The Question for the Green Party is simple. Leadership contests, or Leader for Life?

The questions, and issues facing the Green Party of Canada at this summer’s convention are actually pretty simple. It is not a popularity contest, or a referendum on Elizabeth Mays leadership, although some people on BOTH sides of the debate are characterising it as such. The question is far more fundamental than that. The actions of the Leadership and council have cast it as a much starker choice. Do you want to eliminate provisions for leadership contests, and replace them with an indefinite term for the current, AND FUTURE leaders or not?

I have been through a bit of the history behind the current power play by Elizabeth May, and her coterie in previous posts. To encapsulate it, Federal council has been in a constantly renewed state of impending election panic pretty well since the last election. The federal council created a new management body of appointees called the Campaign Committee, which decided that ALL of the GPCs resources were to be dedicated towards electing Elizabeth May, somehwere, and they eventually settled on SGI.  Council decided that a leadership contest would be inconvenient at this time. So far, it all sounds logical, if undemocratic and secretive, to make these decisions in secret committees on behalf of the whole Party. Hey, it is how politics works, and I am sure it was purely incidental that the inner group would continue to receive salaries while the party organising staff all went to the wall to free up resources for SGI.

But what happens next is where it gets really sticky. The leadership starts to manouver around council and the committees to produce some peculiar outcomes. The Leadership paid lip service to the constitution and by-laws by striking a leadership race fairness committee to draft a set of rules for the mandated contest. Steve Kisby chaired the committee, but guess what? The committee never did a single thing. They did not even review the rules from the last leadership contest, until I pestered and pestered. Finally, I end ran them, and requested a copy from Mike Moreau, then chair of Federal Council, and he was good enough to ensure that I received a copy, and that the leadership election fairness committee received a copy as well. (literally months after the committee had been formed). When the time came to review their work, oh no! We cannot possibly get rules figured out in time!

Emergency mode. After much hand wringing, a couple more resignations from council, and debate about whether an election was going to happen in one week or two weeks, council decided to drag their heels, and yet another appointed committee, the Campaign Committee was tasked to draft a motion to place before the membership that would retro-actively legalise their decision to delay the leadership contest. Red herrings galore were strewn about concerning what the by-laws actually meant. Was 4 years equal to 4 years, or could it be twisted into meaning some time before the end of the fourth calendar year? At one point, according to council meeting minutes, Elizabeth May even argued that her employment contract governed over the constitution, and because her contract was up in August, she was guaranteed the legal authority and prerogatives of the Leadership by her contract! She was the only Lawyer on council you see, and it sounded very official when she said that was her legal opinion. Then there were all the references to so called legal opinions, which were never made public, and how the elections finance act prohibited this and that, again without reference to specific provisions of the act. Classic scare tactics for some of the poor ignorant rubes sitting on council.

Are you with me? The two substantive decisions were tasked respectively to the Fairness committee, and the Campaign committee, which are impenetrable, and directly under you know whos control.  Now the manoevering gets pretty clever, and timing becomes all. The Toronto Greens, and Trinity Spadina EDA who had been diligently renting convention space, and preparing for a leadership convention in Toronto are faced with a decision by council to scrap the leadership race. How can they prejudice the will of the membership, when council has decided they are going to scrap the race, and motions will be in front of the mebers to delay the Leadership contest? The membership might actually retroactively endorse their decision, so therefore, scrap the convention budget, and do NOT, repeat NOT prepare any plans for a leadership contest. Now enter stage left: The Campaign committee submits the long awaited council resolution, naturally at the last possible minute, and instead of calling for a Leadership race to be held after the next election, it calls for a leaderhsip REVIEW! You see, that is the masterstroke. By accident, or impeccable timing, council was persuaded to accept a permanent postponement of a leadership contest for the Green Party of Canada.

So there the Party was, and is. But what about all the prospective leadership candidates waiting in the wings? Well what about them, they can go jump in a lake. They do not sit on the Campaign Committee, they do not want to publicly declare due to Leadership contest finance and reporting rules of Elections Canada. Force majeur had been employed effectively. All except one of the prospective candidates meekly filed off the stage, and went to play tiddly winks somewhere else. One day, they are thinking to themselves, Elizabeth May will decide to quit, and THEN I shall have my chance! But Sylvie Lemieux is a feisty scrapper. She is motivated by the best interests of the Party, and whether she wins or loses, she wants to ensure that there will be an actual contest. So Sylvie drafts a Resolution to put before the membership directing Federal Council to implement the terms of the Constitution currently in effect, and prepare an actual Leadership contest. The motion acknowledges that the Leadership has eliminated the possibility of a race this year, and allows for possible general elections in between, or during the contest, and what is the response of Elizabeth

Huguette Allen

Huguette Allen

May? Well, every member of the Green Party received  A Note from Elizabeth May, oozing righteous indignation that an attempt to force her resignation was brewing for the BGM! That this was an improper use of Party resources, and the falsehoods DID actually bother a number of councillors. In fact, it prompted another resignation from council in protest, Huguette Allen. While Huguettes resignation was principled, and the correct action for her to take, unfortunately it will only serve to reinforce the Leaders power over the Party machinery.

The other wheels started turning, and the Friends of Elizabeth May started in on their campaign to stack council, and ensure that an Indefinite term for the leader was adopted by the membership. That is not hyperbole on my part. A copy of the email being circulated to green party mailing lists came into my hands, and you can see for yourself here: Friends of Elizabeth May.

The vilification and dirty tricks campaign swung into gear, with accusations from anonymous Elizabeth May supporters, and not so anonymous ones.  So far, the accusations have included one of the oldest trick in Elizabeth Mays bag. Sylvie is the tool of misogynists, and dark forces. This is an accusation that can, and has been quietly levelled against any male critics of Elizabeth May, and Adrianne Carr for years now. Another current false accusation has been that a recent email broadcast made to EDA executives and candidates by Slvie Lemieux’ team was actually made to a membership list stolen from the Party. This  was initially published on a list serve of all EDA executives in the Green Party of Canada, and then picked up and publicly repeated by some more open May loyalists in public blogs.  This is completely false of course, as all EDA executives and candidates have their contact information published on Elections Canada websites, and the Green Party websites for all to see. But in politics, assaults on character do not need to be true to be effective. Decidedly NOT the Green way of doing things, but I guess I have been calling for greens to borrow professional tactics from the other party’s , so who am I to complain? lol

And do you want to know the saddest thing of all? All these slanders and vitriol being spilled are completely unneccessary. The whole Leader for Life thing is based on a failed analysis by the Campaign committee that the Party needed to ensure Elizabeth May was an unchallengable leader for the expected 2010 general election. So far, Federal Council has formally transferred $275,000 to the SGI campaign for pre-writ spending! That figure is the direct transfers, and does not include the costs of re-assigning all the Party salaried organisers left on the books to support the SGI campaign. $30,000 per month were being transferred, and no contingency plans exist for the current situation. No plans for the Party anyway, although clearly there is a well conceived plan to ensure the unchallenged, and indefinite contunuance of Elizabeth May’s tenure as leader.

All of this while the sprirt of the constitution is pretty clear. If council numbers weren’t filled out with place servers, they would have recognised that a leadership contest was not the end of the world. It would have been a very good thing for the Party to be hosting a leadership convention in 3 weeks in Toronto.  A well run, and honest campaign by Elizabeth May, highlighting her strengths might have breathed new life into her campaign to win a seat in SGI. The GPC would have honoured it’s constitution, the Party would have registered perhaps a thousand delegates for the Toronto BGM, instead of the paltry figure now being bandied about of less than 200. The BGM will now be a financial albatross around the Party’s neck, and a failed media event, instead of the much needed boost anticipated by the Party and BGM organisers a year ago.

And all of this is to ensure that Elizabeth May need never face a challenger for the leadership again? No wonder the membership has now dropped below 8,000. No wonder Candidates are quitting in droves, and EDA’s are failing for lack of activists to run them. Even paper activists are just not bothering to file their returns, and dozens of EDA’s are being de-registered by EC with every passing filing deadline. The GPC does not exist in Quebec any more. The bulk of Ontario is following, with the notable exception of the Ottawa region. Alberta? Formerly one of the strongest electoral region for the GPC? I don’t even want to talk about it. It is gone, gone, gone.

BC is a relatively good story. About 75% of the BC Greens have latched on to the SGI candidacy as a magic rejuvenating potion. There is a ton of resentment towards the leadership there, but it is tempered with a healthy dose of self interest. The East Coast Greens? What east coast Greens is all I can say. Elizabeth’s attempt to build a regional base in Central Nova is last weeks news. It never happened, so change the channel quick. A couple of hundred new members, who are not renewing their membership is all the Party has to show for it’s huge investments ‘down east’.

As you may have gathered from the above, I have been working the phones, and canvassing Greens across the country. These comments are purely anecdotal in nature, and I will not be publishing the tabulated results of my work. They are pretty representative of what I am hearing though. Over the course of this year, the last gasp of breath will have been drawn in about 100 EDA’s in Canada. It is not too late yet for 25% of the Party,  Sept 1 will either mark their re-engagement, or their final departure. And that will be the end result of all the hyperbole, and seat of the pants management of our affairs.

So I ask you, will YOU be voting for an indefinite extension of the status quo? Cast you E-Vote by monday. Do not vote for Sylvie Lemieux, and do not vote for Elizabeth May. Vote to ensure there will be future leadership contests, and think about the big picture for a change.

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Some Good news for the Green Party of Canada!

At last I can put aside my griping and complaints, and tell you all that there is some very good news around the corner. This August, here in Toronto, the Green Party will be voting on a motion to honour our constitution, and hold a leadership race to finally clear the air for the Green Party of Canada. I know, I know, it seems very strange that we have to hold a vote to agree to follow the rules. For those of you who could bear to watch it, the last year has been like a slow motion Constitutional train wreck. Turn back the clock 12 months, and across the country, hundreds of activists were quietly preparing the ground for the mandated Leadership contest. Ambitous and thoughtful politicians were quietly buying memberships, and groups were forming to prepare the grounds for a contest of ideas. You see, the Green Party of Canada has long held the belief that we do politics differently. Leadership races were constitutionally mandated to happen every two years, so that there would be an opportunity to engage the party membership, and to decide on the future direction of the Party through the medium of a hotly contested leadership race. There has never been any fear that the contest would lack for contestants! Oh, no…Not in the Green Party. Like any other Party, there are many competing people, ideas, and visions within our ranks. The sometimes messy process of resolving our differences is guaranteed to bring contestants, and the ideas that they champion out into full and open view for the membership to pass judgement on. Frankly, in the absence of a mandated race, the Green Party of Canada would probably be captured by a governing clique that writes the rules in their favour, and could never be budged from their positions by any legitimate process. There would be no other mechanisms within the Party to channel disaffection into, and the Party would fracture and melt away, one isolated and vilified member at a time….

Some History for you to contemplate:

In the same year that Elizabeth may was elected leader, the Party membership decided to adapt the two year term to match the new elections law that mandated a general election every 4 years. and we revised our Constitution to hold a madatory Leadership contest every 4 years instead of every two. This was a delightful windfall for Elizabeth May, as it enabled her to write an employment contract with a full salary for 4 years, ending this August, instead of the two years she had campaigned for, and won. Was this a mistake? Did we really intend that a ruling clique should be formed, dispensing employment contracts, and spending 4 years cementing their position in charge of the purse strings? I don’t think so, but with the guarantee that the members would have the ultimate authority, we would have the opportunity to correct any mistakes made on this score.

The Context of the current leadership race:

Our constitution is very clear and concise. There shall be a leadership contest in 2010. Period. Council is entrusted with setting the terms and conditions under which the contest shall be held. For this reason, a Leadership Election committee was struck last year by Federal Council, and tasked with drafting the rules of a contest to be presented to, and endorsed by the council in general session. Problem is, that this committee was made up from the ranks of sitting council members. Remember that over a 4 year period, there have been a number of council members (including ex-officio members), with full time salaries dependant upon maintaining the status quo. I cannot say if there was any undue influence exerted, after all, who can say what was said between these 5 or 6 councillors in the convoluted world of Green Party council politics? What I CAN say, is that the committee never held a substantive meeting, and has not put forward a plan of action, should the constitutionally mandated race actually come to pass. With the passage of time, and for subsequent council meetings, varying arguments were put forward that a leadership race would be problematic. After all, a general election was always imminent, and practical considerations trumped any legal niceties like observing the history, and traditional governing mechanisms of our Party. The governing clique decided to channel all of the resources of the party into an effort to get the leader elected, through the medium of our new, unelected governing body, the ‘Campaign Committee’. A plan was hatched to eliminate the Leadership race, by changing it into a review mechanism, and all efforts were turned towards eliminating any formal contest for the forseeable future. For this purpose, council drafted a motion to be presented at the upcoming BGM in Toronto in August that mandated a periodic Leadership Review, instead of an actual contest. The Leadership clique has done their homework well. The

Frank De Jong

lessons of the Green Party of Ontario were there for all to see. There are two reasons why Frank De Jong of the Green Party of Ontario was the longest serving leader of any Green Party in the World. Reason one is that he did not face a Leadership challenge, he faced a periodic review, with miniscule turnouts, which allowed him the comfort of choosing his own fate. Reason two is that Frank is personable, and genial. He just never did anything nasty enough to motivate large numbers of people to organise a massive campaign twice. Once to mobilise the GPO membership for a review vote, and the second time to organise an actual leadership campaign to replace Frank. It was only when Frank decided, under enormous pressure in the backrooms of the GPO to resign and seek the Leadership of the Green Party of Canada that an actual, well a one man contest for a new leader took place in the GPO. If the review motion passes at the BGM, then this is to be the future of the GPC. No more vigorous debate, and open contests. No more airing of our differences, and a decision rendered by the membership. Instead we shall face secretive committees, and very parochial interests setting the terms and conditions of their continued employment, well out of public view.

The Leadership race is publicly ON.

On June 29, an email publicly launching Elizabeth May’s bid to retain the leadership, without an actual contest was sent on Green party letterhead to the mailing list of the Green Party of Canada. A Note from Elizabeth May, and I quote Elizabeth May from the letter:

” This time there is no misunderstanding how fundamental the issues are. Some resolutions would cause an immediate leadership race, forcing me to
resign — even before the next election.”

Wow! Sounds like a coup d’Etat doesn’t it? The resolution which she claims will force her to resign, is quite simply a resolution to enforce the current, and legally binding constitution of the Green Party of Canada. She knew when she was elected leader that she had 2 years at the helm. By a fortuitous turn of events, she was granted an additionlal 2 years employment by the extension the leadership term. She has had not one, but TWO elections, including the London North Centre by-election fiasco. And now malcontents, and trouble makers dare to put resolutions forward that would limit her freedom of action? I agree with Elizabeth May, this time there IS NO MISUNDERSTANDING how fundamental the issues are. Either we are governed by our Constitution, or at the convenience of the entrenched leadership clique. And kindly tell me why the Green party of Canada is handing over the membership lists, and sending emails on behalf of a presumed candidate for the Leadership? Am I the only one to take umbrage with this misuse of party resources? Yes, we are definitely in the throes of, and I guess I will have to coin the phrase, a PRE-leadership race, and this email is misleading, and inappropriately dirty politics. Enough on that, I had the firm intention of focussing on the positive in this post, and just look where my temper is taking me.

On the other hand, there is in fact a resolution to enforce the current constitution on the table at the BGM. It is sponsored by Sylvie Lemieux, and as an aside, I would say that she will make an excellent manager, and leader

Sylvie Lemieux: The next Leader?

of the Green Party of Canada, provided we can ensure an actual race happens. Hey don’t take my word for it, check out this youtube video, and be sure to visit her site and volunteer! So you can understand more fully why a positive re-affirmation is needed to enforce our constitution, you need only consider what I have written above. Every effort has been expended by the current leadership to avoid a race. Council has refused to execute their constitutionally mandated duties, and prepare the Party for a race. There can be no argument that a race was impossible, and impractical if there is a positive re-affirmatiion by the membership. You see what our party is reduced to? Having to play at politics to ensure that there is no escape hatch for an embattled leadership, should they actually have to do the unthinkable, and surrender their positions in a fair and open contest. Yes, exactly, LET THERE BE NO MISUNDERSTANDINGS! Federal council is now forced to plan for the contingency that the constitution may be enforced. They will face legal sanctions if they fail to plan now, and no sympathy for the argument that a leadership race was impossible.

Why YOU should vote for a Leadership race:

For all of us old Party hands, the reasons why a Leadership race is an incredible boon for the Green Party of Canada are blatantly obvious.  For those of my readers who have never been involved in a political Party, I will re-iterate them here.

1) A leadership race draws a plethora of Party activists out of the woodwork. It is a rare opportunity for real honest to goodness contact between the wider membership. The membership lists are thrown open to the candidates teams, and these people are actually willing and able to reach out to the members, and engage them in political work and debate. If you are a member, ask yourself when was the last time that somebody from head office called you to actually ask you what you thought of the issues of the day, and actively encourage your input and energy? How often do you make contact with Greens outside your own narrow circles, and actually discuss what direction YOU would like to see the party moving in? A leadership race engages, and motivates the membership to participate, and to remember that it isn’t for some faction or other to decide behind closed doors, it is for YOU the members to decide the question: Where are we going?

2) A Leadership race creates a big surge in memberships. And to put it bluntly, the Party needs that more than ever right now.  The number of active members is significantly lower today than at any time since the last leadership race. We are in a financial tailspin, and the root cause is that membership is losing its appeal. I will not get into pointing fingers, or laying the blame for it. The time is long past for criticism like that. What we really need is a choice of strong positive visions for where we should be going. We need to reach out to ALL Canadians who share our ideas, ask them to join our Party, and help us to make our shared visions a reality! We need to generate the excitement, and interest that comes with vigorous debate, grow our membership lists, and get about the business of preparing on the ground for the next election.

3) The media loves nothing like a leadership race. For years now, the Green party of Canada has been synonomous with Elizabeth May in the broadcast medias eyes. It is time to remind the electorate, through the media that there is far more to the Green party than a leadership cult. Assuming all the teams that have been organising for a year or more actually field their candidates, there will be a gratifying choice of competing visions to tempt the electorate with.  Men and Women, Francophone, and Anglophones. Representing Eastern, Western, and Central canada. Surely a great opportunity to spread our positive mesages to all Canadians, irrespective of their gender, or regional bias.

On July 13, all paid up members received an email with online voting instructions. Please go dig up the email right now, and go and vote on this resolution (note: You must be a member to access the members zone) to hold a leadership race, and go to this resolution and vote AGAINST a leadership review. Please do not be deceived that you are throwing Elizabeth May out. She will have exactly the same opportunities that all the other candidates will have. To face the membership, and convince you that she is the best choice for the Green Party. If you want to vote for her, by all means! Just do not give up your chance to make that choice in the first place. It may be a very long time before you get another chance to make your opinions, and ideas known.

I guess I should come clean here too, I am not disinterested in the outcome of this race. (Surprise surprise!) A year ago I even expected to play an important part in the upcoming contest, but now I have found my personal commitments, and the pressures of a new business enterprise will not leave me with sufficient time to play the role I had envisioned. It won’t stop me from cheering from the sidelines though, and while I have a favoured Candidate, there are at last count three very engaging candidates in the wings, and I will happily pledge my loyalty to whichever of them emerges as the winner.

And in conclusion, I have a plea to make to our Leader. Set aside your fear of facing a contest, and do the right thing for the Party. It will not be the end of the world if you have to face the membership, and really start organising for a national campaign. You have complained of having to give up your salary for the 6 or 8 week duration of a race, but you weren’t promised a job for life. The Party does not owe you a living, it owes you a fair chance, and an open contest. Why can you not simply bite the bullet and put your best foot forward?

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