Green Party Canada: Week 2 of the 2011 Election

So Sunday marked the end of week 2 of the 41’st General election, and I have to say this was not a remarkable week for the Green Party.
First off, there is the Debate on the Debate. As I mentioned last week, the issue generates some great positive publicity for the Green Party of Canada, but it does not go very far in giving Canadians a reason to vote for, donate to, or join the Green Party. That was the communications task for the National Campaign, and they didn’t put the puck in the net… The demand democracy site put up by the GPC to harvest petition signatories has added another 12,000 signatories since the initial 108,000 but that is pretty well it.  The landing page does a great job of arguing for inclusion in the debate, but I do not see how it advances the cause of the Green Party. While there is a ‘donate’ button, it is not central, it is kind of an afterthought. There are no links to the green party website, no policy statements, no call to action above and beyond the debate question.

This Mondays court challenge came and went so quick, I blinked and missed the media coverage. So the court challenge came and went, the issue stirred up a deal of noise, but I do not really see it having much of a direct impact on the election. In a sense, it may even be counterproductive. If you Google News ‘Green Party Canada’ you will see literally hundreds of articles about the debate, but it is pretty hard to find much else about platform, or issues. I wish Jim Harris were still there, he understands that when you get the spotlight, you squeeze it for measurable and quantifiable benefits. He would have been entreating Canadians to join the Green Party, donate, and make your voice heard, but that’s a whole another story… The debate is coming up fast, and Elizabeth May is still working it as hard as she can, but to what end I wonder? I guess she’ll get some great interview opportunities on debate night, I only pray that she uses them to highlight something OTHER than the debate about debates. After all, this is the only major national media coverage the GPC is likley to get once Elizabeth returns to SGI for the final stretch….

On a more positive front, the Green Party released their platform early in week 2, and it did actually garner some good media coverage. Elizabeth May took a sabbatical from the SGI Campaign, and campaigned Nationally for the week, so at least a smattering of local Campaigns did get some support from ‘head office’. There were a number of local appearances stacked back to back, and she did get local media coverage to add to the National coverage. It is not going to help much though, because people will only start tuning in at the end of this week, and if the GPC is not in the news next week, then all that has happened to date will be lost in the noise…

I guess there isn’t much more to say about the National Campaign, so let’s move over to what will have to replace it, the local Campaigns. In the past, I have been critical of the importance of electing a single MP, and much more interested in broadening the capacity, and organisational strength of the Green Party. I have been on the short end of that argument, (obviously, given that the only campaign objective is to elect Elizabeth May), and of course the jury is still out. I believed that with a growing number of Electoral District Associations with robust memberships, more Campaign experience, and above all, money in the bank, the opportunity existed to build on that strength. This process should have started with Geographical targetting and allocation of resources to build up the basic units of the Party, the local Riding associations. The key to local success is of course, a growing membership, and active local Electoral District Associations to build bridges to community groups, and pave the way for the next election. The Federal Party apparatus is the only conceivable organisation to start the ball rollimg, and provide the logistical and moral support for a grass -roots organisational effort. Nothing like this happened, at least not at the instigation of the National Party. In fact, membership has tanked over the past two years plus. Instead the focus has been on communications, and supporting a top down Party structure, replete with salaried communications staff, and 100% focus on the Leader’s public image. So how will this impact the Green Party’s chances in this election?

The Jury is still out, which is to say the electorate has yet to vote, but I am not very sanguine about local Green campaigns’ chances. From what I can see, about half of the electoral districts that achieved above average results in the past two elections are moribund, and have little or no presence. I live in Toronto, which was completely demoralised by the Green Party’s Leadership fiasco last summer, so perhaps it isn’t a fair sample, but I will have to say that the GPC is likely to drop a few percentage points in all of Toronto. Why? because without volunteers knocking on doors, securing local media coverage, putting up signs, delivering flyers etc, there IS no local campaign. Guelph, which once shared pride of place with Bruce Grey Owen Sound as the top Ontario Electoral Districts has lost some of their best people, including Mike Nagy. This can only be construed as a vote of non-confidence in the strategic direction, and Leadership of the GPC. You can count on Guelph dropping some support on EDay. In fact, with the wholesale defection of the Green Party of Canada’s organisers to the Green Party of Ontario, I think that Elizabeth May has made an unintended electoral gift of significant proportions to the Liberal Party. Off hand, I can think of a couple of hundred activists who moved over from the national, to the Provincial party. The result will be a further contraction, and softening of the GPC vote. (But just watch out for the next Provincial election in Ontario!)

Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu

Erich Jacoby Hawkins

This gloomy prognostication is not universally applicable. There will be some few Electoral districts where the local Campaign is well organised, and has leadership that is effective. Erich Jacoby-Hawkins, and the Barrie Greens are going to improve their vote, possibly quite dramatically. Ard Van Leeuwen, and the Dufferin Caledon Greens are going to increase their share of the vote, and I am betting they will surprise us all by just how much. In Toronto not all is lost. Adrianna Mugnatto-Hamu will be leading Toronto Danforth to a strong showing. Sylvie Lemieux, and her Campaign Manager, Jamie O’Grady will have a real impact in Glengarry Prescott Russell.  There will be other strong local Campaigns too, with capable and active Leadership effectively reaching out to their ridings.   I have no polling data, or

Lt. Col (RET) Sylvie Lemieux

any crystal ball to support these contentions, I am basing this conclusion on the fact that these are people that I know; People who are active year in and year out, building their EDA, and getting their message into their communities. They will not have the kind of impact that you get when your National Campaign is synchronised with the local campaign message, but they are Greens, and have never fought a campaign with the support of an effective Air War. This will be nothing new to them, and they will continue to grow and build for the next Campaign, under a new (or not?) Leadership.

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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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