May. She needed the change the channel on a couple of downer stories before the BGM. And she's done so quite nicely. However, Laraque's appointment as Deputy will not mollify the growing number of Greens who are paying attention to what's going on in this Party.
Rather than another media head, what we need as a Deputy is someone who knows a thing or two about organizing, especially if the goal is to build our brand in the wasteland of Quebec. Sure, Laraque has a bit of a profile, and that can't hurt at all. But given the limited resources he's going to be offered by the Party, he's quickly going to find that he's largely going to be on his own. I'm just afraid that we're setting Laraque up for failure and disillusionment, which is hardly the sort of place I want one of my hockey heroes to find himself in.

Ultimately, this all goes back to Elizabeth May. I understand why she did this, and one level I'm not opposed (because I'm such a Georges Laraque fan). But I think that many Greens are going to continue to question her logic here. Does the Party really need, at this point in our history, another media-friendly persona with no political experience, and who won't be using any of his media savvy to promote himself as a candidate? Wouldn't it have been better to find someone who has a bit of a technocratic side and who actually has some skills to start building a provincial profile for themselves and the Party in Quebec?

Greens, we've been looking for the “quick fix” which media exposure brings our Party for the past number of years. So far, it's been working to an extent, although we continue to lack clasping the brass ring of electing anyone to parliament. Yes, our membership numbers have increased (although they are down somewhat now), and our vote-share in 2008 was our best showing yet. It's true that positive media is going to help to grow this Party.

But when we continue to lack any depth on the ground, our chances for actually electing anyone is quite slim. And that's why what resources we have as a Party need to be focused right now on the ridings where media exposure and experience on the ground come together. Right now, that's arguably only a few places: Saanich-Gulf Islands, where Elizabeth May is running; Guelph, where municipal councillor Bob Bell is the nominated candidate; Vancouver Centre, where Deputy Leader Adriane Carr will be running again; and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, where we'll have a new candidate in place prior to the BGM (and another good news story for our Party). I'll even throw in Barrie, because I like Erich Jacoby-Hawkins continuing commitment to the candidacy, and I love reading his editorials in the Barrie Examiner.

Where ever Georges Laraque decides to run could be another such riding, given his profile (especially if he chose an urban Alberta riding where Greens could come together more easily to support him).

Ultimately, though, being media-friendly or having a Big Name is only going to get us so far. To truly be successful, our Party needs to focus a lot more of its energy on building local capacity. We have to acknowledge that our failure to do so over the past half decade has put us behind, and that real electoral success is likely going to take another 10 years or so, even if we do elect one or two Greens to parliament the next time around.

Look, we just can't continue to rely on the media to do our work for us. We need to get organized. All of the Georges Laraques and Elizabeth Mays out there are only going to take us so far. Without identified voters who are willing to elect us, fogettabouddit.

I've been a supporter of the “All-the-eggs-in-one-basket” strategy for the past several years, because I believe that we really need to elect someone in the next election or it could be game over for our Party. Now, I'm fearing that it might be game over for the party before the next electoral writ is even dropped. Those disenchanted with the current leadership at least now have an identified individual in Sylvie Lemiuex to rally around, rather than just dissonant voices in the blogosphere. There is too much dissension amongst us, and we are starting to look like we are at risk of fracturing. We've lost too many good people, and we seem to be doing a fair bit of floundering around, looking for a quick fix. Hopefully, that quick fix will prove to be Elizabeth May.

But if May keeps achieving tactical victories, while making strategic mistakes, it might be all over for the Greens before May gets that last chance to prove herself at the polls.