The Green Party of Canada’s Leadership race conundrum.


On your mark, get set, wait a minute, wait a bit more...

I was somewhat pleased to note that the GPC Federal Council has started thinking a little about how next summers leadership convention will be run, and they are also starting to consider the rules for the leadership contest that our constitution requires goes with the convention. I have heard rumours, (and more than just idle speculation), about some pretty exciting potential candidates from across the spectrum. This is really great news for the Green Party of Canada! The membership numbers are in a free fall, and we are in financial straights with a substantial election debt to pay off. An exciting 5 way, or 6 way race will re-invigorate the Party. There will be of thousands of new members added to the rolls, and the Party’s share of leadership fundraising, and directed contributions just might save us from financial embarrasment.

So what’s the conundrum? Well it goes like this; Elizabeth May has a constitutionally mandated term of 4 years as leader. That term expires in August 2010. We are in a minority Government situation, and as we are all aware, the next general election could come any time between now and 2013. The argument might be made that since the Party has given Elizabeth May $60k, plus her leaders salary, and three supporting staff positions to prepare for an election in SGI, (And before that $100k in Central Nova, and before that $70k in London), we cannot possibly hold the Leadership convention next summer in Toronto. After all, there might be a general election in full swing, and we cannot waste all those hundreds of thousands of dollars that we have wagered on getting our Leader elected.

There`s some merit in that argument as well, although I don`t think that we can simply make up the leadership race terms on the fly just like that. So there`s the conundrum. The Green Party of Canada wants to have an enormous, and much needed boost from a much aniticipated Leadership race. This boost cannot be had unless all of the various leadership campaigns have plenty of lead time to build their field organisations, and communications teams. Let`s face it, it takes time to build the team and plan that can win this contest, and in all fairness, our sitting council owes it to the membership to come clean with a fair and impartial rule book for the contest. We just won`t be able to recruit the very best candidates, and will have trouble getting the kind of resources lined up to blow the roof off, if prospective candidates cannot even be certain that a race will happen. Imagine if you will that you are seriously considering taking on the major task of winning the leadership of the GPC. You need to start recruiting, building, and committing a chunk of your life to this contest. I suspect that you will hesitate if 6 months before the contest  is theoretically beginning, there was no rule-book, no time frame, no spending limits, in fact absolutely no indication of what the rules will be…


Sharolyn Vetesse, impartial judge (photo credit Globe and

In the last leadership race, which was won by Elizabeth May, council struck an election fairness committee. It was chaired by Sharolyn Vetesse, if memory serves. I can tell you first hand that it was very equitable, and impartial. The spending limits were too low, and the contestants had very restrictive limits on how they could reach the membership, but at least the rules were clear, and applied to all. It would serve as an adequate model, provided the chair were truly impartial, and the spending limits were increased. It takes quite a bit of money just to travel around the country. It`s OK if you`ve got a book tour, or an EDA training tour to cover your travel costs, but if you are covering expenses to visit hundreds of EDA`s out of a $50,000 campaign chest, then you just don`t have enough money to make all the rest of a viable campaigns infrastructure happen. If the Party takes a tithe from directed contributions to leadership campaigns, then a $500,000 limit will allow proper national campaigns to take shape, without simply handing the Party to the candidate with the deepest pockets. If this sum seems too rich, I beg to differ. Please remember that it takes a lot of money to raise a lot of money, and if there’s a 20% tithe, plus fundraisers, event hall rentals, promotional advertising for events, etc. etc. then it doesn’t leave very much for prosaic things like travel expenses, and telephone bills. If you think it’s no big deal, the winning campaign will have had to make a bare minimum of 15,000 phone calls. And when’s the last time you had to pay for 30 or 40 train trips, hotel bills, and food for two or three people on the candidates tour?

So here`s what I think we need to know: When will the race officially start and conclude? What will the nomination procedures be? What access, and when will the candidates get access to membership, past membership, and supporter lists? What will the spending limits be, and what tithes and or fees will the Party charge for processing directed contributions? Policy regarding staffers involvement in the race; Will candidates have to resign from existing duties in appointed, or elected roles in the Party hierarchy? I for one will not be impressed to see a deputy leader drawing a salary, and gadding about the country on training tours while actively campaigning. (Neither would some candidates legal council I suspect). Here`s a biggie: Does the Party appoint an interim leader during the race? There`s lots to think about, and it should be done in a timely way. I hope I’m not alone in hoping for a vigorous, and strongly contested race next year. It could be the saviour of the Party in more than one respect.

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16 Responses

  1. “I can tell you first hand that it was very equitable, and impartial. ”

    Hmmmmmm… I have that short list. LOL.

    Anyway, If the limit was raised to $500,000 (I don’t disagree) there would need to be individual contribution limits (5K, no more), or the race will be hijacked. I could even name names.

  2. And then I look you up and see that you’re Matthew Day. LOL. You weren’t on my short list.

  3. Yes, my contact with Sharolyn was through the EMay campaign. I represented her campaign in a couple of different instances.
    Fortunately, the contribution limits are set in the elections finance act and the maximum contribution is $1,100 total contribution to a Leadership contestant. Right now, I believe that the Party collects 20% of all directed donations to EDA’s. Not sure though. I think that the campaigns would rather collect the money themselves, and remit a tithe back to the Party. (For obvious reasons).

  4. I think you are making a reasonable but false assumption.

    The constitution’s by-laws state that the Party must have a BGM every 2 years; it must have a leadership race every 4 years.

    However, these need not be held at the same time & place, nor even by the same method. (Practically, a BGM must have an in-person component, while the leadership race could be by mail-in ballot with no meeting). So it is possible to have (for example) an August BGM and a fall leadership race. (Or a spring one). In past this has not been the practice, but the current situation represents our first major leadership race during a shaky minority gov’t situation*, and the first under this version of the constitution (featuring a 4-year term). So there may yet be other firsts.

    Timing of leadership races is specified in two places: All Council members shall be elected to serve a two year term or until their successors are elected, except the Leader who shall serve a four year term or until a successor is elected. The Leader shall be elected in 2006 and every four (4) years thereafter.

    I think it is reasonable to read to mean the leadership race has to be held in 2010, which is 4 years after 2006; I don’t think it can be categorically asserted that it must be in August 2010, or specifically on August 26, 2010.

    The codicil at the end of even seems to indicate a bit of run-over of the term, should one election fall later in its year than the previous election did (or should it need to be re-run).

    I notice that rules out your suggestion of an interim leader during the leadership race. (Note that I’m not commenting on whether or not that’s a good idea, just how it is specified in our by-laws).

    I expect that was intended to apply in case of a leader resigning with a by-election, whereby the new leader would serve out the remainder of the 4-year term. However, as written, it seems to do the opposite – a leader elected in a mid-term by-election could make the case that this by-law specifies that a new 4-year term has commenced. That would conflict with, however, so it would be a quandry. I guess we hope it never happens (until after we clarify the rule).

    * Technically, 2004’s race was during a minority, but Martin had only just been elected and wasn’t in danger of imminent fall. And the race was serious only to Tom Manley, who ran a respectable campaign; John Grogran ran a token protest campaign, while Jim Harris, coming off our largest growth election ever, barely campaigned at all yet still managed to win in the first ballot vs. Manley, Grogan, and NOTA.

  5. I also would interpret that to mean only that it has to be some time in 2010. But I don’t see how that flexibility helps.

    I noticed that you explicitly recommended a big increase in the spending limits, but only implied some rules about contendors using party funds during the race… that even what they do strictly speaking for the party is an issue.

    Did you mean to only imply?

    And/or, is that a consequence of seeing the inherent problem of how to clearly and fairly draw a line?

    My two cents would be that the race is stacked in May’s favour, more than it would always be for a sitting Leader, until after the general election. Not to mention that its pretty likely she would clear the air by not running once she loses in SGI. [I realize you all can’t think that way- just file it, if she wins in SGI, there’s no issue.]

    Not that I can imagine there is a way to postpone it past the end of 2010. Let alone whether likely contendors would want that if it was doable.

  6. This is a test of the email notifiction, because that “subscription manager” is awfully vague what it is doing [or isnt].

  7. Thanks Erich, for bringing clarity to the table. One quibble, I would characterise it as a reasonable and provocative assumption ;-)
    As it reads, we have to have a leadership race in 2010. There are problems with running a leadership during a general election. I suspect that Elections Canada would be stumped in how to fairly interpret the rules when EDA’s and non-general election campaign spending is supposed to be frozen during the writ period. Do you simply suspend the leadership campaign?
    We cannot go sleepwalking into 2010. If we do, then the transfer of power will be quietly arranged, instead of seriously contested. We’ve all been observers, or even participants in the arbitrary conniving that seems to spring up in the Green Party. It turns my stomach, and I’m normally tolerant of sharp tactics.
    I posted because I am trying to prepare for the Leadership campaign, and beyond broad strokes, we cannot readily determine campaign structure even. There’s a big difference between an all volunteer $50k campaign, and a semi-professional $500k. In the one we focus on existing membership, in the other we go out and recruit 10,000 members. Which one would you like to see? Especially if there are 3-4 big recruiting drives in competition.

  8. Ken,
    I’m surprised you didn’t even say, ‘I told you so’. You’ve commented often enough about this exact scenario here.
    I intended to imply. It’s a reminder to all concerned that the Elections Act regulates the use of resources by contestants. It’s only permitted if the resources are freely offered to ALL contestants equally. Eventually Adrian will have to declare, and it’s beneficial if she understands that there will be an accounting with Elections Canada. She will have to justify everything that she has done this year, and support her obvious contention that her spending activities, and her personal control of the BC Provincial division, are not at all related to her leadership race. There will be intense scrutiny in fact.
    Of course the race is stacked in EMays favour. Why else would she have filled every single slot in the TO with Adrian and Elizabeth loyalists? Competence is irrelevant, loyalty is the only criteria.
    As far as SGI goes, you are right that lots of Greens have deluded themselves on that score. There’s still a slim chance, and I think that a delay until Spring actually gives them a shot. There’s the rub. Spring, summer or fall, there’s a lot of work needs to be done for a leadership, and the people in control have an enormous incentive to pretend it doesn’t matter, and then pull a favourable last minute campaign rulebook out of their bag of tricks.

  9. I’ll mull over what you said- but that includes deep skepticism about what kind of accounting EC expects from leadership contendors, AND that they know they won’t be grilled.

    But while I’m on a roll with having correct predictions, I think a Spring election is unlikely. Thats not the sort of thin you can plan a leadership vote time around- but it has its relevance and implications to people thinking about what it would mean to various possible leadership contendors.

  10. Hi Ken,
    Our dilemma is that the general election is unpredictable, but the leadership race needs predictability. We ought to bite the bullet, and live with the consequences I suppose.
    What I am trying to avoid is a deliberate obfuscation, and a delay in order to confound the non-insider candidates. If we sit silently awaiting the maturation of the current ‘leaderships’ succession plans, then we’ll be presented with a fait d’accompli

  11. For what its worth I’ve chewed over what I think would be the combination of least disruptive/conflicting time, and the most conducive to level playing field.

    If you think about, there are ZERO great choices. Nothing even comes close.


    As late in September as it can feasibly be, while staying at least a couple weeks from the potential for build-up to an inevitable election. Which I would peg as early to mid-September.

    Regardless of the pros and cons of various picks, WAIT AND SEE IS A BAD IDEA.

    That has the intuitive appeal of benefiting from things sorting themselves out. But look back over the last 3 years, has it ever done so for more than a month in advance? And various ‘looks like ____ almost for sure’ have been completely overturned.

    Wait and see also just happens to strongly favour incumbents [or the putative succesor]. Everyone else, and anyone just wanting a good race, should insist on picking a date AT LEAST 6 months away.

    Tick, tick, tick…

    And given all the uncertainties, if you want at least 6 months away [plus the time for internal consultations and airing]… that doesn’t leave many windows where an election is virtually impossible, and hard choices for minimizing the disruption between the leadership race and people running hard for an election that no one knows when it comes.

    FOR EXAMPLE: if there was an election in Spring, that still leaves 3-4 months for the leadership contendors to campaign hard before a mid-Sept vote.

  12. I don’t know that it is all that complicated.

    You start the contest say in April 2010 and you plan it to finish in August 2010 (roughly 20-22 weeks). You make it a little longer than you might otherwise since you know that a writ could happen. If a writ period comes along during the Leadership Contest Period, you simply put the Leadership Contest on hold for the writ period. Once the General Election is over, you wait maybe one week or two and then you resume the Leadership Contest and possibly extend the dates a few weeks to make up for the lost 5 or 6 weeks.

    If the Election Day happens to fall too close to the August 2010 date, you would want to back off the August 2010 date by an amount of time. You can back it off by as little as 6 weeks or you can back it off by as long as 4 months and you still keep to the 4 year (ish) mandate. If you prefer the longer delay, you could re-open nominations for a month, and then go hard for 3 months.

    I think this would all work and cover all the bases.

  13. I’ve been following the parallel discussion in the GPC blogs, and have an observation following from that.

    There is the point that maybe these fixed leadership terms are not a good idea, but thats a discussion for later.

    But its also the elephant in the room here and now.

    “What are we having a leadership race now, or what do we need one for” can sound like cavalier disregard of the constitution.

    But its also perfectly valid common sense. Whatever the flaws in the process, the emphasis is on the leader’s race in SGI. And if it wasn’t that, it would be on being ready for the election anyway.

    “We are having a leadership race now because we have to” does not engage people.

  14. Ken, and Rob. This is sound advice. Rob, it serves everybody pretty well if there’s a certain flexibility, but I’d still be absolutely transfixed by spending limits, and ballooning campaign costs under a no-fixed-date scenario. Imagine if you will that there are a number of paid campaign staff on the payroll. All of a sudden, the race is extended by a total of 5 weeks, and it falls towards the actual full bore ‘writ period’. All of those period costs get doubled up, and an extra two months of monthly costs get added to the overall total. All of a sudden, the campaign has to redirect resources at fundraising, when they should be doing their ID-GOTV at full tilt.
    I can cope with that, because I’m anal about contingency planning. Will the other campaigns? I hope so, because we sure don’t want anybody exceeding the spending limits, whatever level they are set at.
    Ken, you’re comment about ‘we must because we must’, not being engaging is very well said. I have fallen into the most obvious trap of assuming that what’s important to me is important to others. I should be more engaging about why it’s important, and the benefits that accrue to everybody in a Leadership race.

  15. Essentially, I think its even simpler than Rob says. Mind you, with some caveats.

    The formal start date matters for the administration of the rules. But the main substantive level playing field issue is that all contendors have time to mount a vigorous campaign. And in that sense, the gates are open as soon as a date is announced.

    I think its a REAL bad idea to even consider moving the date. Of course there have to be provisions for completely unforseeable events. But an election writ, important as it is, is just an event you can’t nail down, not an unforseeable one.

    Aside from the issues Matt just named, shifting the date in practice requires a consensus among the contendors, and thats an invitation of trouble.

    But the solution is simple, because as long as the date is far enough away, then everyone can just roll with the suspension of the race during a writ period.

  16. […] still upset that you’re missing out on a more dramatic leadership contest, just wait for this impending nonsense. […]

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