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.