Part 1: How to Influence People and Game the Vote
I've now finally had the chance to go through all of the 73 motions which Green Party members are being asked to vote on through an online process, ending August 2nd. This is going to be the first of a two part post regarding the motions. Here, I'm intending to provide some of the background which has been going on, as there have been attempts to influence voting in this Party. Some of these attempts are the normal sorts of things which happen in any organization. Other attempts have been, in my opinion, unethical and require an investigation.
Now, let's get on with it.
As you may know, Members can vote for each motion in 4 different ways: Green, Yellow, Red, or Not Applicable. If 60% of all Members, through online voting, cast their ballots to “Green” a specific motion, the motion will not be debated by Members at the upcoming Biennial General Meeting in Toronto later in August; instead, the motion will be considered “passed”. 60% Red means the motion is “defeated” without debate. I'm not sure what might happen if a motion receives 60% “Not Applicable” (or whatever it is called), but all other voting outcomes for motions will lead to them being “workshopped” on the floor of the convention.
Given the nature of our Party, what this voting process has led to in the past, and is anticipated to lead to in the future, is one heck of a lot of workshopped motions. Now, when a motion is workshopped, the idea behind it might seem that the motion itself is salvageable, despite it having some flaws in the opinions of online voting. This seems sensible: if you cast a Yellow ballot, that means that maybe you generally approve of the idea, but you see an operable problem with the motion. In a workshop situation, the motion itself can be modified by participating members, as long as the “spirit” of the motion is maintained. Later, on the last day of the General Meeting, the workshopped motion will be voted on all of the members present, as recommended by the workshop. That's if there's enough time to get to a specific motion.
Sometimes, the above scenario is reflective of why a specific motion might be workshopped. However, it's not the only reason why a motion might be workshopped. Some motions are just so very polarizing that half the members who vote might vote Green, while the other half votes red. There's only very little middle ground, if any.
This year, there are a few significant motions which I have no doubt will fall into the “polarizing” category. The trick with these motions then becomes which side can pack the workshop and command the agenda at a specific workshop session to ensure that a specific motion receives the time and consideration needed for a vote to occur (because sometimes the clock runs out, and some motions are left off the table). Of course, if you can count the members who are known to be in favour or against a specific motion, that's going to drive things. If the opposing side shows up in large numbers, maybe your side's best strategy is to use meeting rules to have the motion put off until the end. Sometimes, the workshop ends up arguing over the rules instead of a motion, which runs down the clock too. Alternatively, unfriendly amendments can be proposed, which need to be debated and voted on individually before a motion can be accepted or rejected. This, too, runs down the clock.
Of course, the best approach is to make sure that your important motions, if workshopped, have enough members present to vote in favour. The best way to do that is to make sure that the General Meeting is accessible to the majority of your supporters, and not accessible to the other side's. Of course, with the General Meeting being held in Toronto this year, it's arguable that this meeting is going to be just about as accessible as it gets for everyone in the country. This mistake in venue selection may lead to some interesting outcomes for our Party.
Unless, of course, the Membership in its wisdom, votes to Green light and Red light certain motions altogether, preventing them from reaching the floor. Ultimately, that's the best strategy: influence the Membership by whatever means necessary to get them to vote in a certain way.
And that's what's happening in our Party right now, particularly over several motions related to the way in which our Party elects a Leader.
As you may know, our Federal Council has endorsed a motion to change the way in which we elect our Party Leader. Currently, our Leader serves a fixed-four year term. One of the interesting things about this is, besides being the only national party to elect our Leader in this way, the 4 year term of our current leader ends this year, and a leadership contest must be called sometime in 2010 under the current provisions of our Constitution and by-laws.
There is a contrary motion which has been put forward which sets up a time line for a leadership contest to be held, starting in 2010 and ending in 2011. A third motion, if accepted, would allow Fed Council to extend a Leader's term for one year. If all of these motions are defeated, Federal Council will have to hold a leadership contest which elects a leader in 2010, as per our current Constitution.
A few interesting things have happened since the motions were put up on our website for voting by the membership, in attempts to influence voters, even though no one will admit to it.
"Party Opinion" (now "Considerations") Preface
The first interesting thing happened when the motions first went public. Each motion was prefaced by text referenced as the “Party Opinion”. For some of these motions, these opinions expressed simple messaging, such as “this motion builds on existing policy”. For other motions, the opinion could be quite biased: “This motion will lead to ridicule of the Party”. In some cases, in my opinion, the “Party Opinion” was an outright falsehood, such as those Opinions attached to many of the “Benmurgi Motions” which I've previously written about, where the “Party Opinion” expressed that the motion would simply codify existing practices in circumstances where there is no practice at all. And with regards to the Leadership motions, the “Party Opinion” clearly expressed a preference for Federal Council's motion.
I understand that after a number of members complained to Federal Council, that the “Party Opinion” title was changed to the term “Considerations” although the opinion expressed was not changed, and have been allowed to stand. I've heard that the intention in writing the opinion in the first place was so that the opinions could offer information about conflicting motions which would assist voters in casting ballots, and to counter the bias in the inoperative clauses of submitted motions (the “Whereas” components of motions) by intentionally questioning motion assumptions and showing an alternative bias.
It's true that many of the motions submitted by party members and other units of the Party attempt to bias voting outcomes by including specific information in the inoperative Whereases which might be true, somewhat true, not entirely true, or just plain wrong. And almost always, if there is another side to a specific argument, the Whereases will not give it the light of day. After all, since it's all about influencing voter intentions, why tell a bad story or worse, maybe have voters think for themselves and investigate matters before casting a ballot.
The point here is that there is so much bias within the pre-operative text, and in the “Considerations” that an astute voter really needs to be careful when casting their ballot. But whoever decided to counter that inherent bias with offering a “Party Opinion” went way too far. In the case of the inoperative clauses, where a voter detects bias, you can find out just who sponsored the motions, and hold those people accountable. Maybe send them an email and ask why they said what they said. Or engage the authors in one of the online forums (which has happened). For the “Party Opinion” however (now the “Consideration”), there does not appear to be any one particular person or group of people to hold accountable. Further, since the Party Opinion/Considerations preface each and every motion, it's the very first thing which a potential voter is going to read. A biased “Consideration” is absolutely going to influence a voting outcome. And most of the Considerations in my mind are biased.
There must be an investigation into this, and those who wrote the “Party Opinions” must be identified and held accountable. Given the nature of the comments made on certain motions, there is no doubt that those who have taken this action have their own Agenda. This sort of vote-influencing isn't right, and should never have happened in our Party. As it stands now, our Federal Council and our entire National Office must share the blame and stain of the “Party Opinions”, if for no other reason than there isn't anyone else to blame. I would hope that our Federal Council will vote to get to the bottom of what happened, who was responsible, and to take actions to ensure that a travesty such as this does not happen again. It is completely irresponsible for un-named individuals in our Party to be given such a pulpit from which to preach their preferences and try to influence voters. Let's collect the facts behind this, and determine the appropriate course of action once all of the facts have been collected. If, after the facts are collected, that means firing staff or turfing some members from our Party for unethical behaviour, so be it. But let's get at the facts first of all.
One last item on this: I've seen a tiny bit of this around the blogosphere, but I think it's worth repeating, as I've suggested that those responsible have their own Agenda here. Since we are voting online, who is going to be counting the votes received? Might it be those who were responsible for the lopsided and biased “Party Opinion” in the first place? Given that attempts have already been made to corrupt the voting process in such an unaccountable way, and that these attempts have been allowed to stand, there absolutely needs to be transparency with regards to vote counting, including entrusting individuals not associated with the “Party Opinion” to count votes, and releasing all vote totals for the motions. Even then, as the Party has allowed these prefaces to continue in place, I'm sure that some Greens are going to have a difficult time believing the results.
****UPDATED JULY 27 2010. With regards to the preceding paragraph, I have received information from a very reliable source that all of our online vote counting is always handled by an independent third party. I was neglectful in raising this issue as a concern in my blog earlier. I should have dug a little deeper before expressing the concerns I raised. I was quite remiss for not having done this.****
Email from Elizabeth May
On June 29th, I received an email from our Party Leader, Elizabeth May. Before I go on, I want everyone to know what my own bias is with regards to our Leader: I have been, and continue to be, solidly behind Elizabeth May. I believe that she is an incredible asset for the Party, and that the Party should be doing all that it can to ensure that she is elected in Saanich Gulf Islands in the upcoming Federal Election whenever it may be.
With that said, I was both sad and angry to receive this June 29th email, because I believe it misrepresented some significant facts regarding the motions to be voted on by members through the online voting process.
In the email, May claims that there are “some resolutions would cause an immediate leadership race, forcing me to resign”. There are at least three falsehoods in that one statement. Let's examine them individually.
First, there is only one resolution which would lead to an immediate leadership contest being held: motion G10-d11, “Commitment to Leadership Race” requires Federal Council to call a leadership contest no later than October 31st, 2010. It is the only motion which would lead directly to a leadership contest.
The next issue is one of omission: May doesn't say anything at all regarding the fact that the Constitution and By-laws of this Party currently require a leadership contest to be held in 2010. While this omission may seem a minor point to some, for many of our Members who are not as informed about the goings-on inside of our Party, May's email would lead them to believe that some of the motions, and presumably the people behind the motions, are working to oust her as Leader. Again, it's the Constitution and its by-laws which would trigger the contest in 2010; the only motion before the Membership, G10-d11, a directive motion, is essentially one which requires Federal Council to follow the Constitution (to a degree – more on that later).
The third item: is it true that our Leader must resign during a Leadership contest? There's been considerable debate around this question, and there may be at least one Legal Opinion which has been either offered to Federal Council, or that Federal Council has been made aware of. What I can tell you is that our Constitution and its by-laws do not require the resignation of the Leader during a leadership contest. Just as sitting members of Federal Council are allowed to continue on Council even while campaigning for re-election, the Leader, who is largely just one more member of Federal Council from the perspective of our Party's Constitution, is also allowed to retain the leadership role during the contest. From the Constitution's perspective, it's that simple.
But of course, it's not necessarily that simple. I've heard that it would be both almost impossible to remain leader during an leadership contest, due to Elections Canada rules, and unethical even if possible. Quickly, the problems with Elections Canada rules have to do with the notion of fighting a contest of any sort while receiving certain advantages from the Party, such as a paycheque, or access to membeship lists, or even a blackberry. Sorting out what an individual might be using to advance their cause as Leader versus Leadership Contestant might be very tricky indeed.
However, our current Leader has already shown that it is possible to separate her leadership duties from those Elections Canada obligations and rules which govern contests. Recall that when May sought to become the nominated candidate in Saanich Gulf Islands, she had to go through a candidate nomination contest, because another individual came forward to challenge her. She did not resign from her role as Party Leader to do so. The other nomination contestant, after losing to May, did file a complaint with Elections Canada regarding the very issues identified above: money and access, which were not made equally available to him during the nomination contest. Elections Canada declined to take any action, essentially vindicating May.
Now admittedly the nomination contest was restricted geographically, so the comparison between it and a national leadership campaign is somewhat strained. However, recall that the Party was operating a campaign office, through the local EDA, while the nomination contest was going on, and that May continued to receive her pay from the Party (at least I've not heard otherwise) and continued to be able to access the Party's resources (which I know she did, because there was a posting made to the Party's website during this period which told Party Members, including those in SGI, that she was running to be candidate there).
My point is, though, that Elections Canada took no action.
The ethics question around whether a leader should resign their position to fight a leadership contest is different. All I can say is that the Constitution of the Party does not require it. Not even the authors of the “Party Opinion” preface to the motions have not identified the requirement for our Leader to resign if motion G10-d11 were to succeed. There are no specific provisions in Elections Canada's legislation which require it, although it might be difficult to remain Leader during a leadership contest, and certainly would likely have the appearance of bias. Again, though, suggesting that the Leader is required to resign during a contest just isn't correct. And that's what May did in her email of June 29th.
Had May limited her efforts to encouraging more Party Members to vote for motions through the online process, and simply suggested that there are motions which will significantly change the direction of the Party, that would have been fine. But May clearly went too far in her email by claiming “some resolutions would cause an immediate leadership race, forcing me to resign”, even if she sincerely believes that she must resign as leader during a leadership contest. By presenting her opinion as fact, she crossed a line. She may wish to explain to Members how she, IN FACT, didn't cross any line, but until she can point to a clause in our Constitution or by-laws, or a section of Elections Canada legislation which clearly states that a leader must resign during a leadership contest, she will fail in doing so.
What Elizabeth May needs to do now is go on the record and apologize to Members for this misleading statement of fact. I'd also suggest, but not demand, that she consider also apologizing for the omission of the information regarding the Constitution and its by-laws related to the 4 year fixed term leadership requirement as well. May should apologize in person, at the BGM in Toronto, and issue her statement in a follow-up email to the members. Only when there has been recognition that a wrong action has occurred can a healing process begin.
And friends and Members of the Green Party of Canada, make no mistake that May's email, the Party Opinions, and the goings-on at Federal Council with respect to our Constitution have created a very tense situation leading into the Toronto BGM. Right now, we really could benefit from all sides taking a step back, and letting some of the healing within our Party take hold, especially if we are going to be united in fighting the next Federal election.
However, I'm not optimistic that we'll be able to scale down the current escalating situation. I fear that the damage has been too extensive, and that even an apology by the Leader of the Party for these recent actions, and whatever else she might want to apologize for, isn't going to fill-in this rift.
The Widening Rift
Sylvie Lemieux, the Green Party's past and current nominated candidate for Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, is seeking the Leadership of this Party because she is dissatisfied with the way in which our current leadership (including Federal Council) has decided to try to change our Constitution regarding leadership contests than to follow it. Many others in this Party have gone one step further, and suggested that the fact that they are doing so in Year 4 of a 4 year term is unacceptable and unethical. And some believe that the definition of “4 years” should have resulted in a leadership contest culminating at the August BGM, rather than being put off to be called at some point in the future.
What Sylvie Lemieux's public declaration that she wishes to challenge for the leadership of this Party has done is to turn her now into a lightening rod. Those Party members who may have had a grievance with the leadership over whatever issue, or those members who share the concerns about Federal Council's desire to change the Constitution at the 11th hour, rather than follow what is prescribed, now have an individual, a face, a name, to turn to. Lemiuex has become Anger Personified in this Party.
Whether you agree with Lemiuex's actions or not (and for the record, I think her announcing her desire to be Leader at a time when there is no opportunity for a leadership contest to happen is, frankly, amateurish, and divisive to our Party), what can't be ignored is the impact that this event is likely now going to have on our Party situation. Lemiuex isn't going to go away, whether or not there is a leadership contest held this year. She is going to linger around as an overt challenge to our current Leadership, and likely continue to publicly oppose the decisions of the leadership, be they from May or from Federal Council.
This may not be a disaster for our Party, but it's hardly the sort of thing which a Party with no seats in the house needs at this time. Certainly, she is going to be a divisive distraction in all of our efforts. It would be best if she publicly withdraws her challenge, should the Membership in its wisdom endorse Federal Council's motion to change the Constitution to remove the 4 year Leader term limits. But I don't think that's going to happen.
I'd have a little more respect for Lemieux's concerns with regards to upholding the Constitution of the Party if she wasn't one of the endorsers of resolution G10-d11, the (strangely, in my opinion) named, “Commitment to Leadership Race”. First, from an operative perspective, there isn't any need at all for this Motion. If the other Leadership motions are defeated by the Membership, the Constitution and by-laws continue to provide direction: a leadership contest must be called and a leader elected in 2010.
If the idea behind this motion was to provide clarity regarding the Constitutional requirements for a leadership race, the motion doesn't accomplish it. In fact, it only goes to muddy the waters even further. As it is a directive motion, it does not seek to amend the by-laws, specifically subsection 22.214.171.124 of the by-laws, which sets out the fixed term requirement and identifies that the leader shall be elected every 4 years, starting in 2006.
Instead, what G10-d11 does is call for Federal Council to begin a leadership contest no later than October 31st of 2010, and to have that contest conclude no later than April 30, 2011.
April 30, 2011? What's up with that? If our Constitution and its by-laws are to be “respected” in their current form, and as this motion doesn't seek to change the Constitution or its by-laws, why is this motion calling for the allowance of a leadership contest to conclude in 2011, which isn't in keeping with the current wording of the Constitution and its by-laws? That's hardly the sort of “Respect” one would expect from such a motion.
Again, the current by-law is clear: a leadership contest must elect a leader in 2010. Why, then, this call for an extended leadership contest? Initially, when I first read the motion, it made no sense to me at all. Now, with recent events, including one of the motion co-sponsors publicly challenging our Leader of the Party, things have started to fall into place. Could it be that Lemieux is concerned that a shorter leadership contest would not benefit her, and as a result, she is calling for a longer contest, even if it is outside of the bounds of our current Constitution and by-laws which she claims to want to uphold?
I'm getting very concerned about the level of gaming which has been going on lately in our Party, and particularly with our Party's Constitution and By-laws. Seems like some in our Party are using these instruments in ways not originally intended. These documents, which set out the governance rules of our Party, should be treated as promises to the Membership by those in positions of authority. While there is an amendment process in place which must be respected, what's happening lately is an abuse of process.
It started with Federal Council's desire to find a way around the 4 year Leader fixed term, back in the fall of last year, when it became apparent that a federal election wasn't going to happen in 2009. Extra-consitutional options were initially explored, and disposed of, before Fed Council settled on the idea of endorsing a motion to be presented to the Membership at the BGM. I finally applauded this way of resolving what was quickly becoming a Constitutional Crisis, because I believed that presenting a clear option to the Membership was likely the best we were going to be able to do to resolve this situation amicably.
When the motion came to be endorsed by Federal Council, I was happy to see that it was a fairly clear and operative motion, with only one (significant) flaw, in my opinion, which appeared to be only as a result of oversight, and not because of bias. Since being posted online for voting, though, coupled with “Party Opinion” preface, and with a misleading and inaccurate email to Party Members, the motion to change the Constitution from Fed Council has lost more than some of its neutrality. It is being gamed.
And whether as a result of that gaming, or for other politically motivated reasons, a challenger to our Leader has now publicly stepped forward, even though there is no leadership contest currently underway. This challenger claims to want to respect the Constitution of the Party, but she sponsors a motion which would prolong the very leadership contest she wishes to fight. This has turned her motion into nothing more than a self-serving headache which our Federal Council would have to figure out how to reconcile with our current by-laws should it be adopted by the Membership. To my knowledge, Lemieux hasn't even bothered to explain her actions. Perhaps she feels that the motion is actually in keeping with our by-laws.
Shades of Grey
Which brings me to my final point here in Part 1. When it comes to policy, by-laws and the Constitution itself, there are always going to be shades of grey in any text. This can and will lead to differences of interpretation, and often not everyone is going to agree on how something should be strictly interpreted. Even something seemingly innocuous, such as “4 years” can be (and is) open to considerable interpretation. So conflict over interpretation shouldn't be unexpected.
What is unexpected to some, however, is how political some of these interpretations can (and have) become. The fact is, though, that's the nature of decision-making. Those who are charged with making decisions in this Party are operating in a political environment: they are elected by the Membership to govern. They've made their decisions, and they can now be held accountable to the Party for making them. That's the way that the process must work. Decision-making is a political process; it is not a neutral process. It can't be.
Where some things seem to be going off of the rails have more to do with ethics and respect. While decision-making is a political process, we as Greens should not be engaging in deliberate misrepresentations of facts to further our own positions. That's wrong, even though it may work. And I've started seeing a little too much of that for my liking in the last few weeks. I'm starting to become a little embarrassed to be a Green right now.
Therefore, I'll offer one last suggestion: it's time to consider shaping up, and in the process of doing so, trying to heal this very real rift between elements of the Party. Healing has to begin through an overt process; those who need to apologize for actions taken should do so. Those who authored the biased Party Opinion pieces need to step down from their current positions while an investigation takes place which will lead to resolving this matter. Those who have stepped forward in effort to take political advantage of this situation must back off until the timing is right for an appropriate challenge to the Leadership. In a very real way, the future of our Party's success very much depends on us getting this right. We risk more than not electing an MP in the next election should we fail in this task.
Part 2 of this post will look at how I'll be voting on certain motions, and why. As far as influencing voters go by publishing my own voting intentions, I will suggest only that I'm going to be as upfront as possible with my own bias.