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.


Rural said...

Nicely done Steve, it hard for us to keep up as its been going round, and round and has been “exploited” by what appears to be members who are less than happy with both the current council and current leader. That the rumor, innuendo, and allegations all reduce the public perception of the GPC does not seem to enter into their thinking. I agree with you that electing an MP (or more) is essential if the party is to move forward and that everything that can be done (within the constitution) to enable this to happen, as opposed to handicap it, should be done. I do hope that once this is put to rest that the GPC issue a news release in an effort to reduce the speculation and spin currently circulating.

D. Scott Barclay said...

Why won't we have a spring election, Logistics?

Harper is preparing to introduce a draconian budget in March. Something the Liberals and the NDP most likely won't be able to vote for or if they do, its at their peril with their constituency. If they do pass it, he's got his hatchet job on all social services. If they vote against it, he claims that they don't have the courage to tackle the deficit and he sets the election machine in full motion with oil money backing. Just a scenario.

Sudbury Steve said...

If we do have a spring election, I think that these issues will be nicely "put on hold" until after the election. The election itself will provide a degree of clarification as to where the Party is going. I think a spring election would be an ideal way for us to resolve these issues.

BUT, I really don't want that to happen. We could use the spring and summer to gear up for a later election (including fundraising). Of course, we have zero control over when the next election will be called...

Bluegreenblogger said...

Steve, if only it were so straightforward! There would be no cause for controversy. I'll state it plain and simple. Council is not very accountable to the membership. The Leader is even less so. Any group of people numbering three or more has dissent, and debate. Well run groups don't continually fracture, and splinter. They accommodate, and progress. They build accountability mechanisms into their operations, and work out how to peacefully resolve their differences. The GPC is replete with these mechanisms, because the membership continues to believe in a grass roots Party. I know that sounds vague, and it is, but it's how the GPC is constituted.
The Leadership race has become a touchstone, because it is the last 'non-nuclear' mechanism still remaining to express dissent, and maybe effect change. Many people who have been quietly upset have held their peace, literally for years in some cases, in the certainty that the time to speak was constitutionally mandated. There are as many reasons to be upset as there are days in the year, but there are not very many ways to express it, or influence the leadership, are there? What if you thought that the budget was important, and the Leadership simply cast you as a troublemaker and a traitor, while belittling your concerns? YOU would probably want a chance to air the linen in that event. That's not a hypothetical question, I'm asking you to put yourself in the shoes of a whole series of staffers and councilors who have been hounded out of the picure.
It is within councils power to prejudice the Leadership contest right now. If they fail to plan for a Leadership contest, that is constitutionally mandated for this year, then the race, by default, will have to be postponed. Now you and I both know that reducing the window like that runs a big risk of FORCING a Leadership race during a fall general election. The membership would be presented with a fait d'accompli, and with a great deal of grumbling, would be constrained into the course of passing a motion to have a leadership race after the next General Election. If you like, we can all pretend that the Leadership is genuinely conflicted about how to fulfil their obligations to the constitution, but the options are being narrowed by the passage of time, and they are pointing towards a pre-determined solution.
Does this sit well with you?
Remember how upset so many were about our performance in the last general election? Just as one example, we are still wearing a financial hangover, and now are being manoevered into granting a second kick at the can, without airing the linen and addressing the mistakes of the last general election.
If we continue to nurture a culture of arbitrary governance, then the current, mild state of turmoil in the Party will dissolve into something much more ugly, and you can see this progression with media 'leaks', council motions to find and expell traitors etc. God help them if they do find their 'traitor', and they do expell him/her.
Anyway, I digress. It is clear to me that a mandated Leadership race after every election would be a better way of running it, but my opinion isn't important right now because I am not above the law, so to speak. Why cannot the Leadership approach it in the same spirit? It's still possible. I think they should demonstrate good faith, and employ their best efforts to meet their obligations now, and in parallel begin the tortuous process of amending the rules for the future. It would be good to practice comprimising. It's a useful skill to own.

Sudbury Steve said...

Matt, I agree with a lot of what you’ve written. I know that there are a number of people still currently in the Party who have been waiting for the leadership contest to voice their concerns about the present administration; a number of others have already voiced their concerns by leaving. This dissent isn’t going to go away, in my opinion, with or without a leadership contest in August. That’s because I don’t think that there would be anyone strong enough to challenge the current leader. Therefore, a leadership contest before a Federal election will simply keep the status quo in place at the outcome, but highlight the internal division (and likely exacerbate it) during the contest itself.

I believe that the membership in general are in no mood to be looking for a replacement leader at this time, regardless that our Constitution currently requires a contest to be held in 2010. I think that the will of the membership on this issue should be respected, whatever the outcome, and that’s why I’m endorsing the approach of putting it all to the membership at the August BGM.

Now, you may say that the will of the membership has already been expressed, with the adoption of our Constitution back in 2006. Respectfully, I don’t agree. That was four years ago, and many involved with the Party at that time have come and gone; other new people like myself have joined because we liked what we were seeing. Further, an four year old expression is hardly up-to-date. It’s time to hit the “refresh” button regarding the will of the membership, and the August BGM in Toronto will be the place to do that.

Yes, this will frustrate those in the Party who have been angling for change, but it may only be a temporary frustration. A federal election will be much more decisive for plotting the future direction of the Party than anything else.

I do understand the frustration out there around this issue, and I know that it’s not simple. I’ve given this a lot of thought over the past several months, though, and I have to express my opinion that it is within the best interests of the Party right now to put a leadership contest on hold until after the next Federal election, and to do away with the four year fixed-term leadership contest requirement in our by-laws.

Stuart Hertzog said...

A good clarification of the options, Steve, but I think that the Green Party is still skirting the issue, which is the role of the 'leader.' This was originally conceived as being just a figurehead to satisfy the Elections Act, and to act as a spokesperson for the national media.

However, the Green Party has drifted towards the view of the 'leader' being an autocrat who controls the party in the tribal model that grassroots democracy was supposed to supplant. The problem is that the Party's constitution was designed to support grassroots democracy, while the thrust to change the Bylaws promotes the tribal system.

The point raised above by bluegreenblogger about the lack of transparency around the party's decision-making process is very pertinent. A democratic party would have transparent deision-making; an autocratic party would hide its financial situation and make decisions in private. With most of its financial eggs in the SGI basket, the Green Party's future cash flow is very uncertain.

No wonder so many Greens have walked away from the Green Party in disgust. It's hardly a Green party any more. Whatever decision is made at the August AGM is not likely to make much difference to the indifference with which 89% of Canadian voters view the Green Party. It's just not that relevant any more.

Bluegreenblogger said...

I guess I can boil it down to one simple thing. When does expediency trump the rule of law? In the wider world, do we simply ignore outdated laws, or do we change them? Try explaining to a judge, or a police officer that nobody cares if you smoked a doobie. They will respond that theirs is not to reason why, but to respect and enforce the law. And you know what? They're right. Because that's our social contract. In the GPC, our contract of association is the constitution, and the guiding principles.
I've seen some pretty arbitrary stuff in the GPO, and GPC, all in the name of expediency. We just need to set boundaries around what can be, and cannot be done. You want to hear something crazy? The GPC doesn't have enough lawyers. If we had more, then the consequences of arbitrary processes would be impressed on us before the train wreck, instead of retrospectively.
Oh dear, we're going to implode all over again, but we'll all have finely reasoned arguments about expediency that ignore, or nod in passing to the formal context. We all receive a get out of jail free card as well, because it will all have been 'somebody elses's' fault. This playing with fire, and escalating the stakes simply has to stop. It could end up with reputations in tatters, battles in the courts, and the triumph of ego over rational debate. Am I over the top? Or am I simply reflecting on the results of the last faction war, when all the above happened, but fortunately was ignored by the media. Doomed to repeat history indeed.

Sudbury Steve said...

Matthew, I completely agree that we don’t have enough lawyers in our Party. I think a couple of well-expressed and timely made legal opinions might have led our current Federal Council in a different direction regarding this issue.

What’s happening here, though, is anything but a triumph of expediency over the rule of law. Initially, when this issue first started boiling to the surface for non-Council people like myself, I was very concerned about whether we were going to abandon our processes in the name of political expediency. By moving to a consultative process at the August BGM to re-assess whether our leadership contest by-laws are working, we are following Party processes. No Party laws are violated. And I include in that the current requirement to hold a leadership contest in 2010, because this “requirement” can still be maintained after August as there will remain time to hold such a contest. Yes, it may be difficult to do so if a fall election is anticipated. And yes, revising our by-laws may appear as a fait accompli to the Membership in August in order to avoid a fall leadership contest, but our current Constitution permits that kind of situation.

So I can’t agree that we’re breaking any rules. That’s been my priority issue since I got involved in this last fall. I realize that the argument won’t move away from the notion that the Party is about to violate something within our Constitution by taking the approach to the leadership contest which I’ve endorsed, because there are different interpretations out there of what “4 years” actually means (at least 3 interpretations by my count).

Based on my studied, albeit imperfect understanding of our Constitution and By-laws, I believe that not having a leadership contest right now, and waiting for the Members to express their will about this issue at the BGM is not only sensible, but is in keeping with both the spirit and the letter of our Constitution. Should the membership refuse to amend the rules, a 2010 leadership contest can still be held.

Bluegreenblogger said...

Well Steve, you are right that only the spirit would be violated, and I suspect that would be enough for most members.
At this point, I am actually praying for an election to be called in 4 weeks, so that the air can be cleared, and Elizabeth can announce her departure, or desire to contest.
I am entertaining a little dream now, whereby Elizabeth actually wins a seat, thus gaining significant influence, and public stature, while the Leadership changes, and we put good solid governance in place. Wouldn't that be a thrill? Elizabeth could fulfil her exceptional promise, while rendering her weaknesses irrelevant. The Party could settle on hard objective standards of governance, and start looking forward.

Sudbury Steve said...

Matt, just a quick clarification: I indicated that I believed that bringing by-law changes to the BGM and not scheduling a leadership contest at this time would be in keeping with both the letter and spirit of the constitution. For all of the Constitution's inflexibility, there is a pretty clear process to follow to amend by-laws.

And while I understand completely where you're coming from regarding a scenario in which Elizabeth May gains a seat in SGI and is then bumped from the position of Party Leader, I'm far from certain that if the Party dumps her after winning SGI that she'll remain a Green in the House for very long. Taking that course of action would be, I believe, too big of an insult to anyone, given that Greens have demanded success, and the first person we have who gets themselves elected to the House we strip away authority. Now, don't misunderstand me, I see where you're coming from. I just can't see the membership voting to oust May as leader if she wins in SGI.

Politics! Gotta love it. And then you realize how much of the rest of your life you've missed out on!

shavluk said...



A Mail out ballot all

a return address to bulk mail picked up by john ogillvie rob brooks and some one from the other side ...the dark side

50%+1 ........yeah or nay







OR YELLOW? !!!!!









DO NOT DO IT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!






Dan Grice said...

Hi Steve,

I'm in absolute agreement with you.

I do not think its in the interest of the party to see a leadership contest prior to an election nor believe that even if there was one, we would see much more than a one sided result. I'd much rather choose a new leader (or re-elect the current one..) post election when members are engaged and when a new leader can be given ample time to put in place a new plan.

Anyways, I composed a draft motion for presenting at the BGM and sent it to council.

Preamble: (not part of motion)

Whereas participatory democracy is a core value for the Green Party and should be applied for the conduct of internal and external governance,

Whereas open, free, and regular opportunities for all constituents of an entity to participate in choosing of elected officials is a long held characteristic of representative democracies,

Whereas Canada's Constitution and Parliamentary Conventions provide mechanisms for Federal Elections to occur at undeterminable dates and the Green Party and its leadership should be given as much opportunity as possible to prepare and execute a campaign strategy and plan including activities between elections provided they retain the support of membership,

Whereas any party leader chosen by the governor general to serve as head of government or as leader of the official opposition assumes a greater responsibility to represent all Canadians,


Therefore let it be resolved that section of the Green Party of Canada's constitution be replaced with: All Council members shall be elected to serve a two year term or until their successors are elected.

Therefore let it be resolved that section of the Green Party of Canada's constitution be removed and that the following clauses be added to section 2.1.3 ("The Leader") The Leader's term shall last until 90 days after an General election, or until resignation or removal. A Leader shall be elected no later than 6 months after the end of a previous leadership term. Council may appoint an acting interim leader for a period of up to 6 months to oversee a leadership contest. If a party leader is asked by the Governor General to assume the duties of Prime Minister or of leader of the Official Opposition, then the leadership contest shall be replaced with a party wide leadership review vote within 9 months of a general election and the leader's term shall be extended. Leadership review votes may be initiated by a motion supported by 50% of council, 50% of members present at a BGM, or upon a petition by 5% of members in good standing delivered to council and occur within 6 months of being initiated. Leadership review votes are open to all members in good standing as of date of initiation and a vote of less than 60% in support of the leader will result in the ending of a leader's term. The Green Party of Canada recognizes that serving as a leader may be the sole source of a livelihood for an individual and may provide limited financial compensation for a leader whose term has ended and who has no alternative income, including a leader who intends to seek a renewed leadership term.

Bluegreenblogger said...

Dan. that's a great motion, it covers all the bases, and I would support it, all the way through the repeat votes, and extra year or so of presenting, and re-presenting etc.
I think that everybody who blogs, reads them, comments on them, and watched council is forgetting that there are far more active members that don't pay the slightest attention, but will be passionately interested when the time comes. These are the people who demanded, and got the right to constrain council with the current by-laws and constitution. I guess most of us thought that we could safely ignore the council playpen. because the time to oversee them was mandated. I'm not trying to be a dick, I'm trying to get across to people that there were valid reasons for the wording so many newbies seem to find problematic. If you doubt me, canvas a few established EDA exec's, and ask them if they trust the leadership and council to re-write the leadership races rules this way. Don't take my word for it.
I have done so, and a number of totally neutral people, with strong EDA's and no interest in council were astounded at the thought of turning elections into reviews. DON'T expect acquiescence to council's wishes at the BGM, because it will be heated. Sometimes we have to park our squabbling, and do the sensible thing, that serves the Party's long term interest.
I've said all I'm willing to on this topic, but because I'm not commenting, don't think I don't care. I just have better things to do.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Why did you delete my last comment, Steve-O? Because I exposed you and the so-called green party as the enemies of humanity that you are? Don't worry. I'm not going to forget about you...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sudbury Steve said...

Hey, you lying Anonymous poster, get a life and/or crawl back into your hole. The only comments I've deleted here are from phishing firms trying to get my readers to click on links to pornographic sites. I haven't deleted any legit comments. Don't you dare insinuate that I'm stifling debate here.