It’s Official, the Green Party of Canada Membership will decide on Leadership.

Before I start, I just checked my visitor stats, and it’s at 30,008! That’s 10,000 visitors in 3 months and 3 days. Wow, there were a LOT of people very interested in what’s happening with the GPC leadership contest!

It didn’t make sense to have a post with a shelf life of 1 day hanging around on the front page, so I’m bumping it with a post on the outcome of Sunday’s Green Party council debate on the leadership race. I am happy to say that my plea for reason, and my desperate last ditch attempt to ensure that no illegal motions were passed was successful. Council has voted to draft a motion to amend the Part by-laws regarding a leadership race to submit to the membership at the August BGM in Toronto. In the interim, the Leadership race fairness committee has been tasked to prepare the terms and conditions of the race. These terms and conditions will be predicated on the terms and conditions of the last race. For those interested, Steve Kisby chairs that committee, and I’ll publish the names and email addresses of all the members in an upcoming post.

The reason that the race terms and conditions have to be updated is because the council motion acknowledges that if the By-Law amendment fails, nominations for the leadership race will commence immediately, and a new leader will be elected before the year end. So now, the die is cast, and the leadership contenders have a sense of the rulebook, and a timeline to plan for.

I have recieved a number of emails with condolences about the outcome of Sundays vote. As I read them, I realised that there is something I simply haven’t made clear, and I’d like to clarify it now. I have NOT advocated an immediate race because I hate Elizabeth May, and want her out at any cost. What I have been argueing for is a consistent application of the rules, and for the clearly expressed intention of the membership, as is written into our By-Laws and constitution, to be respected. It was intolerable to me that the rules should be tinkered with, and disrespected by our governing council. This would be severely unhealthy for our Party, and would store up trouble for the future. The very fact that the membership will be consulted at the BGM, and that their intentions and will are NOT being pre-supposed and manipulated contents me completely. The practical needs of the competing leadership contenders have been partly addressed, and the commitment to flesh out the rulebook allows for the small tweaks that will deliver a great contest. The next Leader of the GPC will be decided by an open, and vigorous contest, that will allow for an airing of our differences, a contest for the hearts and minds of the membership, and a reconciliation of our differences at the conclusion of the race.  Provided the manipulation is over, win or lose, I AM CONTENT.

The paragraph above does not go far enough though. The characterisation that I increasingly see that I am  hater of Elizabeth is not true whatsoever. Elizabeth May has brought a great many benefits to the Green Party. She is an extraordinarily articulate, and intelligent woman. She is a quick thinker, and has a grasp of the effects and impacts of environmental policy second to NO-ONE in Canada, or even anywhere in the world! She IS our star candidate, and has more electoral potential in her pinky than 90% of our candidates in a general election. After this leadership race is over, I will move heaven and earth to help her get elected to Parliament.

Huh! That surprised everybody didn’t it? Well let me make clear the rational basis of my criticisms of the Leadership of the GPC, and WHY I believe it could only be rectified by a leadership race. Unlike any other Party in Canada, the Green Party has no formally elected Chief Administrative, or Chief Executive officer. (Often called the Party President) In theory, the Party machinery is managed by a hired Executive Director, while some various functions are handled by appointed sub committees of council, and the council elected Chair. Well, this really sucks, because the impact is that informal mechanisms actually trump the formal structure. The Leader, whom we all pretend is being elected as the chief communicator, in fact has great moral suasion, and by default, ends up shall we say, strongly influencing hiring, organising principles and structure, budget processes, campaign planning, and who has to clean the teacups after an in-person council meeting. She is not really accountable for failures in this area, because those failures aren’t officially her fault. As for an accountable council, well in practice it isn’t. Council members come and go through a revolving door. When accountability means you may lose a council election, and be spared feeling guilty for not reading all the memorada, and motions before the meetings, and not have to attend a monthly bun-fight, it’s hardly a meaningful sanction for mis-behaviour now, is it? So in effect, there is no accountability for councillors. These are also the reasons for the revolving door to the top staff positions. THEY are accountable for what they don’t control.

While Elizabeth has universally acknowledged skills, and attributes, I do not believe that these skills stretch to all places, and all things. She simply does not have the professional experience in managing processes, budgets, and multi-layered objectives that are essential to the operations of a successful political Party. No one person contains the full skill set, so that’s not a nasty attack. It’s a recitation of facts. When she found herself elected leader of a political party 4 years ago, she didn’t know anybody there very well. She saw levers of power, and she saw staff positions which needed filling. She looked amongst her closest trusted advisors, and allies from the Sierra Club, and from her personal life, and she filled those positions, and she pulled those levers of power. I know full well how many people were jockeying for influence with her at that time, because I was at the heart of her campaign team. Can I blame her for taking the steps she did? Not really, because she didn’t KNOW in her bones that political Party’s are pluralistic, that campaigns happen on multiple levels, and good politics requires good accomodation, and conciliation skills. So in a nutshell, that’s how the bunker mentality started. Our leader had the campaign team needed, but she didn’t have the management team to ‘close the deal’.

So now we’re going to have a leadership race, and the roots of our governance problems will be right out there on the table. I am working on behalf of a process oriented candidate who is a truly superior manager, trainer, and facilitator. She has a successful career, to which she will return after the job is done of facilitating the renewal of our Party’s governance and operations is completed, or at least well started. She will work to raise the profile of shadow cabinet, and put the media relations tools of the Party at the disposal of our up and coming personalities. She will work to ensure the National Party co-ordinates growth, message, and both strategic and tactical objectives with the EDA’s, and regional organising teams. She will work to ensure that we research effective messages, and systematically grow our support in a TARGETED and deliberate manner. Then she will retire from the position, and happily be our much beloved elder stateswoman, at the side of Elizabeth, and Jim Harris. Elizabeth has made a great contribution, and I really hope she will stay on to continue her career in the Green Party, but we must use the existing processes, and the moral suasion of the leaders position to recraft the operating and management structure of the Green Party.

So I sincerely hope this post will put to bed the silly comments, and half baked characterisations of myself, BGB as a hater of Elizabeth. It’s simply not a worthy criticism, especially now that we have a really serious contest in place for the hearts and MINDS of the Green Party of Canada’s membership. Now have at it with your’ comments! (6 weeks to meet the next 10,00 site visitors?)

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17 Responses

  1. DAMN! You beat me to 30K. I have to make up some ground here….. free cake over my blog!

    Congrats on a massive milestone!

  2. Uhm, do you have any concerns with regards to when the contest might be, if the Membership votes to change the By-law in August so that a “review” is held only after a Federal Election? I know that you’re confident that the Membership won’t do this, and that’s something we disagree on. Some have suggested that the By-law amendments should really be treated as a leadership referendum: if you vote to change the By-law, you’re voting in support of the current leader; if you vote to keep the fixed-term leader requirement in the By-law, you’re voting against the current leader. I don’t think it will be that black and white, but there’s some merit to that suggestion.

    I do think, though, that if a compelling contender actually stepped forward in advance of the August BGM, it could be a game-changer. Of course, “stepping forward” is problematic with current Elections Canada rules, which is probably why no one has announced anything yet.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on timing.

  3. @ Mark,
    bwahahah! I’ll meet your free cake, and raise you a half pint of Guinness! (Who said $ is the mothers millk of politics? It’s always trumped by Beer!)

    @ Steve, sure I’m concerned about timing. But the membership knows as much, or more about politics as council does, so provided the processes are respected, it’ll be dealt with. I don’t care about the speculation leading up to the council vote, because now the die is cast, the pufferry ought to be replaced by substantive discussions. I’m sure that there will be some nice clean constitutional language in some member driven motions, and the council By-Law amendment at the BGM will probably be a sideshow to the real constitutional and by-law fixes on the table there. You’ll get to see some odd ball ideas around many issues, but the real stuff will have serious constitutional minds addressing, and debating it. Have a little faith that we won’t always sleep-walk into brick walls! If you attend, (and you should) you will see first hand that the Party is actually made up of loads and loads of people who don’t blog, don’t attend council, and don’t pay much heed to those things…until the moment to act comes.
    I suspect you will see more candidates stepping forward very soon now, the same way Frank DeJong did. ‘Person X is seriously considering” or ‘carefully considering her options’, etc.

  4. I agree with you, though for different reasons:

    “The next Leader of the GPC will be decided by an open, and vigorous contest, that will allow for an airing of our differences, a contest for the hearts and minds of the membership, and a reconciliation of our differences at the conclusion of the race”

    I couldn’t see a vigorous contest happening this far into a minority cycle and with so much invested in SGI already. If we are to have a leadership contest, let us make it meaningful, which in my opinion is best for us to happen directly after an election when a party is generally curious about change.

    Your contestant would be at a disadvantage unless you genuinely feel you can sign up 5000 new members. At this point, you would have limited access to the party membership and unless your campaign is strongly financed, would have a hard time even getting your basic info out to any substantial portion of the membership.

    After an election, items change. A victory in SGI would make it tough for your contestant, but obviously would be a boom to the party. A loss in SGI, and certainly EM would have to seriously consider running again in a contest opening up a very competitive race between your candidate and the other possible camps.

    This would be a real great opportunity for growth and regeneration.

    The strategy, which you believe your candidate would be able to deploy, would take at least two year to perfect, so I can’t even see why anyone would want to try and change guards before an election.

    You certainly would want to be perceived as forcing May out –which I have seen wiped out parties. (At least in BC.) as the last thing you want to do is have your candidate have to go into an election with a divided party and lose major backers or candidate right before. (If you think you have differences now..)

    Best to plan the timing right. Post election, we know no threat of election will occur. Members will be open for change. Candidates and there teams will naturally be ready to join up with the various camps and sign up members on your behalf.

  5. Dan – I think you have mistaken the Green Party of Canada with the US Democratic National Committee. Obama didn’t need 2 years to become President with a electoral base roughly 10x that of Canada. Running for Leader of the GPC will take less effort than that.

    What I fail to understand is what following the Constitution has to do with SGI. There is nothing in the member approved document that even mentions SGI let alone that the investments into that riding seem to supercede the Constitution.

    Further to that, why do the two items have to be connected in the first place? Stockwell Day was an unsuccessful Leader of the Alliance Party yet has had a very strong career as a senior Cabinet Minister post-Leader. Could Elizabeth not be the GPC’s Environment Critic (or eventually Minister) without being the Leader. Could the party not still continue to support a star candidate in SGI but remove the duties of Leader that keep her out of SGI?…. or is it that Elizabeth won’t continue to be a GPC candidate unless she’s Leader?

    As for your comment of no threat of an election post-election, recall 2008. We ended the election in October 2008 and just about had an election in December 2008. Since then, the mantra of the GPC is that the election is just around the corner. Hell, the fear mongering for 2010 was that we could have an election in the spring AND the fall (just so Council could be completely frozen and ineffective). Unless, of course, you are predicting a majority government (only Conservatives in position to do it) and then we’d have no threat of an election.

  6. @Dan
    Sure, we can all add up the numbers, and say that if A, then B, therefore C. But that pre-supposes a willingness to interpret the Party by-laws on the fly, for parochial advantage. Maybe we are making a gross strategic blunder, but if politics is the art of the possible, I believe it is possible to have a fair and open contest, the best possible outcome for my candidate, and respect our admittedly flawed by-laws. It won`t be much use winning if the culture of ànything goes has been cemented in place with yet another precedent. It`s part of what we are trying to achieve, PREDICTABLE and internally consistent governance.
    How could we be forcing out May, if there is a vote before all the membership? We are fully content to abide by the wishes of the membership, as expressed in an open contest. May can campaign on any theme she wants. But I don`t think that it would be very wise for her to characterise an open contest as a coup. Both an expression of weakness, and a slur on the membership before whom her leadership is being judged. So, if I am right, then in the event she loses, she will look at her options, study an enormous olive branch on the table in front of her, and make her personal decisions accordingly.
    If she wins, then she`ll have a much bigger Party, and membership base to fundraise from, and maybe, just maybe the Party will raise the half million extra dollars they need to balance the budget this year. She will also have learned that the membership is important, and that there are checks on council. Win or lose, expect that the Party will be keeping in touch with the membership from this year forward.

  7. Its true that instability runs on after the next general election.

    A majority remains pretty unlikely. For the Conservatives the possibility is dropping out of sight, and its no better for even the Liberals and NDP combined.

    In my opinion, the Conservatives are toast without a majority- even if they fall only 2 seats short… which would usually guarantee holding government.

    Whether that is true or not, whoever is in power will be parked next to the ejection button. VERY much so if the Conservations manage to hang on past a Throne Speech. But even a Liberal / NDP coalition or governing arrangement will be fraught with hazards of suddenly blowing apart under some scandal or other unexpected pressure, whatever the timelines of the nuptial agreements.

    plus ca change…

  8. “Obama didn’t need 2 years to become President with a electoral base roughly 10x that of Canada.”

    – Mark. Yes, he did. Starting in 2004 with his address to the DNC. Then into 2006 as the central campaigner with Rahm for the DNC candidates. Then in 2007 he made it official, by which time he had already was running off the ground with summer boot camps and such.

  9. Dan – I would encourage you to read David Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win. Plouffe, the campaign manager, was approached in late 2006 and Obama was ultimately elected in late 2008. Obama was just elected as Senator for Illinois in 2004 and was highlighted at the DNC convention. To associate his participation in the convention and later the 2006 election as the precursor to laying the foundation for a leadership run is a little premature.

    It’s like saying every volunteer working for the Green Party ultimately wants to be Leader. I can’t speak for all of them but I know I don’t. Some politicians just work to make the party better.

  10. @Dan&Mark

    I think that the truth lies somewhere in between. I’m sure that the ultimate intention was formed by Barrack Obama long before he ran for the Senate. It’s way easier to move through Congress if you’re young and ambitious, so the choice to run for the Senate was a relatively risky thing.
    As he progressed, the pieces fell together, and by the time Plouffe came along, I’m sure that the die was cast. Still, intentions, and action plans are two very different things, and there`s no doubt that the ground organisation took a full year to build.

    Turning back to the GPC leadership though, I have to disagree with Dan that it takes 2 years to get anything significant done. If you have a roadmap, and the will to succeed, then its a function of workload divided by willing helpers. The more people pulling together, the quicker the task happens. For the GPC, 20 organisers could transform the Party in 6 months, and there are far more than that number out there.

    As the old adage goes, the proof is in the pudding.

  11. Come on guys, don’t stretch the comparison with Barack Obama too far. The American government structure and party system is so different from Canada’s that it is really dangerous to draw lessons from them.

    For example, our fundraising rules are a thousand, hundred-thousand times tougher than their’s. Moreover, registering as a member of a political party in the USA requires nothing like the commitment that we take for granted here. Finally, we have very strong rules that keep third parties out of elections, they dominate politics there. And compared to a President, a Canadian Prime Minister with a majority is an absolute monarch.

    That is why it is so important to build strong, community-based EDAs in Canada if a party wants to grow. Those are the local “base communities” that give the party the resilience to survive the inevitable ups and down of politics. That’s why it is such a shame that the Council and May have refused to plough any of the popularity that party has been getting over the last few years into building EDAs. That popularity could tank any time and without those strong EDAs we won’t be able to “bounce back” like the other parties do when this sort of thing happens.

  12. I hope that all Party members will be able to vote on this motion, not just those who can afford to travel or who live close to or in Toronto. Without that, the Green Party cannot claim to be anywhere near democratic in its internal processes.

  13. @Stuart,
    It oughtn’t be a big secret, although many will have forgotten by now…
    The By-Laws will be voted on by in-person attendees only. Remember why the Pictou convention was in Pictou? because this change was carefully put in place, and the Central Nova loyalists were being relied upon to fix the rules properly. Obviously they didn’t, but it was almost certainly intended that they should.
    I will be supporting a motion at this BGM to introduce proxy voting. That will provide a re-balancing of power towards the EDA’s, and the membership. There is just too much effort put into tight control, and little being expended on serving the membership. Somehow, we have to take our Party back, and recreate it as a forum for creative thinking. Stuart, I don’t support everything that you stand for, but I vehemently support your rights to have your views respected, debated, and then judged by your peers. You, and I, and EMay, and every other Green should be accomodated, and tapped for input. Then the members should decide.

  14. Somewhere Stephen LaFrenie disagreed on this question of who votes on by-law amendments.

    No one has explained what has / has not happened.

    Prior to the Pictou BGM, was there proxy voting on amendments?

    Was there ever?

    It was expected that proxy voting would be brought in at that BGM? But it wasn’t?

    Is there a simple list of questions on which you have to be in [physical] attendance to vote?

    [And if it is not too much of a sidetrack- why is it called ‘proxy voting’ anyway? The normal understanding of proxy is the casting of a vote on behalf of another person who authorizes that to be done.]

    Strange customs.

  15. Ken:

    Very good questions.

    Prior to the Pictou BGM, was there proxy voting on amendments?

    Was there ever?

    No, the GPC has never had any sort of representative system in place. I have fought tooth and nail to have it instituted, but there has always been a group of “insiders” who manipulated the process to prevent it from being honestly discussed and voted upon by the plenary. This happened in Ontario too, but I managed to actually get it to the membership who happily passed it once they understood it. Several attempts have been made to remove it in Ontario, but the plenary always votes these resolutions down, so I think it is popular. I think that if a fair vote was held in the GPC, it would also pass and be popular.

    It was expected that proxy voting would be brought in at that BGM? But it wasn’t?

    I looked in the recently posted minutes of the BGM and I see what happened. At the begining of the meeting an ammendment to the rules of order was suggested that allowed a majority vote at a workshop to eliminated a suggested resolution.

    This is one of the ways that the “insiders” manipulate the process to undermine democracy within the GPC. Please note, that if something goes to workshop and has a potential of passing, a determined minority only has to pack the workshop and then vote it down. That way the resolution will fail without being discussed before the majority of members. The Bonser Method (which I invented) never intended to have votes during workshops. Instead, they are supposed to a situation where the resolution can be explained to people who don’t understand it, and where people can suggest ammendments that will raise the chance of it passing when taken to the plenary session.

    The person presenting the resolution should always have the option of declaring an ammendment “friendly” or “unfriendly”. Moreover, the presenter should be the person managing the meeting—not some some facilitator who feels obligated to let everyone have an equal voice. If you let everyone have an equal voice, the time often runs out without any useful discussion or bargaining having taken place. Insiders in political organizations often set up processes to waste time so they can use the clock as a weapon against reform.

    Is there a simple list of questions on which you have to be in [physical] attendance to vote?

    No, it is simply a system where a person who cannot attend a General Meeting finds someone they trust to represent them at the meeting. This is just like when you elect an MP to Ottawa.

    [And if it is not too much of a sidetrack- why is it called ‘proxy voting’ anyway? The normal understanding of proxy is the casting of a vote on behalf of another person who authorizes that to be done.]

    Proxy voting is a system I developed for the GPO to deal with several problems I have noticed over the years. It simply involves people from registered Constituency Associations (or EDAs federally) finding people who have pretty much the same way of looking at things who are going to attend the convention. They then sign some documentation to show that they have handed that person their proxy. Then when people get to the convention they hand in the proxy documents and are handed a voting “paddle” that records how many votes they carry. When they vote they don’t just raise their hands, but the paddles. When the votes are tallied the counters count the number on the paddle, not just the hand.

    I created the proxy system to deal with three problems.

    First of all, Green conventions tend to be dominated by “conference bunnies”. These are people who do absolutely nothing for the party except show up at conventions. Since the members who actually go out and knock on doors are already doing a lot for the party, going to a conference is just more time out of their lives so they often don’t go. The proxy system rewards people who build strong EDAs and have the confidence of those people who do do things for the party between conventions.

    Secondly, there are a lot of people who don’t live in areas where there are EDAs. Under a delegate system they would be frozen out of the process. With the proxy system they can show up and vote on their own behalf. They cannot bring proxies, though. Primarily, this is because it would be too hard to create a paper trail for these folks to ensure that the proxies are honest. Just as importantly, however, if someone can meet with others in order to get proxies, why can’t they organize and EDA? The proxy system encourages people to build the grassroots of the party. Finally, we don’t want a “superstar” class to emerge where people can collect proxies from all over the country (Elizabeth May could collect thousands.) Instead, we want people to be functioning members of their local EDA, which is why limiting the proxies to the people you work with between conventions to encourage them to get to know each other. Finally, some people are known and respected in their communities—they will get lots of proxies. Some others are known and ridiculed—they won’t get any. The proxy system hands the party over to the most respected members.

    Finally, delegate based systems have significant problems. First of all, they are sometimes really unfair to the membership because they are geography-based instead of population based. If each riding in Canada gets a delegate this is grotesquely unfair to Ontario where the vast majority of GPC members now live. Also, a geographic system gives no incentive for people to sell members in their EDA. The smaller the EDA membership, the greater the chance that they will be the delegate sent to the BGM. Finally, even when delegates are assigned based on the membership of the EDA, people often end up being represented by people that they absolutely loathe. When I was in the NDP our local EDA had 600 members, which gave up several delegates. These were voted on at meetings where it was rare to have more than 20 people show up. In the proxy system a person has to have a face-to-face connection with the person going to the BGM and specifically chose that person to represent them.

  16. Bill,
    Very interesting analysis, and proposal. I would like to post this comment as a seperate post, do you mind?

  17. Not at all. Send it to the four winds—.

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