Monday, July 27, 2015

Kelowna - Lake Country Greens Defy Grassroots Green Party Members

I don’t often praise my own Party enough for all of the good things that the people in my parth have been doing.  Usually, when I write a post about the Green Party of Canada, it’s because I’m complaining about something, rather than expressing my thanks to the many volunteers and grassroots members who work hard to build and promote the party.  The proof is in the pudding: Fundraising levels are up to a point where they’ve never been before.  Across Canada, quality candidates are being nominated – and nomination contests are energizing local electoral district associations.  Volunteers are being inspired, and new supporters are joining us like never before.  There’s a real feeling of change in the air, and a lot of that momentum has to do with the people working behind the scenes – most of whom are grassroots volunteers.

Green Party of Canada - United in Hard Work

Kudos of course to our elected MP’s, Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer, along with their professional campaign staff who will be doing what we can to ensure that that both Elizabeth and Bruce are sent back to Ottawa – along with a cadre of other Green MPs from across the nation.  The Green Party has developed great policies which really set us apart, and the campaign has been diligently rolling out platform planks now for the past month.  We are starting to be noticed, despite the setbacks we’ve had to endure once again regarding the leader’s debates.

I’m just thrilled that all of this is happening.  Here in Sudbury, I’m looking forward to taking some time to help out with the campaigns of Laruentian University professor of economics, Dr. David Robinson, which the Sudbury riding nominated a few months ago, and with organic farmer Stuart McCall who is seeking the nomination against “None of the Above” in the Nickel Belt riding (I’m fairly confident that Stuart will make a better candidate than NOTA).  In both ridings, local electoral districts discussed whether we should nominate candidates at all – as is the prerogative of local riding associations (EDA’s can talk about anything that they’d like to discuss) – and in both cases, local Greens agreed that we’d be foolish not to offer our voters an opportunity to vote for a candidate of their choice, rather than having to vote for the least worst other candidate.  After all, we’ve been working hard between elections to build the Party here – and to have our Party taken seriously by voters and other political actors.

Green Party - the Party of Co-operation

I’m proud of our leader Elizabeth May for writing to MPs in the Liberal and New Democratic parties back in 2012 in an attempt to start building electoral bridges between the opposition parties (see: “Elizabeth May and political co-operation”, Maclean’s Magazine, January 18, 2013).  May acted on the direction of grassroots Greens who, at our Annual General Meeting in Sidney, B.C. that year, passed a resolution calling on our Party’s leadership to pursue opportunities to co-operate with the other parties.

Ultimately, May was rebuffed by the Liberals and the NDP (although the question of working with then-Independent MP Bruce Hyer was resolved when Hyer joined the Green Party as our second MP, citing Green’s desire to work with other parliamentarians as one of several reasons for becoming a Green himself).

In the spirit of co-operation in an extremely unique circumstance, Greens sat out the Labrador by-election in 2013 – and urged the NDP to do the same (see: “Labrador: Greens Will Not Field aCandidate, Challenge NDP Also to Desist,” Green Party press release, March 23, 2013).  That by-election was triggered by the resignation of Conservative MP Peter Penashue in advance of the conclusion of an Elections Canada investigation regarding his expenses.  Penashue, who eventually lost Labrador to Liberal Yvonne Jones, had admitted to accepting 28 illegal campaign donations in 2011, was still authorized by the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to contest Labrador (see: “Former Tory cabinet minister Penashuebegan re-election bid three days before he resigned over illegal campaigndonations,” the National Post, March 19, 2013).

With the 2015 General Election around the corner, the Green Party of Canada has come under fire from many directions, but especially from elements of the progressive Canadian left and the New Democratic Party for having the audacity to contest the elections in districts where New Democrats are running.  Of course, since the NDP has a party requirement that they field candidates in all national ridings, that means that essentially the Green Party has come under fire for simply existing.

The Green Party - Doing Politics Differently

Many New Democrats, of course, believe that their Party has the best policies, and conceive of any reason that Greens are contesting the election – so they resort to inventing reasons, such as the ever-popular “The Greens are really neo-liberals and are more to the right than the Liberals and Conservatives”.  Of course NDP partisans our out to tar the Green Party now that the Green Party has been getting noticed in a way that it never has.  Interestingly, those same NDP partisans who bemoan the existence of the Green Party and its audacity to contest elections – those same partisans don’t seem to ever call on Liberal candidates to step down even though a riding without a Liberal running would likely benefit the NDP much more than an absentee Green.  It’s almost as if the NDP, despite being hyper-partisan, harbours an elitist attitude of entitlement when it comes to being “in the club” of large, old-line parties.

Choosing not to run candidates in certain circumstances has been a bit of a hallmark of the Green Party – and in my opinion, it shows quite clearly how the Green Party is walking the talk of “doing politics differently” (for more on of my analysis on this topic, see: “GreensDoing Politics Differently: A Smart Play by Elizabeth May in Etobicoke Centre,” Sudbury Steve May, July 19, 2012).  Although many so-called progressives on the left roundly criticized May and the Greens for having a Leader’s non-compete pact with Liberal Leader Stephane Dion in the 2008 general election in their respective ridings, May and Dion were engaged in an activity which has happened numerous times throughout Canadian history, especially in circumstance where an unelected Party leader was vying for entry into Parliament.

In 2008, Greens also did not oppose Independent Bill Casey’s bid for re-election in Nova Scotia’s Cumberland - Colchester riding.  Casey was ousted from the Conservative Party after having voted against the 2007 federal budget out of concern that Stephen Harper’s government has betrayed the Atlantic Accord (see: “Green party Leader praises Bill Casey’s courage,” Green Party of Canada press release, June 6, 2007). 

In 2015, it may very well be that the Green Party doesn’t field candidates in certain ridings where elected MP’s, like former-Conservative now-Independent Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton - St. Albert) have been allies.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if the riding of Dauphin – Swan River - Marquette is not contested by the Green Party, as former MP Inky Mark has announced that the will be throwing his hat in the ring to run as an Independent when the writ is dropped (see: “Inky Mary Running in 2015 Federal Election,” CKDM 730, November 13, 2014).  Mark has in the past shown a lot of solidarity with local Greens in that riding and throughout Manitoba.  

No-Compete vs. Actively Campaigning

It’s never an easy decision for local Greens to make when it comes to contesting elections at the riding level.  If Greens don’t run, the outcome could be the disenfranchisement of local supporters.  It can also lead to calls of “co-operation” as we’ve all seen with the May-Dion non-compete agreement (apparently, “co-operation” has become a dirty word in electoral politics in Canada). 

It’s one thing, however, for a local riding association to opt to sit out an election – it’s another thing completely for a riding association or a candidate to actively campaign for another candidate or political party.  This may seem like a subtlety – it isn’t.  Sitting out an election, as Greens did in Labrador and in Cumberland - Colchester meant that the Party devoted none of its resources into electing a member from another party, or an independent legislator.  In some respects, those situations could be described as “letting the chips fall where they may”, albeit I think it’s hard to go so far as to suggest that the Party didn’t have a preferred candidate in mind, even if there was no official support lent to that candidate.  That may seem nit-picky, but it isn't.  What we think in our minds and feel in our hearts are one thing - but when we convert those feelings and thoughts into actions, we need to take responsibility for those actions.

Crossing the Line in Kelowna - Lake Country

Recent events involving the Green Party and its newly nominated candidate Gary Adams in the Kelowna – Lake Country riding, however, are quite different than simply standing down.  In Kelowna – Lake Country, it appears that nominated candidate has a formal agreement with the Liberal’s nominated candidate, Stephen Fuhr, that would see Adams step down as candidate, and Greens supporting Fuhr in return for some vague commitments on climate change and electoral reform (see: “Gary Adams, Green Party Candidate, Will Quit toCampaign for Liberal Candidate,” the Huffington Post, July 19, 2015) .  The real reason behind the agreement likely has a lot more to do with defeating a Conservative MP than it does with climate change or electoral reform.

This situation in Kelowna – Lake Country is truly problematic.  Although on the surface, it might appear that Greens in the riding have found a unique way around a number of issues standing in the way of true local co-operation, such as the prohibition to hold joint nomination contests with another political party, or to nominate a candidate belonging to another political party.  Both of these issues are created by the fact that the Green Party of Canada’s Constitution does not contemplate them happening.  In fact, the Green Party’s Constitution, like that of other Canadian political parties, emphasises the Party’s desire and direction to nominate and elect Greens to parliament.  Without the Constitutional options available for nominating a non-Green or holding a joint nomination, the Kelowna – Lake Country Green Party EDA appears to have come up with an interesting way to circumvent the stated direction and desire of the Green Party’s Constitution, by nominating a candidate to fill the required slot, but then having the candidate step down and endorse another candidate, and actively campaign on behalf of the other candidate.

No Getting Around the Will of Grassroots Members

Of course, when you go about trying to circumvent rules and regulations, like the Green Party’s Constitution and By-laws, in order to do something not in keeping with the spirit of those rules and by-laws – which, I need to emphasize are rules and by-laws adopted by grassroots party members like me – you can run into trouble.

And as far as I’m concerned, what’s happening in Kelowna – Lake Country is nothing but trouble for the Green Party of Canada.  Standing down is one thing – but using the name and resources of the Green Party of Canada to actively campaign for a member of another party is quite another.  Yes, we Greens pride ourselves on doing politics differently – but we have not authorized a unit of the Party, in this case an Electoral District Association – to go so far as to ignore the Party’s Constitution and engage in campaigning for non-Greens.

No serious political party would contemplate doing anything like what is happening in Kelowna – Lake Country – at least not without some sort of formal agreement being in place at the Party level – and even then, only after requisite changes were made to the Constitution and By-laws of the Party.  When grassroots party members authorized the Party to approach the Liberals and NDP with the end goal of co-operation, the resolution directed the Party’s Federal Council to take the initiative.  Grassroots members who supported that approach in Sidney in 2012 could have taken another approach – to leave it up to individual electoral district associations, for example – but in our wisdom, the initiative fell to our Federal Council – the body charged with making decisions for the Party between elections.  To me, it seems like this was the appropriate body to have work on the initiative, which ultimately failed.

The Constitution is Paramount

The Constitution of the GreenParty of Canada – indeed, the Constitution of any Canadian political party, is an expression of the will of the Party’s membership. For the Green Party, our Constitution and regulatory by-laws can only be amended through a vote of the membership at a General Meeting.  Our Federal Council does not have the authority on its own to amend the Constitution (although Fed Council can propose amendments to the membership at a General Meeting).  In fact, our Federal Council is charged with upholding our Constitution as an expression of the grassroots members who have, over time, voted as per the Party’s rules to enact, alter, rescind and add to the Constitution and attendant by-laws.

What the Constitution isn’t is something to be taken lightly and ignored for the sake of political expediency. 

With that in mind, it is completely clear to that the decision of the Kelowna – Lake Country EDA and nominated candidate Gary Adam’s to campaign for Liberal Stephen Fuhr is one which is was made and will be undertaken outside of the Party’s constitutional framework.  Further, not only has the Kelowna – Lake Country EDA, along with Adams and his supporters, authorized an action in contradiction to the Party’s Constitution, it has done so in a way which flies in the face of the very grassroots volunteers who have built the Green Party of Canada.  When you ignore the Constitution in the way that it is being ignored in Kelowna, it’s like giving grassroots greens a giant raspberry, as if to say “Who cares what you think? We’ll do what we want.”

Why the Kelowna- Lake Country Situation is Unconstitutional

Let’s explore for a moment some of the provisions of the Constitution of the Green Party of Canada and attendant by-laws to which the Kelowna – Lake Country decision to campaign for the Liberal Party is in conflict with. 
  • Section 3.1, Basis of Unity: “To enhance the effectiveness of the Global Green Movement in creating a Green Society by providing an evolving political structure that embraces and supports Green Values and offers itself as a voice for the broader Green Movement.” 
A nominated candidate who campaigns for a candidate of another political party is not promoting the Global Green Movement or helping create a Green Society in circumstances where the campaigning is for a candidate which does not support Green Values.  Although Stephen Fuhr has committed to some minor consultation with Greens, the values of the Liberal Party of Canada are not in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada.  Clearly on an issue by issue basis, there may be some overlap, but there will also be considerable conflict.
  • Section 4.1.1, Purpose: “Fielding and electing candidates in federal elections.”   
A candidate which campaigns for another candidate is not meeting this purpose of the Party.  One might argue that this Section makes no reference to a candidate having to be a Green member – but given the balance of the Constitution and By-laws, I believe a strong case can be made that it’s implied that the candidates to whom are fielded by the Party are anticipated to be Greens – and not, as in this case, a member of the Liberal Party.
  • Section 4.1.4, “Advancing the Party's Platform, Positions, Policy, Values and Basis of Unity outside of electoral periods.” 
A candidate who campaigns for another candidate is not helping to assist, and is instead hindering the advancement of the Party's platform, positions, policies, values and basis of unity, both pre- and post-writ.  Given the fall-out already prevalent on social media regarding the incident in Kelowna – Lake Country, it’s quite evident that this unilateral action of the nominated candidate and his supporters is not in keeping with the historic decisions of the national party’s grassroots and is hurting the Party.
  • By-law 1, Membership, Section 1.1.2, “Every Member shall uphold this Constitution and Bylaws.” 
By campaigning against the Party's values, basis of unity, etc., Gary Adams and his supporters are not upholding the Party's Constitution and Bylaws.
  • By-law 1, Membership, Section 1.1.4, “A person cannot be a Member of the Party if the person belongs to an organization whose actions are detrimental to the Party, as determined by Federal Council.” 
Although it is not clear that Adams or his supporter belong to an official organization which is working at cross-purposes to the party, it is clear that their actions and close association with the Liberal Party of Canada and it’s candidate in Kelowna – Lake Country are working against the interests of the party.  While I acknowledge that those in Kelowna may not be technically in violation of this by-law section, I believe the situation in Kelowna is in violation of the spirit of this section.  And it may be that having entered into a formal Memorandum of Understanding with Stephen Fuhr that the violation is, in fact, more than just a spiritual one, if the MOU itself is viewed as akin to an “organization”.  Certainly it’s an agreement outlining expectations – and that sounds pretty “organized” to me.
  • By-law 1, Membership, Section, Resignation and Removal of Member, which reads:  "A person shall cease to be a Member of the Party...On stating that they are working to form a new Federal political party, or if they are working for another existing Federal political party (emphasis added). 
For me, this really is the clincher. It’s an expression of the Green Party’s grassroots that we grassroots members will not tolerate a member working to further the interests of another political party.  Grassroots Greens have said that we are a tolerant group – that we even want our Federal Council to explore ways of co-operating with the other opposition parties pre-writ.  We even accept the idea that in some cases, the Party will not run candidates in certain ridings in general elections and in by-elections.  But even we grassroots Greens have our limits – and our limits, as expressed by the national Party membership, are located where a Green member is actively working with another or a new federal political party. 

I agree with those who may suggest that there is some vagueness to this provision (what, exactly, constitutes “work”?  Is a tweet of support to a member of another political party?  Does work require a payment?).  I would suggest, however, that most level-headed Greens would look at a situation where a nominated candidate and/or an EDA actively campaigns for another candidate to win – that the campaigning in favour of the other candidate would be viewed as “work”, despite the lack of pay.  We who volunteer on political campaigns know just how much “work” goes into any campaign – and most of us never receive any money from anybody for the pleasure of working the campaign – nor do we seek it out.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that those members of the Kelowna – Lake Country EDA or Gary Adams or his supporters are receiving a payment for their actions and activities.  But I am suggesting that their actions and activities – campaigning for a Liberal candidate, constitute “working for another existing Federal political party” and as such they have ceased to be members of the Green Party of Canada.

Why Gary Adams Should No Longer Be Considered a Nominated Candidate or Member of the Green Party of Canada

To be clear, in Section 1.3.2 of By-law 1, the authority to expel members of the Party has been granted to Federal Council, and there’s a process which must be undertaken should Federal Council decide expulsion is necessary.  Those same provisions, however, don’t apply to the circumstances outlined in Section 1.3.1 of the By-law, which include the death or resignation of a member, or the member not being in “good standing” for a period of 12 months, or on stating that they are working for another Federal political party as Adams has done.

Based on the Green Party’s Constitution and By-laws, as voted on by grassroots members of the Party from across Canada, not only should Gary Adams be considered not to be a member of the Party by virtue of the actions he undertook to publicly work for the Liberal Party of Canada, but Adams’ nomination in Kelowna – Lake Country should be considered null and void because, having stated his position to work with the Liberals to Green members at the nomination meeting and beforehand, Adams could not have been considered a “member” of the Party at the time of his nomination, as per By-law

Now that may seem extreme to some – and perhaps it is – but nevertheless, our Federal Council does not have discretion to determine the membership of individuals who cease to be members in accordance with Section 1.3.1 – Fed Council can’t determine that a member not in good standing for more than 12 months is still a member, or that a member who resigned previously is still a member, or that a member working for another political party is still a member.  The Constitution and its by-laws treat all of these circumstances the same way.  Where a ruling by Federal Council might be needed is not in the determination of membership, but rather in the determination of what constitutes “death”, “resignation” or “working for another political party”.

If the Green Party of Canada’s Federal Council ultimately decides that actively campaigning for another party’s candidate is “working for another political party”, then Gary Adams and his supporters will cease to be members, retroactively to the time when they publicly made statements to the effect that they would work to elect a Liberal in Kelowna – Lake Country.  And that was before the nomination meeting.

The Limit of Local EDA's Authority As Per the National Party's Grassroots

For those who may look to By-law 5 under the Green Party’s Constitution as offering a potential way for those supporters of Adams in Kelowna to view their anti-grassroots initiative as in keeping with the Constitution and by-laws of the Party, I would suggest that Section 5.1, which reads, “Where there is an EDA, the electoral district shall select the candidate in accordance with the association’s Bylaws” can’t be relied on because Adams was not a member of the Green Party of Canada at the time of his nomination, for the reasons given above related to By-law  Further, Adams is not now the nominated candidate for the Party for those same reasons.

And that means that the Kelowna – Lake Country EDA needs to start looking for a  candidate quickly – or that our Federal Council will need to appoint one to run in the Kelowna – Lakeland riding.  The grassroots members of the national party will expect these outcomes, in keeping with the Party’s Constitution and By-laws – and in keeping with their own commitments to build the Party.

Federal Council Must Act in Kelowna - Lake Country

In keeping with all of the good thing that volunteers, paid staff, Green MPs and other grassroots members are doing to advance the interests of the Green Party of Canada, in keeping with our shared Green values, our Federal Council must ensure that a Green Party member is in place as a candidate in Kelowna – Lake Country prior to the final day to register candidates.  Gary Adams should no longer be considered a member of the Party due to his own actions – and if Federal Council determines that other Greens are actively working to elect Liberal candidate Stephen Fuhr in Kelowna – Lake Country, those Greens should be advised that they, too, have ceased to be members of the Party. 

We the grassroots are watching.  So far this matter has been allowed to fester for most of July, and came to a head at the July 18th nomination meeting.  As a result, our Party’s reputation has taken a serious hit thanks to the unconstitutional act of a few members who believe that they know better that the Party’s grassroots.  It is with this in mind that I urge our Federal Council to either work with the Kelowna – Lake Country EDA (if it’s still a viable unit of the party) to find a new candidate, or that Federal Council appoints a new candidate.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada) 

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