I attended last night’s GPC Federal Council meeting as an Observer, and I can say one thing about it: I’m glad that I missed the Canada-USA hockey game. Not because the meeting proved to be more entertaining, but because it proved instead to be a much more useful endeavour. While the first part of the meeting was taken up with discussions and decisions related to financial issues, I’ll focus my comments only on the second part, which involved discussions and issues regarding the timing of the 2010 leadership contest. The outcome from these discussions with regards to the leadership contest issue will positively affect the direction of our Party for the next little while, after a recent period of indecision.
Some interesting points were made by some of the Councilors regarding whether the Party could legally hold a leadership contest before August 2010, due to the provisions in our Constitution which indicate that our leader shall serve a term which consists of 4 years. It was suggested at last night’s meeting, again, that if a leadership contest was called in advance of August, 2010, that it would force our current leader to resign for the duration of the contest, due to Elections Canada rules. I also understand that Federal Council, back in November 2009, may have been advised about this issue with Elections Canada legislation, in a report from Campaign Committee. Certainly those on the line last night heard more about a legal opinion having been offered at that time, although it was unclear whether the opinion was offered directly to Council, or was included as part of a report from Campaign Committee. Whatever it’s status, it looks like a solicitor had been asked to look at the issue of whether or not a leader would have to step down as leader during a leadership contest, and it sounds like the advice was "they should".
Now, I’m not an expert on Elections Canada legislation. I’ll confess, I’ve never looked at the legislation, nor do I really want to. A couple of particular sections were offered up last night for review, and it was also suggested that the intentions behind the writing of this legislation were to have written in such a "plain language" way that it is easy for lay-people to understand and interpret. Not having looked at it, I can’t offer my own opinion on it. What I can say, though, is that it sounds like at least one lawyer has looked at it and suggested that it would be wise for a leader to step aside during a leadership contest, despite the fact that our Constitution and by-laws do not require the leader to do so.
Clearly, and despite "plain language" legislation, there’s been a cloud hanging over the notion of whether Fed Council would be in violation of the Constitution if they called for a leadership contest to begin now (or soon) and end in August, given that to do so would lead to our Leader stepping down as a result of Elections Canada requirements. Although no further legal advice on this issue appears to have been sought prior to last night’s meeting, it appears that Council was aware of these issues and took them seriously.
At the end of the discussion, Council, for whatever reasons, decided not to begin the leadership contest process at this time. There was recognition around the virtual table that should the membership decide not to amend our by-laws at the August BGM, that the contest would have to begin and end before the calendar year 2010 was at an end, so that the contest would be in keeping with our current Constitution. It was acknowledged that if the membership decided to change the rules at the upcoming BGM, a leadership contest in 2010 may not need to be called at all. It was also acknowledged that the membership could change our by-laws for greater clarity in the future, but still require a contest to be held this time around, if that proves to be the will of the Membership.
Further discussion on a motion to hold a "leadership review" referendum at the upcoming August BGM was sensibly voted down by Federal Council. "Sensibly" is my own opinion, certainly, but the cons for holding such a "review" certainly outweigh the pro’s in my mind. Holding a review would lead to one of three outcomes: 1) acknowledging considerable support for our current leader (which I believe to be the likeliest outcome); 2) an outright rejection of our current leader; 3) a lukewarm acceptance of our current leader. If we end up with 2) or 3), where might that take us as a Party, potentially before a federal election?
It takes us into a situation where our Leader would likely resign and we would find ourselves in the midst of a leadership contest. And that to me is a bad location for us to find ourselves in this coming August. Yes, I realize that’s the same location where we may be headed anyway, if the membership reject changing our by-laws about the leadership contest. And that’s why I believe that we, the Members of the Green Party, need to address this issue at the BGM by changing the By-laws.
Clearly, there are problems in our By-laws. This conflict between our Constitution and Elections Canada rules is illustrative of that, regardless of whatever one’s legal interpretation is. By virtue of having to defer to the opinion of lawyers to figure out for us whether we can or can’t hold a leadership contest, well, to me that means we’ve got a problem. The requirements for holding a leadership contest should be black and white, and currently in our Party, the requirements are anything but black and white. This has to be resolved, and the only way to do it is by having the Membership step up in August and amend the By-laws.
Yes, we can do so in such a way that we still end up having a leadership contest this fall. Absolutely we can. But we should not, unless a Federal election takes place this spring or summer. If we go into a leadership contest during the fall, we risk creating a big question mark in the minds of voters regarding just what the heck we’re doing. I believe that the mainstream media will miss the nuances as to the WHY we’re having a contest, and instead focus on Greens being disgruntled with the current leader, even in a situation where the contest is called simply because our Constitution requires it. Or, a better outcome (but still not a good one) would be for very little coverage of the contest at all, the contest becoming largely a non-event. This could happen if only fringe candidates step forward. And ultimately that’s not good for the Party either.
The worst outcome, though, would be if the Party shot itself in the foot with a lukewarm leadership review in August (or a rejection) which then led to our leader resigning and a contest being called. Again, I applaud Council for deep-sixing the leadership review idea for the August BGM.
Now, I realize that some in our Party are going to be upset that a leadership contest is not going to be called right now. I would like to remind them that, despite deep-seated beliefs and understandings with regards to what our Constitution and By-laws say and mean, it’s not all clear that a contest has to end in August, as some have suggested. The actions of Fed Council are, therefore, in keeping with the Constitution. If we are to change our by-laws, it will be up to the Membership to do so, and I intend to go to the BGM and fight for those changes, and for holding off with a leadership contest until after the next Federal Election.
A plan which prioritizes the election of our leader, Elizabeth May, to parliament as the primary goal of the Party in the next Federal Election has, rightly or wrongly, received endorsement from the decision-making body of this Party (and, by the way, I think that it was "rightly" endorsed). Regardless as to whether you agree or not with this direction, the fact is that a lot of resources have already been dedicated to this course of action. We need to stay the course here. Yes, to some, we’ve put all of our eggs into one basket, and yes, I agree that failure now would be detrimental to the Party in the extreme. And to me that’s all the more reason to make this strategy work.
It’s time for the Party to come together now and work diligently to elect our Leader in Saanich-Gulf Islands. We need to support this effort, and we need to support Elizabeth May. It’s not the time to put into question her leadership, or to be seen to be putting it into question. These clouds which have hung over the Party need to disperse. With last night’s decisions by Federal Council, we can now proceed ahead with certainty on this course of action. If you don’t agree with it, I respect your opinion, and I feel for where you are coming from. But I nevertheless urge you to set aside whatever grievances you may have at this time, and work towards the articulated goals of Federal Council and the Campaign Plan.
Every ounce of intuition I possess (and yes, some here will say that’s not much at all, and maybe they’re right) tells me that this time, the present and near future, should be our time, the time for our Party to emerge from the fringes of the Canadian political scene and seize the initiative of change being offered to us from the old-line parties, who are devoid of meaningful ideas on how to address the issues which are coming towards us. It is our time to convince enough voters that we offer a real alternative, and I know that we should be able to do this. The election of even just one MP somewhere, anywhere, will provide the broader public with a perception of our legitimacy.
It’s time to move ahead now.
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