Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Green Party Voting Results, Part 1: Expect More Leadership Contests as Leadership Review Threshold Passed By Members is Too High

Well, the results for the Green Party's online voting in advance of the BGM in Toronto have now been posted. Using the “Bonser Ballot” method, it looks like most of the proposed 74 motions were “green-lighted” by the membership. That means those motions won't be debated on the floor of the General Meeting. A handful of other motions, including some controversial ones, were “yellow-lighted”, and they will be debated. No motions received an outright red-light, which would have disposed of a motion altogether.

As you probably have read on other blogs by this time, the controversial proposal by Federal Council to change the way in which the Party elects its leader (by replacing 4 year fixed term with a “leadership review” after a federal election), was green-lighted by the Membership, receiving approximately 75% of votes cast. While no one is yet conceding that this is the end of the discussion regarding leadership (for now), the fact is that those trying to make a case for an immediate leadership contest will now find it even more difficult to force Council's hand to call a contest.

The final step in the process of amending our Party's by-laws to remove the 4 year fixed-term for a Leader of the Party will now take place at the BGM in Toronto. It will be up to the membership present to vote to accept that motion, and other green-lighted motions. Some members may believe that action alone will bring an end to the leadership conundrums affecting the Party. They would be grossly mistaken. While Council's motion might bring matters to a close for now (depending on whether a yellow-lighted directive motion succeeds on the floor of the BGM or not --- more on that later), the fact is we Greens have voted to set our Party and its Leader up for some incredible heartache down the road.

The motion which has been greenlighted by the Membership creates a new process for our Party: that of the “leadership review”. This is a popular process in other parties; after an election, there will be a mandatory vote on whether or not the Members wish to hold a leadership contest. If the current leader of the Party receives 60% of the votes of the members in good standing, there need not be a leadership contest. Of course, even with the 60% threshold, the Leader can still decide to step down if he or she doesn't feel that their mandate has been renewed by the Membership; such an action would trigger a leadership contest.

Sounds ok so far, eh? That's what the other parties do, right? Well, yes and no. What we Greens have done is set the bar for our Leader so very high that to me it seems impossible that there won't be a leadership contest taking place after every election.

What? 60% isn't very high, you might be saying. Indeed, a motion which was just voted on by the Party endorsing our current leader (G10-d ), Elizabeth May's leadership, received about 85% of the vote. How, then, is it unreasonable to believe that a leader in the future won't receive 60%?

Apples and oranges, dear friends. The above motion, G10-d02 , received 85% of the votes cast by Members in good standing. The test for a leadership review, however, according to the motion drafted for and accepted by our Federal Council, establishes the threshold at 60% of the Members in good standing; it says nothing about votes being cast.

Think I'm out of line on this? Well, here's what the motion G10-c29, Party Leader Term, actually says (the bold, below, is my addition, to highlight the key wording):

BE IT RESOLVED that Bylaw be amended to " Within six months of a Federal General Election, unless the leader becomes prime minister, a Leadership Review, where all Members in good standing may vote, shall be held. The date of the Leadership Review vote will be set by Federal Council and may coincide with a General Meeting. The Leader's term shall end if Members in good standing do not pass a resolution endorsing the Leader by at least 60%.

You'll note that this motion does not refer to ballots or votes. It simply says the term shall end if Members in good standing do not pass a resolution by at least 60%. The motion could have went on to clarify that the intention was “of votes cast”, but it did not. Which leads me to conclude one of two things: either our Federal Council, in a nod to grassroots democracy, set this standard so high in order to encourage Party Members to cast their ballots in a very critical review process, or they goofed up. Given the number of people in trusted positions of governance who were involved in putting together this motion, and voting on its acceptance, I can't believe that the wording here is a goof-up.

A more likely scenario (for some readers): I'm totally misreading this motion, and the intent of the motion should be construed as establishing a threshold of 60% of votes cast. I concede that's a possibility, but I'll suggest it's not likely, for the following reasons.

First, this interpretation did not start with me. It was brought to my attention some time earlier through comments posted online by a prominent Member of this Party who wrote extensively about it. Given that these comments were posted behind a firewall (and I keep getting a tongue-lashing from some for repeating what's been posted behind firewalls, so I won't do so again here), I won't name the member again, or use their words to describe the situation. Suffice it to say, though, that this interpretation is not mine alone.

Second, let's look at similar wording written into our governing documents where votes need to reach certain thresholds. Perhaps we can find some additional guidance on this topic.

Our Constitution offers some direction here, for three different types of voting: 1) amendments to the Constitution itself; 2) amendments to by-laws; 3) policy creation. Let's quickly look at each.

Section 10.1.3 of the Party's Constitution provides for a process whereby Members can amend the Constitution. This section states the following (again, the bold is mine):

Amendments shall be adopted by a majority of the votes cast by Members in good standing at a General Meeting, and shall only become effective upon Members in good standing passing an identically worded amendment by a vote of greater than 1/2 (50%) of the votes cast in a Members' vote conducted by mail-in ballot, with a ballot return date of no later than one-hundred-twenty (120) days following the General Meeting at which the amendment was passed.

So here we find the language which specifies that votes must be cast by Members in good standing, with the clarifying proviso that the votes are cast at a General Meeting. Clearly, though, to amend our Constitution, a simple majority of votes cast by Members in good standing at a general meeting is all that is necessary (except for the “ratification” process, which happens afterwards, which by the way also establishes a 50% threshold of votes cast by Members in good standing).

The process for amending by-laws is found in 10.2.3, and is similar. It reads:

Amendments shall be adopted by a majority of the votes cast by Members in good standing at a General Meeting.

Again, this section of our Constitution provides a threshold which counts only votes cast.
The policy section, 10.3.1, is quite similar to the Constitutional amendment section. Let's see what its wording says:

Policy motions passed at a General Meeting shall only become effective upon Members in good standing passing an identically worded resolution by a vote of greater than 1/2 (50%) of the votes cast in a Members' vote conducted by mail-in ballot, with a ballot return date of no later than one-hundred-twenty (120) days following the General Meeting at which the Policy resolution was passed.

Indeed, the process spelled out for amending the Constitution, by-laws and creating policy are very clear and leave no room for creative interpretation: the intent is here to establish a threshold based only on votes cast. And the wording is clearly quite different than that used in our Federal Council's motion, which refers only to a resolution being passed by 60% of the Membership in good standing.

So, what are the implications here? In what was billed as the most controversial set of motions ever presented to the Membership, the voting results indicate that only 18.3% of our Members actually cast ballots. I understand that this number actually represents the highest tally of voters casting ballots through an online process in our Party.

And it stands to reason that we should trumpet this voter turn out as a mild success, given the marathon number of motions which our Membership were asked to cast ballots on. Still, the overall percentage is quite low. Can we draw any conclusions here with regards to a leadership review process?

Well, yes I think we can. Although a leadership review process is likely going to be a heck of a lot more straightforward with regards to the sorts of text that we provide to our Membership to vote on, can we really expect that a high-interest, easy to understand “Yes I support the Leader or No I don't” sort of question is going to engage a significant number of the membership that it's likely more than 60% of the membership will actually cast a ballot? I suppose it's possible...but not likely. And if 40% of the Membership doesn't vote, even if every other Member votes for the sitting Leader, guess what? We'll be having a leadership contest.

Likely, this is the position that we're going to find ourselves in after every federal election: our leader fails a review, and we'll be having a leadership contest!

My question is, why on earth are we setting ourselves as a Party up for this kind of nonsense? Think about how the media is going to portray this situation: Greens Dump Another Leader after Failing Review Process! Yes, no matter the popularity of a Leader, unless more than 60% of the thousands of members in our Party cast their ballots in favour of the Leader, the Leader will fail the review. What an absolute gift to the other parties, and what a disservice to our membership, and frankly, to whoever may be the Leader of the Party.

The answer, of course, will be to figure out a way to engage the membership so that just about every card carrying Member of our Party actually casts a ballot in a review process. I frankly have no idea how we're going to do this. Maybe we could start with personal phone calls from Green Party staff to each and every Member, reminding them to vote. Of course, we would need to be very careful that staff don't try to influence individual members to vote a certain way. Or maybe we could use a much easier voting process sent in a single email: simply click a link for Yes or a different link for No. Of course, we'd have to make sure that such a process would be secure, and that people couldn't vote more than once.

Or maybe our Federal Council simply interprets “The Leader's term shall end if Members in good standing do not pass a resolution endorsing the Leader by at least 60%” as meaning something different than what is actually stated, and instead count only the votes cast. Hmmm...I'm sure that would go over well, based on past experiences with the interpretation of what the term “4 years” means. I'm fairly certain that if Federal Council tried to interpret the by-law in a different way to which it was written that we would find ourselves mired in controversy again.

I wonder if the Party's Membership realized the implications of green-lighting this motion? I suspect that maybe they didn't. Certainly, the Party Opinion / Considerations made no reference to this issue, nor did it appear in the extensive background notes appended to the online motion. It was raised in the forums, but I suspect many voters didn't click the link to access the forums. The “Supporters of Elizabeth May” who provided a handy-dandy voting card to many Members through email urged Members to vote “green” to this motion, thereby ensuring that changes could not be made on the floor of the BGM to what Fed Council had proposed.

I blogged about this matter earlier, and urged Members to vote “Yellow” to this motion, for the soul reason so that the language in the motion could be corrected to reflect other processes which the Party uses, by counting only those votes actually cast.

But it looks like we, as a Party, are going to be stuck with this incredibly high threshold of support for our Leader in any future leadership review process. Even an incredibly popular Leader is going to have an incredibly difficult time of meeting this threshold of 60% of the Party's entire Membership. And given that we're likely going to find ourselves continuing with minority governments in this nation, and therefore will likely have federal elections at less than 4 year intervals, the outcome will be that our Party will actually be engaging in more leadership contests than had we kept the wording in our existing by-law. And the huge problem is that many of these contests might be completely unnecessary, if the sitting leader retains general popularity. you think maybe my interpretation here is out to lunch? I hope that, after looking at the evidence to the contrary yourself, and going through the specific wording, you can see that we've actually established a different way of determining a threshold. The motion could have easily been worded to specifically reference voting Members; it was not worded in that way. Instead, it references only Members in good standing passing a resolution by at least 60%. This motion went through a review process with our Federal Council, and was approved by a majority of Councillors. For whatever their reason, this new kind of threshold must clearly be what was intended. Or it was a goof. Either way, we're now stuck with it. At least until the next BGM in two years when we'll be having at it over this section of the by-law again.


Addendum: I understand that there may still be an opportunity to address this issue. Although greenlighted motions are typically passed by the membership in an omnibus resolution on the floor of a BGM, it's happened in the past that some motions have been pulled out for further discussion and change. Motion G10-c29, would be an ideal candidate for some fixing-up. So, perhaps there is still something which can be done on the floor of the BGM to salvage the situation I've described above.

1 comment:

bluegreenblogger said...

HaHa, Steve, you are highlighting a deliberate ambiguity. If the motion passed was clear, and unambiguous then there would be no room to move the goal posts in the future. Ambiguity serves Federal Councuil very nicely, because it allows the 'powers that be' to 'interpret' the will of the membership. Any ambiguity whatsoever will be enough to open the discussion, and move it into secret committees to shape the outcome.
If you and your readers are not yet convinced that every mandated process is shamelessly manipulated, the events leading up to the BGM should make it clear.