Friday, February 26, 2010

The Coming Energy Shortage, Part 2: Me & My Community

I started writing the following blog post, intending that this be a discussion on what I perceive to be the impacts of peak of oil on the City in which I live. Instead, what I’ve ended up with is a lot of personalized background information about my community, and the lens through which it is viewed by me (my "bias" for lack of a better term).

Please consider this "background information" for the next post, which will deal with my observations on how I anticipate the coming energy crisis will impact my community.

You may not have to read this to follow along with the next post, and given the length of this post, you might not want to anyway. But, if you do read, hopefully you'll have a little bit better understanding of me, my values, and the way in which I perceive certain aspects of my community.


I did something unusual today: I took the car into work this morning. I parked downtown at the parking garage attached to the Rainbow Centre Mall, as they seem to have the best parking rate in Sudbury’s downtown. Today, it was cheaper for me to take the car in, because I was saving my wife a trip on the bus as well. Her one-way bus fare plus fare for me two ways would actually exceed the price of parking, hence the car made for a better choice, financially. And as a time-saver too. The trip downtown took less than 5 minutes by car from our house. Usually, I take the bus to work in the mornings, and have it deposit me right across the street from the 7-storey office building that I work in, which is convenient, but still takes about 20 minutes. The return bus ride though is a little shorter, at about 15 minutes. That’s if the bus isn’t stopped by one of the many trains which traverse our downtown. And since I like to read on the bus, the extra time isn’t such a big deal for me. Still, though, driving my car to work is unusual for me.

My commuting habits haven’t changed considerably throughout my lifetime. Growing up, I always walked to school. Luckily, my schools were located fairly close to my parent’s home in the J-Section of Bramalea. I went off to Ryerson for University, while still living at home. My commute usually involved hitching a ride to the GO-Train station with my father or sister in the mornings, and then hopping on the Georgetown line for the train trip into the City, then walk through the underground as far as the Atrium north of Dundas and I was pretty much at Jorgensen Hall, just behind the Yonge Street strip. On lazier days I’d hop on the subway at Union and take it up to Dundas.

Later, I moved to the City and lived at Yonge & Eglinton for a few years, while working at College and Bay. I had a sweet commute, as my apartment building sat on top of the Yonge-Eglinton Centre, which sits on top of Eglinton Station. College Park sits on top of College Station. I didn’t actually have to go outside to get to work. I used to wear shorts to the office on Casual Day (up until the time that the subway went out of service at Rosedale Station on that -20 degree January day). From there, I moved to an apartment building just off of Bathurst, north of Finch. The bus stop was right in front, and I’d ride the bus to Finch Station, and take the subway south. Then, I moved to Sudbury and bought a house with a bus stop right in front.

I didn’t actually own a car until I moved to Sudbury. Despite the proximity of the bus to my home and office, I figured that there may be a few things that I would need a car for. About 250,000 km’s later, I’m glad that I purchased my little Cavalier; it’s come in handy living in this City, even though I don’t take it to work very often at all.

I wonder: is my commuting experience typical? For me, it’s always been about public transit and walking, and at every opportunity, finding a reason to leave the car at home or at the very least dump it part way to a destination where parking is free. But is that an atypical experience?

Most of the people that I work with in this office drive their cars to work. Yes, a few take the bus, but we’re in the minority. I don’t think anybody walks here, except for me, and that’s only on occasion (I probably should do it a little more often, but I can’t walk and read at the same time). In the summer, I try to take my bike as often as I can, but you take your life into your own hands if you bike in this City, unless you’re prepared to ride it on the sidewalks, which you shouldn’t be doing, but it’s awfully tempting because the sidewalks are typically devoid of pedestrians outside of the downtown.

Let me tell you a little bit about the City of Greater Sudbury. It’s the biggest municipality in all of Ontario, and the second biggest in Canada, in terms of size. There are about 155,000 people who live here. The City is composed of a number of communities, with the former City of Sudbury being the most populous (about 90,000 people). The City of Greater Sudbury came into being back in 2000 when the municipalities which made up the former Region of Sudbury were forcibly amalgamated by the provincial government.
The former City of Sudbury is comprised of many neighbourhoods. Some, like the one in which I live (The West End), are older and more compact, and have quite a mix of built form. Others, like New Sudbury, are traditional 1960s and 70s style suburban areas. Although subdivisions continued to be built throughout the 1980s and 90s, the population of the City has actually decreased from the early 1970s, which has meant that the overall level of suburbanization hasn’t been as significant here as it has in say my old hometown of Brampton, which is almost all one big suburb. All in all, Sudbury has a little bit of a smaller urban footprint than most Ontario municipalities.

Besides the former City of Sudbury, there are a number of smaller communities, which we here in the central area refer to as "the outlying areas". Some of these communities are pretty big in their own right: Chelmsford, are largely francophone community of about 15,000, is a fairly compact little community. There are, however, a number of other communities which are largely rural strip development sprawling out in four directions from a central commercial crossroads, where large lots with wells and septics rule, such as Val Caron and Garson. And then there are some smaller communities, built to house miners, such as Copper Cliff and Coniston.
It takes about 45 minutes to travel east to west through Greater Sudbury, and that’s if you hit the lights right. Although two thirds of the City’s population is located in the former City of Sudbury, most people drive their cars to work, as a good portion of even the former City is primarily low density. And, cars are often necessary to get to some of the more popular locations to work: Vale and Xstrata (formerly Inco and Falconbridge) are located on the urban fringes; Laurentian University is tucked away in the middle of nowhere down a long and windy road; the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines’ main office is along the same road, while the Ministry of Natural Resources is out in a very rural area along the highway. The Federal Taxation Centre, while in town, is at the corner of a suburban crossroads, where you have to dodge 8 lanes of traffic if you’re a pedestrian. Yes, there is a vibrant downtown where some offices are located, including City Hall, and my own, but it’s fair to say that our businesses are somewhat spread out.

If you want to shop, well, chances are you’re not going to go to the Rainbow Centre Mall that I parked my car at. There’s a reason that they have the best parking rates in the downtown; they offer 3-hours of free parking to entice shoppers, but everyone who parks there benefits (hey, I bought a coffee this morning from the only place left on the upper floor who’s still in business). Currently, about half of the commercial space is empty, and the owners have been vigorously renovating parts of the mall, converting it to office space, which they seem to be able to fill. When the plunked this mall down in the early 70s, long before I came to town, I understand that they did so as part of an urban renewal initiative, getting rid of an area of town which, although somewhat vibrant, had a bit of a negative reputation. Like many downtown malls, initially it ended up sucking the pedestrians off of the street, and the little stores along the main roads began to close. Of course, ultimately the anchor stores abandoned the little downtown mall, fleeing to suburban New Sudbury or the Four Corners, leaving the downtown mall a hollowed-out building surrounded by a hollowed-out downtown. Not an unusual story at all.

Our downtown in Sudbury has a bit of an unsavoury reputation. People are often seen just "hanging out" downtown; there’s a perception that crime is concentrated here (which is nonsense, as there is crime everywhere). People say that they won’t come to to the downtown, because it’s not safe and it costs too much to park and there’s nothing here anyway. That’s not my perception, but it is a prevalent one. I happen to think that the downtown has been doing a decent job of revitalizing itself over the past decade. There are many places at which I enjoy shopping and eating, and recreating at. Nevertheless, the perception remains, even by those who inhabit the downtown’s offices during the daylight hours.

Most of the shopping that’s done in Sudbury occurs at the New Sudbury Mall, which has a recently expanded Wal-Mart. There’s a Power Centre with a Costco and a movie complex out on the fringe of the City too. And recently, another Wal-Mart opened up down by the by-pass where few people live. Grocery stores are located almost entirely in the suburbs, except for a run-down little one in the Flour Mill, and a newer Loblaws-owned one which opened not too far from the downtown, but on the other side of the train tracks, so really it’s only accessible on foot or bike from one part of the City. They used to have a bike rack there for people to park at, but a customer tripped over one day and maybe threatened to sue or something, so they took it out. It does have a nice parking lot though where they set up a garden centre in the spring and summertime.

When I bought my house initially, I had to ask my neighbours why the front parts of everyone’s driveways looked like they’d been resurfaced on the cheap. Turns out they had been. A few years before I moved here, the City came along and tore up the sidewalks in front of everyone’s home along one side of the road, leaving only a single sidewalk. This was done quite often in older parts of town, in an initiative to catch up to current development standards, as the newer subdivisions usually didn’t have any sidewalks at all. And why not tear out the sidewalks? It made perfect economic sense. Rather than the City having to plow sidewalks on both sides of street in the winter time, they’d just plow one. No one really uses the sidewalks anyway, besides maybe a few kids in the mornings and afternoons, going to and from schools (although most kids in Sudbury take a bus to and from school).

Land widths throughout Sudbury have a bit of a reputation of being narrow when compared to suburban streets in Mississauga or Pickering (although I think streets here have actually been getting wider). Sidewalks, where they exist, are flush up against the curb; they aren’t separated by a patch of grass from the street. When you walk along a sidewalk, you feel like you’re walking in traffic, especially when a driveway or other entrance angles the sidewalk down towards the street. The sidewalks are anything but straight, but they are somewhat narrow. No wonder very few people walk on them.

But by and large pedestrians in Sudbury have it pretty good when compared to those who choose to brave it out by riding bikes. There is very little bike infrastructure anywhere in the City. We have one road with a seasonal bike lane; there’s another part of another major road where a narrow path exists between the sidewalk and the road for two-way bike traffic, which admittedly is probably safer to use than trying to bike on the narrow street in these locations. The worst part about biking, though, isn’t the narrow lanes or lack of infrastructure; it’s the fact that drivers just aren’t expecting bikers to be on the road, because there are so few of them anyway, and it seems like such a ridiculous thing to want to do in the first place.

Cars, though, have it pretty good. All intersections are designed for the safe and efficient flow of traffic. There are no signalized pedestrian crosswalks in the City; where there are crosswalks, cars have the right of way. At some intersections, pedestrians are only allowed to cross on two corners, to better facilitate left-hand turns. Cars always have the right away (actually, that’s not true: in Sudbury, trains always have the right of way, as just about all rail crossings are level crossings...we have a massive railyard right in the downtown, but the VIA rail station re-located to a suburban stop on the line which you can’t get to on the bus).

Back in the 40s and 50s, there used to be a streetcar line which you could take for quite some distance, but that’s all gone now. For what it is, I find that the City’s transit system is pretty good, and services the far-flung areas of our City as best it can (although I might have a different perspective on that if I had to wait for 2 hours to catch a bus in Val Caron). Most buses, though, are half empty, unless going to or from the University or the one of Sudbury’s two colleges, both located in suburban areas of the City. I guess most students really don’t have a choice.

I attended workshop not long ago on the development of a Sustainable Mobility Plan for the City. Apparently, one third of the people in Sudbury don’t drive. Yet, for the most part, our community is designed to facilitate the movement of cars. Especially in the winter.

If the picture I’m painting of my City isn’t the most flattering, it’s for a few reasons. First, I wanted to paint this picture not to illustrate all of the charm of my community, but rather to show that I, someone who has always tried to leave the car at home when it comes to commuting, inhabit a City which is built for the car. I sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land here (especially when I ride my bike to work!). My City has a lot of charm and character, and there are a lot of good things about it. But our car-dependency and outright hostility to pedestrians and cyclists leaves a lot to be desired. But then again, I expect that’s really little different from a good number of Canadian communities. We don’t have a monopoly on car-dependency here.

What’s going to happen to my City, though, when fewer and fewer people can’t afford to drive their cars? Or heat their homes? What might happen to our food supply, given that Sudbury is located about 4 hours north of Toronto by truck (and that we produce very little of our own food here, despite having some pretty good agricultural land in "the Valley" formed by the centre of the meteor crater on whose lip the former City of Sudbury sits).
How will the looming energy crisis effect people’s jobs, and their engagement with government? What about poverty and housing issues?

I’ll try to discuss these potential impacts in my next post (or at least I’ll offer my opinion on what I perceive the impacts will be like). All in all, I’m concerned about my northern community’s future.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Coming Energy Shortage, Part 1: Conversations About Peak Oil

I’ve been very focussed on the inner-workings of the Green Party’s Federal Council in my blog over the last several months. Now that there has been a decision on the leadership contest issue, it’s time for me to turn my attentions elsewhere, and hopefully to matters which will be of interest to a bit of a wider audience (not that I haven’t enjoyed getting into the weedy discussions we’ve been having about internal party politics).

Yesterday, I was reading about how the price of gasoline is projected to rise to about $1.12 this summer time. That surprised me a little bit, because I’ve been telling my wife for some time now that we should be expecting gas prices to be up near $1.30 to $1.40, as the economy has started to pick up again. Apparently what I hadn’t considered in my personal calculations is the fact that North American reserves have increased a fair bit as a result of the recession, and North American processing plants are apparently running at only 80% capacity. Further, a strong Canadian dollar is also impacting price. Some experts are saying that this means that the price of gas shouldn’t really have to rise at all, but given that it’s summer and there’s profit to be made, they’re still predicting a modest rise (I think I read that in 22 of the past 24 Aprils, gas prices rose).

This is probably good news for our economy. I say "probably" because this modest rise means that we likely will put off having a serious discussion about the looming energy shortage until we start to experience a bigger hit to our wallets. Now, I’m no expert, and maybe that’s why I’m concerned about an energy shortage. It seems that the "experts" aren’t exactly ready to concede that we’re running out of cheap oil and gas, but a few heavy-weight voices have chimed in recently. Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin-this-that-and-the-other-thing, recently rang an alarm bell about peak oil. Since this guy owns an airline, he’s probably quite concerned about where all of this leading.

When gazing into my crystal ball at the beginning of this year, I made a prediction that the world would start becoming more familiar with the term "peak oil" in 2009, as I expected to hear more conversations around this topic. So far, that prediction seems to be coming true, however it was predicated on sky-rocketing prices at the pumps this summer, similar to those experienced back in 2008. That may still happen, but it seems that the economic circumstances might not be similar enough, given that the economy was in full boom mode back in ‘08, and we’re now just lurching out of a recession.

Even if we manage to avoid having to think too much about peak oil in 2009, certainly as the global economy begins to pick up more steam, the issue will have to move to the front burner. While I keep hearing about all of these new discoveries of huge fields which will stretch our global reserves for at least another 40 years, I also keep hearing about how global production has plateaued (although this may also be because of the recession). Who is one supposed to believe? Normally, at times like this, I’d advocate that we all take a close and independent look at the facts to get a true story, but in this case, the "facts" may not be so factual, as we’re relying on a very narrow range of data provided by multi-national corporations and oil producing nations themselves. As we know, these guys have an interest in over-stating their reserves, so that they continue to appear more financially viable over a longer term. Can we trust their reporting? Many don’t, and I’m certainly going to take their numbers with a lot of grains of salt (as much salt, maybe, as in the sea water the Saudi’s are pumping into the Ghawar field to get out the last drop of oil).

In the next few blog posts, I’d like to explore what I think the impacts of peak oil on my community, my region and my country might mean. I’ve been giving this all some thought as I walk along the sidewalks of my hometown of Sudbury, contemplating whether my City is resilient enough to inhabit a world where only the wealthy can afford to drive. Then, I think more broadly about Northern Ontario, which is both like and not like Sudbury. And finally, what about Canada? Is it right to even think about something called "Canada" in a future of high-priced energy resources?

It saddens me to think that we’re likely going to lose more time before initiating the adult conversations we need to have around the subject of peak oil. Energy prices are only going to go up, there’s no avoiding that. Why aren’t we preparing? Why do we continue to want to believe that tomorrow is going to be like today?

Well, at least there might be some room for the latest economic recovery to take hold. That’s pretty good news I suppose, even for those out there who believe that the capitalist economic system we inhabit is unsustainable in the mid- to long-term.

To Be Continued in Part 2...

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Clouds Begin To Disperse, as Fed Council Makes the Right Decisions on Leadership Contest Issues

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.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Federal Council Commits to Resolving Leadership Contest Question

Faced with a number of conflicting and contradictory motions at tonight's Federal Council meeting regarding the current leadership contest matter, Council opted to defer making a decision, but set a firm date to resolve this matter. Citing a lack of consultation with the Membership, and receipt of some of the motions only the day before, those in favour of deferral nevertheless voiced their determination to put this matter to bed at the very next Federal Council meeting, scheduled for February 21st. Others wanted to move ahead with the motions tonight. It was clear to me, though, that all on Council recognize that the issues around the leadership contest have begun to weigh heavy on the Party. I am very happy that there is a clear and final commitment to resolve this matter once and for all.

There are 4 motions which will be debated at the February 21st meeting. While each motion is constructed slightly differently, the matters in question boil down to just a number of issues, which I'll highlight here.

First, do we hold a leadership contest now, to culminate in a vote at the Toronto Biennial General Meeting in August? Our Party's Constitution requires a leadership contest to begin sometime in 2010 – there is great debate around whether that means the contest needs to be held in August, or whether it can be put off until later. I heard a new one tonight: apparently there's another opinion out there that a contest can't even begin until after August, given the “4 year” requirement for the leader to the be the leader (she was elected in August 2006).

This is probably the issue around which there is the most debate. Unlike other Canadian political parties, our leader serves a four year term, and our Constitution requires that a leadership contest be held every four years. There is no other option. Further, unlike other parties, we do not have a process to review the leader based on a vote of a governing body, or a recall effort from the grassroots. We opted instead for a fixed term scenario, with a mandatory contest.

The second issue is the by-law requirement regarding how we elect our leader in the first place. Is a fixed term the best way to go, or should we move to a different process which incorporates a leadership review, possibly within 6 months of a general election. This issue is also contentious, but it's not one which Federal Council can resolve on its own. Only the membership can change our Party's by-laws. What Federal Council has been wrestling with here is whether or not to endorse a motion to amend our fixed term leadership contest requirement at the August BGM or not.

There appears to be recognition that the Membership will be looking into the fixed term leadership contest requirement at the next BGM regardless of whether Council proposes a motion or not.

All of this gets interesting when you combine the two issues. If Council wants to endorse a change to our by-laws for the membership's consideration at the next BGM, and if the membership agrees and changes the by-laws, we needn't have a leadership contest this year. If the membership disagrees, we'll have to kick off the leadership contest...AFTER the August BGM. It will likely have to take place during the fall, just when many are expecting there to be a Federal election.

To avoid that scenario all together, some have suggested beginning the leadership contest now, so that it culminates in a vote at the BGM. This would appear to be in keeping with our Constitution, although some have suggested that since Elections Canada rules require our leader to step down from her position during a leadership contest that this would technically be in violation of the rules, which guarantee a leader a 4 year mandate.

It begins to make your head spin. It's no wonder that Council had had a difficult time with this issue. Again, I'm happy that this matter will finally be addressed at the February 21st meeting, which is actually just a week after when it otherwise might have occurred anyway (the February 14th meeting was moved up to tonight, the 7th, so the two week deferral amounts to waiting for an additional week). One of the things our Councillors wanted to do was to hear from the Membership, at least in a limited way, before making a decision. The opinions of those members engaged in this issue will be considered by Council prior to their vote.

I've avoided weighing in with my opinion on these issues up until now. Instead, I've been focused on the process which has led us here. I'm not going to recap (you can read more about it in my previous blogposts), but I am going to say that in my opinion all of the motions under consideration are in keeping with the processes established by our Constitution, and that satisfies me to no end. No matter your position on the issues, I think that we can all agree that our Party's processes are being respected.

Now, given that our Councillors have decided to seek input on the motions in question, I'm going to share my thoughts.

Our Constitution is a very flawed document, and we need to seriously investigate how we can make it and its by-laws work better for the Party. The lack of flexibility with processes is one of its biggest faults, which has led to (in my opinion) decision-making to occur in a far less than timely manner on many issues. With regards to the fixed date leadership contest, I realize and understand that this system was put in place for a couple of reasons. First, because of the “weak leader” structure of our Party, and second, to avoid contentious leadership reviews and the factionalism which accompanies those reviews. A mandatory contest is certainly far less than contentious than giving our leader a thumbs up or down periodically. However, a fixed term removes a degree of flexibility and nimbleness on the part of our Party to prepare for a bigger ballot: a federal election. Indeed, a fixed date effectively establishes a grey period where, although a leader may be present, leadership itself is in question. That's where we are today. Except we have a Federal Election campaign plan which wants to elect our leader in her riding as Priority #1. This makes things rather difficult.

What's best for our Party right now is to defer a leadership contest at this time. Prepping for a leadership contest right now will take away from our Party's stated election campaign priority of electing Elizabeth May in Saanich-Gulf Islands. Elizabeth May is by far the most recognizable candidate in our Party, and she has become synonymous with the Green Party in Canada. Given this reality, it only makes sense for us to carry on with the process which we've invested so heavily in.

I believe that the Green Party absolutely has to elect an MP or MP's in the next Federal election, or we risk moving to irrelevancy on the Canadian political landscape. I already believe that we will likely lose vote share throughout most of Canada; this makes it even more important that our gains are focused, and that we actually elect an MP. Right now, Elizabeth May is probably our best bet (although I'm optimistic about Guelph as well).

Is electing our current leader to Parliament more important than respecting our Constitution? Absolutely not. I can't say that enough. That's been my point since day one, and continues to be my point. That's why I'm happy to see that our Constitution is going to be respected by Federal Council, by taking a by-law amendment request to the membership at the BGM in August. It is my sincere hope that the Membership sees the wisdom in changing our fixed term leadership contest requirement which actually hand-cuffs our Party to a significant degree. Changing our by-law to remove this requirement will benefit the Party today, and in the future, as the membership will actually have a greater voice when it comes to deciding the fate of a leader after an election. That's why I also support the leadership review option (or a better option Adriane Carr had proposed which I think she said that the B.C. Greens are currently using: rather than a vote by the membership for a review or an endorsement of the current leader, instead vote for whether a contest is held. This way the membership actually hasn't attached a percentage of support to a leader during a vote).

One of the motions also proposes that a leadership review be held at the coming BGM. Since I firmly believe that a fall election is likely (and I'm not alone with that belief), I have to say that I am dead set against reviewing our leader's performance in August. A luke-warm vote of support would enfeeble our electoral chances, and leave us open for attacks by the other parties, especially in key ridings like SGI. If nothing else, Federal Council has to kibosh this notion.

My opinion is likely to surprise some of the people who typically comment here. In response, I reiterate that I have the Party's best interests at heart, and this is predicated on my belief that our Party is best served by sending MP's to Ottawa. In fact, I believe our Party will be at serious risk if we fail to elect MP's in the next Federal election. I realize that others will not agree with that assessment, or even if they do agree, would not go so far as to suggest that this necessitates our removing the fixed leadership term in our Constitution. I respect those opinions, although I do not share them. I hope that those who disagree here do so in a polite and positive manner. And I hope that they share their feedback with their Federal Councillors, who are very interested in hearing what you have to say.

At the end of the day, it will be up to the Membership to determine whether we remove the fixed term leadership requirements and whether we have a leadership contest in 2010. Federal Council, though, is tasked to look into the timing of a contest, and I for one hope that they leave it to the membership at the BGM. Council needs to endorse a motion (or series of motions) which place our Party in the best strategic circumstance to utilize our scarce resources with the goal of electing an MP. I hope that they decide to continue to support the Campaign Plan, and poll the membership in its entirety at the BGM whether now is really the right time for a divisive and strategically problematic leadership contest.

Those are my two cents. I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot about this over the next couple of weeks. This process of engagement is very healthy for our Party, as long as we show respect for the opinion's of others. And that's something that I know as we Greens we can do.