Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Predictions for 2010: Gazing into my Crystal Ball

Just trying to get a little ahead of the game here, by publishing my Crystal-Ball gazing predictions for 2010 a bit in advance of the New Year’s arrival. I must acknowledge that some of these predictions could go out the window before the year does, if certain actions to shut down Parliament are taken in the next few days by the Harper Government.

Of course, my predictions need to be taken with a grain of salt the size of a Prius. Last year I predicted, amongst other matters, that the Vancouver Canucks would win the Stanley Cup.

1. Afghanistan

Many will predict that the detainee scandal which rocked parliament at the end of 2009 will carry over into 2010, one way or the other. Right now, Harper is musing about progroguing parliament to avoid tough questions in Opposition controlled committees. Maybe he will or maybe he won’t. What I think is certain, though, is that this story will begin to fade, as most Canadians just don’t care about it. The story had a good run in the mainstream media, but over the holidays it’s largely died out. There will be no victims of this scandal in the Conservative caucus.

In fact, I expect that Afghanistan will remain a muted story across the board throughout 2010, as the die has already been cast for troop withdrawal in 2011. No one will want to rock the boat.

Internationally, though, expect to see some stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan as a result of the Obama Surge, but only because the insurgents will be content to lie low until such time that the Americans withdraw.

Pakistan, though, is likely to experience significant problems. Here you can expect General Ashfaq Kiyani to take the reigns of power by mid-year, after the Zardari government finally implodes. Kiyani’s coup will be bloodless, and supported by the U.S. Unfortunately, the military’s seizure of power, while providing stability in the short term, will lead to insurgency throughout much of Pakistan. Covert intervention by U.S. forces in the Northwest Frontier and possibly Baluchistan could result. Expect the Iranians and the Indians to be involved as well, as Pakistan begins to fall apart.

2. Double-Dip Trouble

There was talk not all that long ago about fears related to a "Double-Dip Recession"; in other words, a new recession eating into the economic recovery that we’re just beginning to experience. A lot of that talk has been banished recently, as the recovery appears to be picking up steam. But we’re not out of the woods yet. As the recovery begins to take hold, the very same factor which was the trigger for the 2008/09 recession will come back into play: rising energy prices.

As oil and natural gas prices increase, the recovery will sputter. Whether we end up in another recession or not remains to be seen, but confidence will be shaken, and jobs will be lost. Expect this to occur in the late summer / early fall of 2010, just after gasoline prices rise to over a $1.20 per litre across Canada.

What I think will be interesting about the stalled recovery, however, will be the recognition that rising energy prices were in fact to blame. There will be no suggestion that the international banking community or the U.S. housing bubble was the culprit. Instead, it will be clearer to economists and Canadians that the real culprit is energy. I expect a new term will begin to enter the editorial pages and water-cooler discussions next year. Well, new to most Canadians, but not us Greens. That term: Peak Oil.

3. North American Cap and Trade

As the U.S. finally figures out what it’s going to do in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, you can expect the creation of a North American cap and trade system will result (and you’ll hear talk of Mexico’s participation near the tail end of 2010). The U.S. will be shooting for emissions reductions of 14-15% below a 2005 baseline by 2020 (translating into an abysmal target of approximately 2% from the 1990 baseline just about every other nation is using). Given what’s in store for the North American economy in the emerging "Terrible Teens", the target will be achieved.

Canada will follow suit, and begin serious negotiations with the Obama administration, in an effort to wrap this up by the G8/G20. The biggest stumbling block which will be overcome will be to prescribe "intensity-based" reduction targets to tar sands producers, while committing Canada to a watered-down 2020 target in line with the U.S.’s (around 2% by 2020, using a 1990 baseline). This will, of course, be the last nail in the already shut and super-glued Kyoto coffin.

Don’t expect the Conservatives to present any policy on how the 2% reduction will be achieved, however. That will have to wait. The only certainty will be that Ontario and Quebec’s manufacturing sector will get nervous about having to contribute more for reductions than the tar sands. The mining sector, too, will be getting nervous (but few Canadians will care about that, given the already tarnished reputation of the Canadian mining sector). If Dalton McGuinty really does shut down the remaining coal-fired generating plants in this province, however, all of Canada will likely be on track to achieve the 2% target.

Whoever the participants, though, the North American Cap and Trade program is sure to be a boondoggle, and will lead to little in the way of emissions reductions, relying instead of off-sets. This is one of the few things which I happen to agree with Sun Media writer Lorrie Goldstein on.

4. The Strange Case of the Continued Disappearance of Elizabeth May

I think this is going to be a very difficult year for our Leader. 2009 was truly a "Lost Year" for our Party, as we disappeared from the national political scene. Elizabeth May herself vanished throughout the summer of 2009, only truly returning to the national stage in December, after an unsuccessful performance at the Munk Debate. While she performed better in Copenhagen, coming across as truly committed on the environmental file (being the only national party leader to attend the whole darn conference – and having gained some decent media coverage as a result), we can expect May to continue to be a non-entity throughout 2010. Yes, no doubt her efforts are going to be focussed on Saanich-Gulf Islands, where identifying voters is going to be Job #1. And yes, I expect that there will be some pay-off there in the long-run as I fully expect us to increase our vote-count there (although I am still predicting electoral failure in SGI). The cost of putting our eggs into a single basket, though, is going to be significant for the rest of the Party.

A strategy of focussing on the election of our Leader in a "winnable" riding at the cost of every other riding might have seemed like a good idea in early 2009 after our ill-performance in 2008, but the longer an election is delayed, the worse off we’re going to be as a Party. Our relevance has already slipped, and for me, this is unacceptable at this time, particularly as Canadians have started waking up to the environmental crisis we now find ourselves in.

Increasingly, we can expect Canadians concerned about the environment to turn to the NDP. I sincerely predict that we’ll see Jack Layton’s polling numbers start to turn upwards as a result, and we will hear a lot more from Jack on the environment in 2010 than we’ve heard from him before. No longer will he be spooked to speak about carbon pricing, now that all Canadians will have accepted a cap and trade system. As the Green Party slips into irrelevancy across the nation, the NDP will fill the vacuum on the environment. Much to the detriment of Canada, I believe, because I continue to question the NDP’s sincerity here. Nevertheless, they’ll start to talk to the talk, while our voices will continue to be suppressed and/or remain unheard.

Throw in a minor scandal within the Green Party itself (which will begin to erupt early in the new year as the mainstream media starts to pick up on how our Leader’s people are trying to avoid a mandated Leadership contest, which will thus lead to what some would consider a dictatorial situation in a grass-roots party), as well as negative press stemming from a court case beginning in early January around her rejection of a high-profile British Columbia GPC candidate in the 2008 election, and it all adds up to a bad year for our Leader and for our Party.

Can we renew ourselves? Not in time for the next election, and potentially not afterwards either, unless the cult of personality is replaced. And the only way that’s going to happen is if May herself decides to step down as Leader or somehow manages to score a victory in SGI.

Look, I like May. In part I joined this Party because of her. But some very bad decisions are being made by Federal Council, in my opinion, and these decisions are going to start to haunt us further.

5. Fall Federal Election

A federal election in the fall seems inevitable, given the above predictions. With the economy down-turning into a recession, Harper’s popularity will take a hit, as it becomes apparent that the Conservatives don’t have a firm grasp on the economic matters of state. People will slowly start to realize the mess we’re in, with rising energy prices, rising unemployment, and a rising national deficit. While the hurt experienced from program and spending cuts will only just have begun to be felt, the Opposition Parties, will seize on this as the moment to bring down the government. And they will be right to do so, because clearly the Conservatives will remain headed in the wrong direction.

Added prediction #1: The Green Party’s message will be largely ignored by the mainstream media, and our Leader will not be participating in the televised Leader’s debate (indeed, there may not even be any such debates next time around; it’s possible that Harper will choose to duck out, and if he’s not there, don’t expect to Layton to show up either; the whole thing would fall apart). With a lack of national exposure, our national vote percentage will decline to around 5%, and we will fail to elect any candidates. Our Leader will finish in third place in SGI, behind the Conservatives and the Liberals respectively.

Added prediction #2: Expect a Conservative Minority outcome, but only just. The Bloc, Liberals and NDP will all gain at the expense of the Conservatives, with the NDP’s gains being the most significant. You can expect a Liberal-NDP coalition government supported by the Bloc as a result, after a quick non-confidence vote on the Throne Speech and a letter to the G-G from Layton and Ignatieff. There will be no prorogation, and no major constitutional crisis, and largely Canadians will accept this outcome. Expect the NDP to play a more prominent role in this government than they were willing to entertain the last time there was talk of a coalition. Harper will be down, but not out, though. Expect him to linger around for a while yet.

6. Election of Greens – to municipal councils in Ontario

This is one is a little more difficult to predict. Municipal elections are scheduled for October 25th, 2010. A fall federal election could play havoc with all party’s candidates who are also seeking municipal office in Ontario. If there’s any chance, the fall federal election date will try to avoid Ontario’s municipal election date, so expect the federal election to occur in late November, 2010, or even early December. This could mean an extended period of campaigning (beyond what’s become the typical 35 days) should the government fall in late September/early October.

Anyway, the good news here for Greens will be that many more local politicians with an affiliation to our Party will be elected municipally than ever before. As organization and campaign skills gained in the last federal are used by Greens municipally, and with increasing frustration with municipal councils being experienced in many Ontario locales (similar to what was felt here in 2003), many incumbents will be turfed by voters, to be replaced with "greener" candidates who know how to talk about what local economies need and how we’re going to get there.

The bad news here is that some of our federal candidates will be torn with devoting their energies to running municipally (where they have a shot at winning and actually making a significant green contribution to the political decision-making process) or federally (where they have no realistic hope of winning and are there to wave the flag and collect our per-vote subsidy only). Expect to see some higher-profile GPC candidates to jump ship in the late summer and enter the municipal fray if they haven’t already. Which will leave the Party less prepared to fight a federal election in Ontario. And I haven’t even discussed volunteers and campaigns here.

7. Moving out of the "Oh Oh!" years and into the "Terrible Teens"

This is more of a decadal prediction than one for a single year. I just read an article somewhere that described the "nature" of the past decade as being one focussed on "fear", and I tend to agree with that statement. So, while there were previously the "dirty thirties" and the "gay nineties", I think that we’ll one day refer to the years of 2000-2009 as being the "oh oh!" years. And those years of fear are going to give way to years of real panic throughout the world in the next decade, which we’ll start referring to as the "Terrible Teens", perhaps even before the year 2013 (I want credit in Wikipedia for coming up with these terms, ok?)

Economic recovery is not going to happen. And while this may be one way of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and hitting those shallow targets we’re in the process of establishing, I’ll argue that it’s not going to be a good thing. Rising energy prices will lead to inflation. Credit will all but vanish, and there will be a few threats as a result: pegging the international economy to a basket of currencies rather than to the U.S. dollar is going to cause grief in North America. A rising Canadian petro-dollar will spell doom to Ontario and Quebec’s manufacturing sector.

As good farmland throughout the world continues to be bought up by emerging powerhouse nations such as China, you can expect rising food prices (throw in inflation and increased transportation costs there too). As a result, there is likely to be suffering in the developing world on a scale not seen before. Expect several nations to descend completely or partially into anarchy as a result, the biggest being Pakistan (although India, South Africa, Brazil, the Phillippines, and Indonesia will not be immune). Most of Africa, in fact, will be in trouble. Even Australia isn’t likely to avert troubles related to an international food shortage.

Yet, for all of that, the teens will remain only a prelude to the real problematic years we can expect in the 2020s.

8. The Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup.

A more solid pick than the Canucks, I think. But here I’m also revealing my own office hockey pool strategy, in honour of a well-loved member of my office who departed this world prematurely in 2009. I will be adopting his largely successful strategy of loading up on Red Wings when we have our playoff draft at the end of the NHL season. We all miss you here, Gord, and we wish you could fleece us blind again.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Upon Revisiting My Predictions for 2009 - "The Average Prognosticator"

Yes, when it comes to predicting the future, I’m just plain Average. That may not come as a surprise to many. Certainly not to me. Heck, I’m often glad that my predictions don’t come true, maybe because I often expect things to turn out a little more negatively than they do.

Last year, in a blogpost dated December 30, 2008, I made a number of predictions about 2009. It’s time to revisit those predictions to assess just how poorly I did. Follow-up is necessary, I think, so that you will be better prepared for the rash predictions I’m sure to make for the year 2010.

1. More War

Well, I kind of got that one right. I’ll give myself an A anyway. First, the loser prediction, which was more of a toss-off than serious analysis. Thankfully, there was no Israeli assault on Iranian nuclear reactors. Maybe I’ll re-hash that again for 2010.

With regards to Obama not being the Prince of Peace many thought that he would be, I can point to the Afghan surge of an additional 30,000 troops on their way to that troubled territory as evidence that the President remains a war hawk. Troop draw downs in Iraq have been negligible, although things seemed to have remained relatively quiet there throughout the year. Pakistan, though, as predicted, is on the verge of implosion; well, at least the Zardari government is. What might replace the U.S.’s plenipotentiary in the region is anyone’s guess. A more Islamicized government of the people? Sharif? Or perhaps General Kiyani will be the new American order-taker on the block. Either way, Pakistan fell increasingly into internal turmoil throughout 2009, and things look rather grim for the region in 2010.

2. Another General Election in Canada

Well, I mostly blew that call. Definitely D territory here. I say "mostly" because there were few nuggets there which I think I got right. Yes, sure, I know, there was no fall election. Heck, that surprised me more than most, I think. I really didn’t think that Jack Layton was going to reverse years of NDP political direction, betraying the loyalists in his Party in the process, for short-term political gains (that being maintaining the status-quo in Parliament instead of a loss of seats for the NDP; recall that when the election show-down finally did materialize this fall, the NDP had slipped in the polls).

Ignatieff, however, did sink the "Liberal - NDP Coalition supported by the Bloc" as I predicted (uhm, I don’t think I was alone with that prediction, least not on the 30th of December last year). Ultimately, most of the Liberals voted with the Conservatives in support of the budget. I said that some Libs would absent themselves from the vote. Instead, a cadre of Newfoundland and Labrador Libs actually voted against the budget, so I’m taking half a point there for my prediction (don’t agree? Sue me).

For the election which didn’t happen, I predicted a somewhat reduced Conservative Minority government, with seat gains by the Liberals at the expense of the NDP, and no Green elected. If current polls are any indicator of electoral success (and I know that they’re not, but if they were), likely the outcome wouldn’t be all that different than I predicted, except I don’t think that the NDP will lose as many seats to the Liberals as I once thought. Even though Layton played politics at the expense of ideology, the NDP has been holding their own these past couple of months. We Greens should be concerned about this, as weak-NDP supporters are one of our core target groups to poach votes from, especially if they’re under 30 years of age.

Finally, I predicted that Michael Ignatieff would brand himself with Canadians as a "Consultative Strong-Man, who knows just what the economy needs." I was wrong on all counts there. First, Ignatieff has failed to brand himself as anything at all. Instead, the Conservative’s "Just Visiting" pre-election campaigning has succeeded to a degree in branding him instead. But give some credit to Ignatieff here too: he just didn’t seem to want to tell Canadians what he’s all about. Or what the Liberal Party really stands for. As far as knowing just what the economy needs, Ignatieff and the Liberals just don’t have a clue, at least not one which they’ve articulated. What particularly galled me in 2009 was Ignatieff’s call for continuing to promote dirty oil extraction from the tar sands as Canada’s economic development engine. Liberal Premiers McGuinty in Ontario and Charest in Quebec must be scratching their heads about this, as the Canadian petrol-dollar continues to creep upwards, throwing thousands in the manufacturing sector in Central Canada out of jobs.

Yes, with the consultative and decisive leadership displayed by Michael Ignatieff, the Liberals must be feeling really smug at the end of 2009. Of course, they will likely elect someone in the next election.

3. The Green Party will not Elect a Single MP

Well, I got this one right, but not for the right reasons, so I’ll give myself a B- on this count. See, given that I was predicting a general election in this fall, this prediction would have had a little more weight had that event actually occurred. Instead, we had only 4 by-elections. But there were a few other things going on this past year: general elections in British Columbia and Nova Scotia. In all of these elections, the Green Party failed to elect anyone to a legislature. Further, results in all of these elections for Green candidates were far less than we expected them to be.

As far as the Federal by-elections went, results were terrible. We couldn’t even hold onto the gains we had made since 2008. By-elections are probably the best opportunities our Party has to elect someone, given that the fate of the government does not hang in the balance, and voters are less likely to vote strategically. Yet, we really blew it with the by-elections.

One bright spot: now-GPO Leader Mike Schreiner did well in a Ontario provincial by-election where he faced off against (former) PC Leader John Tory and the Liberal who eventually won (whose name I don’t recall). Schreiner out-polled the NDP and did pretty well in a part of the province Greens haven’t had a lot of success in (Haliburton-Kawartha).

4. Establishment of a North American Cap and Trade System

A for effort here, F for timing. Look, despite Lorrie Goldstein’s syndicated daily rants in my local newspaper, a North American Cap and Trade system is on its way in. Although Goldstein makes me very, very angry, with regards to cap and trade, I think he’s on to something. In my opinion, this isn’t the brightest idea out there regarding how to price carbon. I’m very concerned about the loopholes which are going to be created for the coal and likely tar-sands industries. I don’t like the fact that other industrial sectors are going to be on the emissions-hook for cleaning themselves up while some of the biggest polluters are let off with intensity-based targets (here I’m VERY concerned about impacts on extractive industries in the mining sector).

Cap and Trade is going to happen; just not in 2009. Whether it’ll reduce greenhouse gas emissions or not remains to be seen.

5. The Vancouver Canucks Win the Stanley Cup

A big fat F here for me, and an A+ for the person picking after me in the hockey pool, which happened to be my wife. I took Daniel Sedin, she took Sid the Kid Crosby, and the rest is history (which I still haven’t managed to live down).

So what’s that...Two A’s, a B-, a D and two F’s. Kind of looks my report card from first year university. Anyway, not bad for 5 predictions; at least I received 6 marks, with a median of a C (ok, almost a C-). Lookit me, Blogosphere! I’m Average! Which puts my crystal ball gazing right up there in the ethereal rarified atmosphere amongst the truly giant in the realm of celeb prognosticators like Margarate Wente of the Globe and Mail. Be still, my beating heart!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Green Party "Year in Review", 2009

Green Party "Year in Review", 2009: The "Lost Year"

In the spirit of the season, this is going to be one of those "looking back at the events that shaped our world in the past year" blogposts. Although I’m hoping to make this a little special for Green Party folks by focussing primarily on our own Party. It’s been an interesting, and somewhat disappointing year for our Party. Some have been referring to it as the "lost year". Certainly, after the highs we experienced during the Fall 2008 election campaign, expectations of continued growth on the national scene were not realized, and the Party appears to have taken steps backward. Whether we will be able to re-gain lost ground during the next Federal election remains a big question in the minds of many Green supporters and sympathizers. Some recent positive outcomes, though, have certainly been achieved by our Leader at the tail end of 2009, which bodes well for 2010.

Here’s my own personal list of the highs and lows we experienced during the past 12 months. Certainly, many will disagree with some of my observations, and I suspect that more than a few will be very critical of my analysis of the past year. That’s fine by me, of course. I’m just calling things as I see them. So go ahead and be critical. I just ask that you support your critiques with facts, rather than conjecture or simple contrary statements. By trying to capture a lot of the highs and lows our Party experienced this past year, my own commentary on any particular item is somewhat brief. Rest assured, I could go on. But rest assured, I won’t right now.

February Biennial Convention

The rescheduled 2-year convention was finally held this past February in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, and a good time was apparently enjoyed by all in attendance. Keynote speakers offered up some compelling messaging for the consumption of the hard-core Party members in attendance. Indeed, the convention may have been the high-note of the Party’s successes experienced last year, although media coverage of this event was somewhat tepid; indeed, a Liberal Party event held in Halifax during the same weekend gathered far more media coverage, as did the NDP’s and Liberals own Party conventions held later in 2009.

One of the great failings of the convention, though, certainly had to do with the Party continuing to ignore the very important issue of establishing a proxy voting system which would actually create a real delegate-based convention system. Right now, General Meetings of the Party are carried out by those Members who have the resources to attend. By holding meetings in out-of-the-way locations, many members who otherwise might have an interest in attending have few opportunities to have their voices heard and no way to express their views. A real proxy voting system would at least provide non-attending members with an opportunity to take part in the decision-making process. The Party seriously needs to consider implementing this change in the very near future, in order to avoid results which some might consider to be tainted by the regional and economic make-up of Members in attendance. Our Constitution contemplates this voting system, yet we have continued to fail to act on its implementation to our own democratic detriment.

Another, more personal criticism of the General Meeting was the almost complete failure of the live webcast. I was one of those Members who couldn’t afford to take time off from work to travel to Nova Scotia to attend the General Meeting, but when I heard that a webcast of plenary events (including keynote addresses) was being offered through the Party’s website, I made a point of planning to park myself in front of the computer that weekend. Technical issues, however, prevented the broadcast of most of the General Meeting, and I gave up in frustration after several hours of trying to reload the page to acquire a signal. In the year 2009, surely we could have done better than this.

Candidate Nominations

In March of 2009, the Party opened up its candidate nomination process, with the desired outcome to have nominated candidates in all Electoral Districts with Associations in place by the middle of June. A comprehensive set of rules was provided by the Party for EDA’s to follow. The outcome of this process was, to put it mildly, extremely embarrassing, as EDA’s across the nation failed to deliver nominated candidates for whatever reason. By the mid-June deadline, only a small fraction of EDA’s had nominated candidates. At the end of December, 2009, we still only have nominated candidates in 173 electoral districts (according to Pundit’s Guide).

While we’re second-best to the Conservatives in terms of nominated candidates, simply put, the drive to get candidates nominated over the course of 2009 has been an abject failure, particularly given the Party’s massive pre-occupation with an election call which we were almost certain occur this past fall. I also firmly believed that we would be in the midst of an election after Ignatieff decided it was time to pull the trigger. It was only Jack Layton’s 180 degree about-face on his own Party’s entrenched positions on non-co-operation with the Cons which avoided an election (which came as a surprise to me, because I figured that Layton must have at least something he believed in and wasn’t willing to bargain away in the name of playing politics...guess I was wrong).

Aside from being far from prepared to fight an election, not having nominated candidates on the ground leaves us with the inability to begin forming local election teams and gaining positive media coverage between elections. Candidates are the faces and names of our Party on the ground locally. They are the go-to people for media interviews on issues important to the electorate. We should be doing all that we can to promote these people between elections. Where there are no nominated candidates in place, the Party in general is disadvantaged. This is one are we need to get our act together on in the early new year.


The Green Party’s worst-kept secret created barely a ripple in the national media when it was finally revealed in early September that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May would ben seeking the Party’s nomination in the B.C. riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands (SGI). Speculation had been running rampant amongst the Green blogosphere for months prior to the announcement, and those who made an effort to piece together bits of information were aptly able to predict that E. May would be heading west long before the announcement was made. The announcement itself was greeted largely with a yawn by the national media, after a summer of absence on the national stage by our Leader and Party.

Many Greens embraced the notion that our Party had decided not to have our Leader run again in the Central Nova riding which was perceived to be unwinnable. Internal polling suggested that if we were to have any chance of electing a Green to parliament, the best place to do so would be in SGI, described as being one of Canada’s most environmentally friendly ridings. An added advantage here would be having Elizabeth May face off against less-than-stellar Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn, and potentially against nobody Liberal and NDP contenders as well.

Of course, the Green blogosphere was in a-twitter over this decision, speculating that Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound or Guelph might have been better choices (Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley was also mentioned. A recent by-election there, however, had Greens barely showing). Some of the speculation regarding the choice of SGI had to do with the desire on the part of Elizabeth and the Party to go up against an incumbent Conservative rather than the Liberals who occupied Central Ontario Ridings. Indeed, the Green Party didn’t have its best showing in 2008 in SGI, with a number of prominent local Greens from the area having defected to the Liberal campaign of Renee Heatherington.

Elizabeth May’s move to SGI might yet prove to be the boldest political decision in our Party’s history if we can get her elected as MP there. I believe that SGI was likely the best riding for her to choose. The choice to move to SGI itself showed bold Leadership, as May had previously said that she was intent on running where she lived. Under pressure from the Party, though, to find someplace where a better result would be more likely, May picked up her life and shifted across the nation. I understand that she’s even bought a house in SGI, which she has now made her home.

Stuart Hertzog

This grassroots champion had the moxy and/or audacity to challenge Elizabeth May as a nomination candidate in SGI, citing in part his concern that May would be a parachute candidate from outside the local bioregion. Whether you agreed with Hertzog or not, or whether you agreed with his desire to run against the Party Leader, kudos to our Party for taking the moral high road in this case: permitting the challenge to occur. Our Constitution does not exempt our Leader from having to go through a nomination process, and in September, May faced off against Hertzog and won the nomination.

Now, many in the Green blogosphere provided nasty comments about Hertzog, including personal attacks. This was well below what I would expect to hear from Greens regarding another Green engaged in a legal nomination process. Concerns were raised about how all of this would look to the wider public - politically speaking - and often forgotten was the fact that if the public was even paying attention (and they weren’t), what they really might have taken out of Hertzog’s challenge was that the Green Party at least appears to play politics differently than do the other Parties. After all, who could ever imagine someone challenging the Leader for a riding’s nomination?

I say that the Green Party "appears" to play politics differently because this whole episode was certainly not without controversy. Hertzog’s filing of an official complaint with Elections Canada over unfair practices and undeclared transfer payments was really just the tip of the iceberg. I certainly remember seeing the big banner at the top of the Party’s website urging Greens to get behind Elizabeth May in SGI before the nomination vote. Additionally, an email went out to Members from the Party with the same messaging. It did not appear that the Party had offered the same resources to Hertzog, seemingly in contravention of nomination contest rules.

Elizabeth May’s nomination to be our candidate in SGI was, in my opinion, one of the highlights of the year. But it’s unfortunate that the process has left question marks hanging over our Party, especially when there was absolutely no need for them. Although Hertzog is undoubtedly a capable Green crusader, the "threat" he posed to E. May’s success was never a tangible one.

Federal Council Elections

This was the first time that I participated in an email (or mail-in) election process, and I have to say that I was impressed with the ease of being able to cast a ballot for Federal Council. Congratulations to all who stepped forward for these important, but largely thankless, positions, and congrats especially to those elected to lead our Party.

Although the internet voting process itself was a success, I have to wonder how many votes were actually cast? If voter turn out was less than desirable, certainly that’s more of a reflection on the Membership here than the Party, as there was ample opportunities made for ballot-casters.

Campaigning for positions, though, remained an issue, as only limited resources can be brought to bear for those running for positions. The inability of the Party to provide a complete list of Members was problematic for all would-be Federal Councillors. Perhaps this is something which should be addressed at the next General Meeting.

But even this relatively straight-forward election process couldn’t escape the taint of controversy. Prior to the election, the blogosphere was alive with recommendations for Federal Councillors being made by Green bloggers; essentially, readers were encouraged to vote for certain nominees who best represented the direction the blogger thought that the Party should take in the future. This kind of endorsement is part and parcel of the democratic process, and blogging of this sort should be encouraged.

Some existing Councillors, however, and would-be councillors refused to take part in endorsements, which was their choice (although frankly I don’t see any harm in Councillors pointing out to voters who they would rather work with...others might disagree with my position. I also acknowledge that the "high road" here is probably the safest one to take). Our Leader herself indicated that she would not be endorsing particular nominees in a blogpost to the Party website...and then proceeded to list a number of nominees who she felt were making positive contributions to the Party. I believe that this post was later removed.

What was unacceptable, however, was having paid staff provide their list of endorsements for Council positions. Why? Surely our staff are some of the most committed Greens we have in this Party (which they certainly are). Shouldn’t they be able to offer up opinions on who would best lead our Party? If the staff were all volunteers, I might be inclined to agree, but they’re not. Staff contracts are handled by Federal Council. So we found ourselves with a situation on our hands where some of our paid staff were advocating for electing some of their own paymasters. Conflict of Interest maybe? Well, maybe. We didn’t have any clear rules on this at the time (we do now), but most would agree that this sort of advocacy was inappropriate. It shouldn’t have happened, and it made our Party look foolish to anyone paying attention. Luckily for us, I guess, hardly anyone was paying attention.

Election Strategy

Back in June, our Campaign Committee released an election strategy document which would form the blueprint of how the next election would be fought. It contained a lot of really excellent strategic directions, including the provision of certain templates for candidate teams (signs, literature, etc.), along with campaign training (through Adriane Carr and through "Campaign Universities" to be held in the Fall of 2009).

One of the more controversial aspects of the strategy, though, is that the focus in the next election will be on electing our Leader as the number one priority. At first blush, this sounds sensible: we know that Elizabeth May needs to be in Parliament for many reasons, not least of which is because our Party really needs to start experiencing electoral success. However, since the release of the Campaign Strategy, some (and I include myself here) have been noting what appears to be a lack of follow-through on the part of the Party with regards to some of the commitments made. Sure, I realize that the Campaign Universities were cancelled in anticipation of a Fall election, but what about many of the other resources? What about providing updates to EDA CEO’s or campaign managers on where we stand with regards to election readiness?

Others have criticized the Strategy more generally, and with good points as well. Why are we, as a Party, committed to putting just about all of our eggs into the SGI basket? What about the other 307 ridings across Canada? Yes, the Strategy does identify resource transfers to other potential "winnable" ridings, but what about the rest of us? If we’re going to progress as a Party, we need to increase our vote totals everywhere. We can’t ignore the also-rans, because today’s also-rans should be the ridings we turn to tomorrow for electoral success. But to do that, we need to be build from where we’ve left off. The criticism here has been that it seems that very little building has actually been occurring. And there are lots of examples of how we’re not currently in building mode in most of the country (starting with the missing candidates!).

For me, more than anything else, this focus on Elizabeth May at the expense of all others has been the biggest contributor to making 2009 the "Lost Year" for our Party. Particularly since it wasn’t announced until September that May had chosen a riding to run in. While we could have been talking SGI up throughout the summer, instead we played a waiting game, hoping to generate media interest when the announcement was finally made, at a time which was hoped to be just before an election call. In the end, the strategy generated very little in the way of "splash" for our Party, and instead we find ourselves sinking in water which is rapidly rising over our heads.

Election Debt

Thank goodness (in a way) that Layton turned yellow back in September, and decided to support Stephen Harper, because the truth is we were not prepared to find ourselves in the midst of an election back in September. Heck, one of the big stories of this past year has been the fact that we continue to find ourselves in a deficit situation from the 2008 election: we still owe money.

You may not have been aware of this. Really, though, there’s no need to panic. We’re on our way to paying back that debt. A fulsome effort to increase contributions to our Party has been underway for some time now. You may have been receiving the emails and phone calls requesting your donations. I certainly have been; once every few weeks it seems. I think, in a way, it’s great that we’re reaching out to our Membership, requesting that they help with the Party’s finances. We’re all in this together after all. And, as a part of that process, Members are being reminded in advance that it’s time for renewal. This is pretty good, and whoever came up with this strategy should get a big gold star.

But, for what I hope is a minority of Party members, all of the solicitations for funds has been very off-putting. Here in Sudbury, we’ve lost more than one member who was disgusted at the constant requests for money coming from the Party (not the EDA; we’ve got the reverse problem: we’re far too timid to ask anyone for money for goodness sakes!). They joined the Green Party thinking that we were different. All they started to see from the Party was the Party holding its hand out.

Finding the right balance when it comes to asking for money is always difficult. I, for one, believe that we’re moving in a better direction here, given that we are a political Party after all. For members who don’t like receiving the emails requesting contributions, there’s a list which they can add themselves to so as to stop the solicitations. Yes, I’m concerned that our debt remains from 2008 (particularly because paying it down needs to be our primary focus still, even though we should be gearing up to fight another election). I’m encouraged, though, to hear that it will be paid off soon.

Loss of Greens

Constant requests for money from the central Party were not the only reasons cited by Greens for abandoning their memberships this past year. One of the problems which the Green Party has always had is that we don’t seem to have many "prominent" figures in our Party. They’re there, if you look hard enough, but chances are that the majority of our Members wouldn’t know whose these people are. This past year, we lost a few really important Greens, for whatever reason. This loss of historical knowledge of our Party, as well as constant contributors to the success of our Party, has been damaging. Sure, all Parties go through times like these, and eventually new blood replaces old, or the old sometimes comes back to the fold. Nevertheless, as an organization, the loss of many of the wizened old Greens has been an issue in 2009.

Sure, some left to pursue other initiatives. But others found themselves turned off of the way we do politics in this Party. For me, that’s a really big issue, left over in part from the 2008 election. Many of us were left hurting when it was reported in the mainstream media that our Leader was telling voters to vote for non-Green candidates in order to avoid a Harper majority. Others were turned off as a result of the political game-playing which led to Elizabeth May’s candidacy in SGI, or the taking over of local candidate nomination processes by the Central Party. What many have been describing as the "centralization" of the Party has been quite off-putting for some Greens, who have always extolled the grassroots nature of our Party.

While it could be argued that the Party has been forced to step into playing a more prominent role in just about everything we do because local EDA’s still are not the healthy vehicles for on-the-ground organization which they should be, that argument is disingenuous. The fact is that the Party hasn’t made much of an effort to get the EDA’s running at a level where they can make a difference. Once-healthy EDA’s have declined due to a lack of interest in the Party or a lack of respect for the Party. This is a terrible situation, particularly as it arises at just the same time that our Party should be assuming a prominent role on the national stage.

What gives? I have to say that we have a number of committed individuals in this Party who are putting a lot of effort into making us as successful as we can be. However, their definition of "success" is predicated on the notion that our primary purpose must be the election of Elizabeth May in the next election. Simply put, I believe that the majority of those in charge of the Party have invested heavily in this strategy, and there really is no turning back now. The rest of us will have to wait, and/or make a go of it on our own with whatever we can muster. Only a few EDA’s are ready to do so. For others, it’s a constant struggle to hold on to what we had in 2008, much less prepare for our future.

Those who have taken us down this road will either be vindicated or proven completely wrong after the results of the next election. If Elizabeth May becomes and MP, even at the cost of declining Green vote totals elsewhere, you can chalk that up as win. If she doesn’t, though, where will our Party be left?

Loss of Momentum

Which brings us to the fact that our Party has been losing momentum throughout 2009. Not only have many Greens left the Party, the media has largely abandoned the Party as well. Recently, even Green-friendly pundit Chantal Hebert has been questioning just what happened to Elizabeth May and the Green Party. Surely, 2009 should have been the time which we seized upon the brass ring. With interest in the other mainstream Parties on the wane, we Greens should have offered a viable alternative for the public to put its trust in. We did not. In fact, we dropped the ball quite seriously here.

In the lead-up to a Fall election in 2009 (which thankfully did not happen), and in the lead-up to Copenhagen, our Party should have been front and centre. We were not. Instead, we pursued a low-key strategy of promoting our Leader on the local stage of SGI; a strategy which could still pay off for her...but one which has clearly damaged the rest of us. The Green Party should not have disappeared from the national radar in 2009, but we did. I realize that others won’t acknowledge this fact, but fact it is. 2008 may have proved to be the watershed year for our Party. If an election were held today, it is very doubtful that we would capture the same number of votes as we did in ‘08. It is unrealistic to think that Elizabeth May will be invited to participate in the Leader’s debate in the next election. Given this reality, why should the mainstream media pay us much in the way of attention?

The mainstream media continues to be the biggest factor in influencing people’s choices at the ballot box. If we fail to get our message out to the mainstream media, good luck to us to experience much in the way of success.

Our message itself is a huge problem: what, exactly, is it? Sure, the public might have a decent idea about where we stand on the environment. But what about the Afghanistan detainee issue, or Unemployment Insurance changes, or the HST? These are topical issues which even I don’t have a good idea regarding where we stand. And I’m supposed to be out promoting our Party daily.

And what about those abysmal by-election results?

Yes, 2009 was clearly a Lost Year in terms of momentum.

Munk Debates / Copenhagen

Near the end of the year, though, there were certainly some positive signs for our Party. Elizabeth May herself was increasingly in the spotlight. First, during the highly publicized Munk Debate, and then as a correspondent writing from Copenhagen. While both of these successes were clearly limited in scope, successes nevertheless must they be counted as (even though May’s side lost the debate). May was back in her finest form, which appears to be something akin to a compact hurricane. For a little while, it was a pleasure to see her name so often in the media spotlight (except for Chantal Hebert! Ouch!). Here’s hoping that we can continue to build on a little of this momentum in 2010.

Leadership Contest

And finally...there has been a lot of speculation regarding who might step into next year’s constitutionally mandated leadership contest. Leadership Contest? Yes, that’s right. The Green Party has in our constitution the requirement that we hold a Leadership contest every 4 years, starting in 2006, the date of the last contest. That means that sometime in 2010, the constitution requires us to hold another contest.

Of course, the constitution requires us to hold a biennial general meeting every 2 years, but the Party didn’t feel much in the way of constitutional guilt in postponing the BGM which should have happened in 2008 until 2009. After all, there was a very good reason not to have it in 2008, right? What with their being an election and all. Maybe the requirement for a Leadership Contest will prove to be equally fluid. We’ll likely see more about this in early 2010, but talks at the Federal Council level have been occurring, and ways of avoiding a "politically problematic" Leadership contest could yet be implemented.

Sure, that might be the politically expedient thing to do. It might even make a future contest fairer to anyone who wants to challenge Elizabeth May (especially if she fails to win a seat in SGI). Right now, who in their right mind would want to take on May for Leadership of the Party? If there’s a mis-step in SGI, though, she’ll likely be toast, unless she mounts a considerable political effort.

So I understand that a Leadership Contest in 2010 might not be the wisest venture to embark on. However, it’s a requirement of our Constitution. If we play games with this fundamental element of our Party’s own structure and processes, what will that tell the public at large about what we’re likely to do should we form government one day? We’ll be no different than the rest of those (insert expletive here) politicians, in the public’s eyes.

Of course, the public is likely not to give two hoots no matter what we do regarding Leadership in 2010 (see "Loss of Momentum", above).

In Summary

In summary, 2009 was a year of ups and downs for our Party, with the downs seriously outweighing the ups. We have a lot of work to do in 2010 just to stay on pace with where we were at the end of 2008. If we’re going to remain a serious player on the national stage, we’ve got to stop playing games within our own Party, and start to get a unified and easy to understand message out there to the public. I’m personally not optimistic that we’ll be able to pull ourselves together at this point. There have been too many questions raised about the direction our Party is going in, and there is much dissension in the ranks. In my opinion, the sooner a Federal Election is held, the better the outcome for the Green Party. If Elizabeth May wins her seat, that’ll be great news for the Party. If she doesn’t, clearly it’s going to be time for a wholesale house-cleaning, starting with our Federal Council who endorsed this controversial Leader-focussed SGI strategy at the expense of building stronger EDA’s and finding credible Green voices elsewhere in the Party. The sooner we know the outcome, the sooner we’ll be able to move ahead. Right now, the anticipated Federal Election seems to have put everything on hold.

As a result, 2009 has truly been a Lost Year for the Party. Let’s turn things around in 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Greens Can Learn from Wildrose: Appeal to the Heart, and not the Mind

I’ve been reading a number of blogs over the past couple of months which have been outspoken about the volcanic rise of Alberta’s ultra-rightwing Wildrose Party since their first MLA was elected in a provincial by-election. Comparisons have been made between the upstart Alberta Party and our Green Party, whose incremental increase in popularity over the years can better be described as "glacial". What can we Greens learn from the Wildrose Party?

An editorial in today’s Globe and Mail by Gary Mason really got me thinking about success. Although Wildrose has only at this time experienced very limited electoral success with 1 MLA elected, that’s still more electoral victories than all of the Green Parties at the Federal and Provincial levels in Canada have to their credit. Wildrose, however, has been out-polling the governing Provincial Conservatives for some time now, and they are deemed to be a serious threat to upset the monolithic balance of power in that province.

So what are they doing that the Greens aren’t doing?

For me, a lot of it has to do with messaging. Wildrose has been delivering a very popular and populist message: smaller government, better management of the economy, and a better life through increased profits and hard work. They point to Ed Stelmach’s PC as the Party who dropped the golden goose-egg of the Alberta economy the moment that the global recession hit home. With all of the wealth accumulating in Alberta, surely to goodness the PC’s could have been a little more prepared to weather the storm.

With this message, which has more to do with what the Wildrose isn’t than what it is (it’s not the status quo PC’s), the Wildrose has been increasing in popularity, especially among conservative voters, which are apparently fairly numerous out Alberta way. In many respects, Wildrose appears to be a mini-Reform Party.

Gary Mason’s editorial in the Globe, though, worked my blood into a bit of a frenzy, as he reports something about Wildrose’s Leader, Danielle Smith, which I didn’t know. It seems that Danielle has latched onto another popular message when it comes to Climate Change. Mason reports Smith as having expressed in a speech to the Canadian Club of Calgary that the "science [of climate change] isn’t settled", and went on to quote from Lawrence Solomon’s book "The Deniers".

Whoa. That’s. Wild. This woman wants to be Premier of Alberta. And her conclusion regarding the science of climate change is that it hasn’t been settled yet? Oh my. This is a very dangerous woman, leading a dangerous Party.

But getting back to my original question, can we Greens learn anything from Wildrose’s rise? Yes, I think we can, but I don’t know that it’s all that useful. You see, Wildrose as a political party, takes the easy way out. They are great at criticizing the current government for not doing things the "right way" (figuratively and, in this case, literally).

They offer little in the way of concrete solutions of their own, and instead offer up vague, but feel-good assessments of how things might be different if they were elected. While vague, these feel-good assessments make people, well, feel good about a future in which Wildrose forms the government. Less taxes, more business opportunities, fewer handouts to the roustabouts who won’t work, smaller government with fewer civil servants pocketing hard-earned tax dollars; less red-tape for businesses. Nothing here has to be specific.

And that’s because it’s clear that Wildrose is after the hearts of Albertans...and not their minds. Or maybe it’s better to say that Wildrose is appealing to the wallets of Albertans, rather than to their rationality. For a political party, it can be very easy to win the hearts of voters before you actually have to implement anything. So right now, Wildrose, as the new kid on the block, has a free run to say whatever they want, and no one can challenge them on their past record.

We Greens, also without a record, would presumably be able to do the same. But we’ve always come at politics from a much different perspective. We’ve always aimed clearly at the voter’s minds when we go a-campaigning. Even when we try appealing to the hearts of voters with internet videos of children at risk from climate catastrophe, we are actually still trying to capture the minds of voters, asking them to think about the next generation when they cast a ballot.

Well, Greens, guess which approach works best in politics? Go for the hearts or go for the minds? It really should come as zero surprise to anyone that if you really want political success, you go after the hearts of voters and not the minds.

Now, many may think that the climate change catastrophe offers more than enough emotionality for us to campaign for people’s hearts, and not just their minds. I know that a lot of us personally are very worked up about climate change. But for most Canadians, climate change remains something to worry about in the far future, and not something which directly impacts their day to day life. As a result, yes, they may agree that someone has to do something, but then they change the channel and move on to Tiger Woods’ marital woes. Margaret Wente explains this well in an editorial also found in today’s Globe and Mail.

The message we Greens try to deliver is decidedly not a populist message. Yet it’s a message which we clearly aren’t going to try to stop delivering. We try to change it around and focus on positives, because even with our political naivety, we know that no one is going to vote for the Doom and Gloom Party. We try to be hopeful and full of optimism, but at the end of the day the sorts of changes which are Party advocates for aren’t yet on the minds of a majority of voters. We remain "out there" somewhere: largely out of touch. As long as plants respire, wanting to tax carbon emissions as pollution is going to be a bit of a hard-sell.

Sure, some who take a close look at our Party might realize that there are a lot of positive things going on. They may even realize that we’ve got policies galore to address just about every conceivable issue out there, likely more policies than all of the other Parties put together. If anyone wants to know what we really stand for, well, they can find out and review our policies in all of their undigested glory.

Wildrose, on the other hand, has something going for it which we don’t. Zeitgeist. Without much in the way of effort, Wildrose has tapped into the feel and emotions of our time. And it will come as some surprise to us Greens that what people are feeling and sensing right now in 2009 isn’t primarily that urgent action is needed on climate change and democratic reform. Instead, the urgency of the moment demands a robust, growing economy, with jobs and a bright future for everyone willing to work for it.

In this "moment", we Greens are seen as an obstacle to that "personal" future. In that future, if the lefties and big government got out of the way, we’d all be better off. This recent recession was, after all, brought on by a housing bubble which popped: banks lending money to people who foolishly couldn’t afford to repay it. Or because of big-government spending adding to our debtload. Or because of the greedy unions. Or because of China.

What compelling contribution do we Greens have to offer voters when it comes to this "all about me" future? What can we do to intervene to make voters believe that our message is actually one of hope for the voter himself? Where mixed-member proportional voting and greenhouse gas emission pricing fail to resonate, what can we offer?

I believe that we’ve got a card hidden up our sleeve which we rarely play. Whether that’s because we don’t get the chance to play it or because we feel the need to explain why we’re playing it when we try to (which takes far, far too long), we hesitate to use it, and instead fall back to appealing to the minds of voters. We’ve got a big, emotion-laden card to play. And Greens, I think the time has come to play this trump.

If Wildrose’s popularity, in part, has to do with their stand against taxes, let’s trump the right-wingers where it hurts their small "c" support most, and start reigning in those small "c" conservative voters ourselves. If the ultra-right wants to cut people’s taxes so that there’ll be more money in the wallet to spend on the future, Greens it’s time to talk up how our own call for Income Tax Cuts goes way beyond anything currently being contemplated by the right-wingers.

Are you upset with seeing almost half of your heard-earned money disappear to the tax man off of every paycheque you earn? Vote Green and we’ll reduce your income tax burden by up to 1/3 of what you’re now paying! If you want to leave the green in your wallet, vote Green. And you can feel good about doing so too!

Greens, if want to experience electoral success, it’s time to put away the rhetoric about the environment and the democratic deficit. People already know where we stand on those issues anyway. And yes, I know that income tax cuts are actually an environmental issue, but try getting that message across to the Canadian public, especially through the mainstream media, and it’s just not going to translate. The Environment and the Economy remain, in 2009, two separate and unequal pillars, with the economic pillar standing first and foremost, looming over all else.

If we want to elect MP’s, MPP’s and MLA’s, we’re going to need to win the hearts of voters through their wallets. And that’s why we need to focus on cuts to personal income taxes. That’s the message we need to deliver to the public.

That, to me, is the lesson learned from the rise of the Wildrose Party. Maybe that’s a hard lesson for we Greens, who have generally relied on rationale, scientific arguments to convince others that action is required. But what are we here for, if not to elect some MP’s and transform our society? If we’re going to do so, we need to deliver an appealing message to the here-and-now voter. Cutting personal income taxes is that message.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

(Post Removed)

Please accept my sincere apologies. The original text of this blogpost has been removed as it discussed items and issues derived from materials not generally available to the public. As a result, I have removed the original post. I was not requested to do so by anyone; it was just that, upon further reflection, I determined that it was appropriate to do so. The impetus for removal came from a comment made by Rural, which led to further considerable thinking about this matter.

I have left the original comments intact, as I am reluctant to remove anyone’s comments.

This issue remains a significant one for me, and I am certain that I will address it again. In doing so, however, I will rely only on generally available documentation.

-Steve May, December 11 2009.

Addendum to "The Constitutional Technicalities of Holding (or not Holding) a Leader Election in 2010"

I had originally posted the text below as comments to a previous blogpost; I've removed that series of comments and am now posting the full text version item here, as an addendum to the previous blog.


Thank you all for your comments thus far. I was hoping that maybe this post would generate some discussion. I’m going to quickly try to respond to a few items which have been raised. I’m going to have to publish comments here in several parts, due to size constraints.

Ken asked whether I thought any motion could be brought forward at a General Meeting, once it’s been called. I believe the answer to that question to be “Yes”. There is nothing in the by-laws which seems to limit the scope of what can be on the Agenda at a General Meeting, even if that meeting were initiated through a petition process to Federal Council. One would think that if an “Other General Meeting” were called as a result of a petition that there might be a narrow scope or set of issues up for discussion. This may be so, but by virtue of calling a General Meeting, the door is open for any and all motions, as long as those motions meet by-law requirement.

I believe this to be true based on my understanding of subsection 4.3.1 of By-law 4, which sets out the requirements for notice for submitting motions 30 days in advance of a deadline, and by virtue of the fact that subsection 4.2 is silent with regards to the scope of what can be heard at a General Meeting. One would presume that if the By-law intended to scope what could be heard at an “Other General Meeting”, it would likely be present in subsection 4.2, as that’s the section which sets out the process of how such meetings can come about in the first place. Further, I haven’t seen anything elsewhere which seeks to scope what can be brought forward at a General Meeting.

Stuart, you indicated that you believe that only a Biennial (or annual) General Meeting should be considered a true “General Meeting”, and that all other meetings of the entire membership would fall under the “Special General Meeting” category. Intuitively, I would agree with you: we have a Constitutional Requirement in Article 8, subsection 8.3, to hold a General Meeting every two years. By-law 4, subsection 4.1, compliments this requirement by setting out a process for holding a “Biennial General Meeting”.

Since By-law 4, in subsection 4.2, goes on to discuss several other circumstances which could lead to the need to hold an “Other General Meeting”, it may make sense to assume that the “Special General Meeting” referred to in subsection 8.6 of the Constitution would pertain to the “Other General Meeting” provisions, even though “Special” and “Other” are clearly different terms. But the situations which could lead to the need to hold a “Other General Meeting” as per the by-law seem to be a little smaller in scope than the requirement for holding an in-person General Meeting, so yes, intuitively there may be some merit to suggesting that a “Special General Meeting” as per the Constitution is the same as an “Other General Meeting” in the By-law.

I continue to argue, however, that a “Special General Meeting” is not the same as an “Other General Meeting”. Remember that there is no Constitutional requirement for holding a “Biennial General Meeting” every two years; the requirement is simply that a “General Meeting” be held at least every two years. The Constitution could have used the language later adopted in the By-law to clearly indicate that the two-year meeting was intended to be a “Biennial Meeting”, but it did not. Subsection 8.3 indicates only that a “General Meeting” be held at least once every two years.

Nomenclature here is important. By-laws are written to implement policy; they are regulatory. Here, we have a by-law which clearly uses different terminology than that described in the Constitution. The Constitution itself distinguishes between “General Meetings” and “Special General Meetings” by virtue of identifying each with their own subsection (8.5 and 8.6, respectively). Clearly, they are meant to be two different things. Both “General Meetings” and “Special General Meetings” are intended to take place according to the “By-laws”. Note the plural here.

Currently, we have only one by-law, it pertains to General Meetings. Presumably, it could include direction on how a Special General Meeting is to be held, but it doesn’t. It distinguishes between types of General Meetings: Biennial vs. Other, but it does not include any provisions for holding a “Special” General meeting. As they by-law is regulatory, I believe nomenclature is important here. And there are implications.

First, I would argue that the Green Party currently has no authority to convene a “Special General Meeting”, as there is no by-law currently on the books which sets out the process for holding such a meeting. We already have provisions in our Constitution which contemplate the passing of new by-laws (for proxy votes). This would be no different. If we want to have a Special General Meeting, then we need a By-law to do so.

Second, as we can’t hold a Special General Meeting, we can therefore only hold a General Meeting, but we can hold two different types: one would be the Biennial, the second would be an “Other”. Both, though, are full-blown General Meetings for the purpose of our Constitution, however there are differences in how they come about, and the processes for holding them.
Third, one might suggest that in the absence of a by-law implementing a Special General Meeting, that we could still hold such a meeting, and make up the rules. I would suggest, No, we can’t, because subsection 8.6 of the Constitution clearly sets out that a Special General Meeting can only be held as per the by-laws. Without a by-law, we’re out of luck.

Now, I realize that not everyone is going to agree with my interpretation, relying in part on nomenclature used in the Constitution versus the By-law. That may be fine. If you believe a Special General Meeting falls under the “Other” category, than it really makes little difference: you follow the process for holding an “Other” general meeting. The only time it might make any difference would be if someone wanted to hold a “Special General Meeting” which wasn’t in keeping with the by-laws, using the argument that since the by-laws are silent on what a Special General Meeting is, we can just go ahead and hold one. Again, I would point out that subsection 8.6 of the Constitution sets out that a Special General Meeting can only be held in accordance with the by-laws. So you either use subsection 4.2 of By-law 4, or you don’t hold a meeting because there is no implementing by-law.

My point is that I believe that currently whatever type of General Meeting you want to hold, you can only do so as per subsection 4.2 of By-law 4, unless it’s the Biennial General Meeting, in which case you follow subsection 4.1.

Mark, you’ve taken issue with my interpretation of what it means to be “present”. This is one item I acknowledge is a little more difficult to wrap one’s head around. I gave a lot of thought to my analysis regarding this yesterday, and while I remain troubled about the logistics of holding a virtual meeting, I continue to believe that the By-laws permit such a meeting.

Subsection 4.1 of By-law 4, which applies to Biennial General Meetings, clearly indicates that these meetings will be in person, as there is a direct reference to a “location” and “date”.

Further, subsection 4.2.2, which pertains exclusive to those “other” General Meetings which are initiated through a petition, references a “location” and “date”. So, if a petition to Federal Council leads to a General Meeting, it must be an in-person meeting, stuck in time.

What about those “Other” General Meetings NOT initiated by a petition? What about an “Other” General Meeting initiated by a 2/3 majority vote of Federal Council ( or that of a committee mandated by a General Meeting ( There are no provisions which state that those meetings must have a “location” and “date”.

Does the absence of a specific reference to a “location” and “date” imply that these types of General Meeting are not required to have either? I believe it does, given the specific provisions for those other General Meetings in 4.1 and 4.2.2. Clearly, the by-law establishes that some of these “other” types of General Meetings do not warrant specific direction regarding date and location. Therefore, they require neither.

And as these types of meetings do not require a physical location, they may be conducted virtually. If you think about it, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for the Green Party to do so, although the technology might not be quite there yet.

I recall playing a particular board game through the mail, a favourite game of mine called “Diplomacy”. Negotiations took place in a virtual circumstance, and decisions were made regarding the movement of pieces without anyone actually being in the same location or even at the same time. Since the process for deciding how pieces would move was set out clearly, there was never any doubt that the outcome would be agreed upon by all. Trust me, the mechanics of moving pieces in the game of Diplomacy is much more difficult than co-ordinating a vote on motions at a virtual General Meeting conducted through the mail.

Your suggestion that since the Constitution contemplates the ratification of a Constitutional amendment by the membership at large through a subsequent mail-in vote (found in subsection 10.1.3) would appear to lend credence to your hypothesis that all General Meetings are intended to be held in person. Since the Constitution can only be amended at a General Meeting, and since a mail-in ballot is required for subsequent ratification, what would be the purpose of reaching out to the Membership and requiring two separate mail-in ballots? I would agree that there wouldn’t be a lot of value added for conducting our business that way (none, in fact). I note that the same ratification process is in place for Policy motions.

The answer, though, I believe is this: The Constitution and By-laws let us conduct our business in this manner. For the sake of not being foolish, let’s just not do things that way. Just because we can participate in a foolish, resource-consuming process to make decisions does not mean that the Constitution and By-laws must somehow be “wrong” by letting us do so. Again, I take you back to the absence of the need for a “location” and “date” for some of those types of “Other General Meetings” identified in subsection 4.2 of the By-law. Since there is no specific requirement for a location and date in the by-laws (unlike for some of the other General Meetings), then a location and date is not needed.

And since a virtual meeting is contemplated by our Constitution and By-laws, one need not be physically “present” somewhere to participate, because there isn’t a physical location to be present in. That, to me, means being “present” is something different than physically occupying a specific place at a specific time. It therefore must mean participating.

If you think about it, meetings are held this way in the Party all the time. Federal Council doesn’t always meet in “person” (although they do meet in “time”). They meet virtually through a teleconference, and decisions are made. But you needn’t limit your view of this being the only way to conduct a virtual meeting: go back to my Diplomacy example where all decisions were made via the mail. Neither location or time was required. We also have a process in place for electing Federal Councillors through a mail-in ballot which doesn’t require a decision-maker (a voter) to be “present” either physically or at a specific time. As long as legitimate ballots are received by a deadline, the decision will occur on its own.

I continue to maintain that the Constitution and By-laws contemplate General Meetings to occur “virtually”. I’m just not sure that I would ever recommend that they do so, given the range of items which could be potentially on the table at a General Meeting.

I’m not going to get into a discussion about the role of the Leader, because I’ve not had a chance to go through the Elections Canada legislation. I’ll leave that for others. The one point that I want to continue to make, though, is that it seems clear to me that we can elect our Leader through a mail-in ballot process, just as we elect Federal Councillors (because our Leader is, after all, just a member of Federal Council. The Leader is the same as every other Member, save and except that the Leader is filed with Elections Canada).

That’s all for now!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Constitutional Tecnhicalities of Holding (or not Holding) a Leader Election in 2010

I’ve been following the issue of a 2010 Green Party of Canada Leadership "Contest" for some time now, through the blogs and comments of other GPC members (and a few non-members too who have provided welcome insight into this issue). Many have been blogging as if the Leadership "Contest" is absolutely going to happen in 2010. I have a different perspective, which I’m going to spell out for you in detail in this really long post (with my personal apologies to all of those who have pointed out that my blogs would be a lot more readable if they weren’t so damn long! This issue, though, requires careful analysis).

If you’d just like to skip down to the summary of my findings, you’re welcome to do so. But you might miss a couple of locations where I’ve "assumed" that wording in our Constitution and by-laws means something which you might not agree with. In those circumstances, I’ve tried to provide an enhanced explanation regarding why I think something means what I think it means. Pay particular attention to the discussion regarding "Special General Meeting" and what it means to be "present" at a General Meeting.

While currently I agree that there is a requirement for the election of a Leader to Federal Council next year, I’m not sure that I would go so far as to suggest this is a "Leadership Contest" as we’ve come to view them through other Party’s processes. Although the outcome of electing a Leader to Federal Council is tantamount to electing a Leader of the Party, we should be careful to better understand what is actually required by our Constitution for 2010, and to acknowledge that "Leadership" of the Party is found through the machinations of the Constitution and the by-laws, and not by a direct vote of Membership.

Two final things here before I begin my analysis. First, as I re-iterate at the end of this blogpost, I’m not going to discuss my own opinion on whether any of the situations I describe should or should not be occurring. Instead, I’m going to limit my conversation to whether or not the situations can occur, based on my own careful analysis, which admittedly might be flawed.

Second, having worked through the Constitution and the By-laws to arrive at the conclusions which I eventually arrive at, it has become apparent to me that the Constitution and by-laws are flawed documents in desperate need of a major over-haul, just from a workability standpoint. That being said, I continue to believe that the documents have served the Party well, and continue to serve us well. The spirit and direction of these documents is vivid and alive (if I may use such terms to describe what others might view as terribly pedantic). The framers of our Constitution may have lacked in technicalities, but they certainly did not lack in vision.
Some might say maybe that’s the story of the Green Party of Canada in general!

Official Status of the Leader

Article 7 of the GPC Constitution indicates in Subsection 7.1.2 that the Leader is a person who has official standing within the Party under the Constitution and By-laws, and that the Leader is defined as "the Member [of the Party] filed Leader as defined by the Canada Elections Act". The only other "person" defined by Article 7 as having status within the Party is the "Member". So we are a Party composed entirely of Members, one of which is deemed the Leader. That’s it; no one else actually has any constitutional standing (do the Deputy Leaders know this?).

Article 7 goes on to identify "Units" of the Party with official standing, including Federal Council, Shadow Cabinet, EDA’s, etc. For purposes of this discussion, I draw your attention to subsection 7.2.4 of Article 7, which sets out that Federal Council is a unit of the Party with official standing under the Constitution, and describes Federal Council as the "council referred to in Article 9 and are elected or appointed in accordance with the by-laws".

Article 9 of the Constitution sets out in 9.1.2 that the composition of Federal Council shall include the Leader.

The reference in Article 7 to "elected or appointed in accordance with the by-laws" takes us to By-law 2, "Federal Council". This is the by-law to be followed for the election (and appointment) of Federal Councillors, including the Leader. It is the only location in the Constitution / by-laws which sets out how the Leader is to be elected...but only to Federal Council. Interestingly, our Party does not appear to elect a Leader of the Party; instead, we elect a Leader to Federal Council, which is just a defined "unit" of the Party. By virtue of the Leader’s election to Federal Council, we consider the Leader to be the Leader of the Party, even though we are not directly electing the Leader to Lead the Party; we’re only electing a Leader to sit on Federal Council, and to assume the responsibilities of Leader as outlined in the Constitution and By-laws (and as required by the Canada Elections Act). But the Leader is only elected by the Membership to the party unit called "Federal Council". That’s all that we do when we elect a Leader. The Leader becomes the Leader of the Party only as a result of election to Federal Council and by virtue of the articles in our Constitution which set a Leader apart from every other Member.

The actual assumption of "Leadership" (which sets our Leader apart from all other Members) is done through a filing with Elections Canada.

Further, as subsection of By-law 2 gives the authority to de-register units of the Party to Federal Council, and as Federal Council is a unit of the Party, clearly Federal Council has the ability to de-register itself. Should such an unlikely situation occur (unlikely, but contemplated by the Constitution and the by-laws nevertheless), than we would be without a process to elect a new "Leader", as our Leader is only elected to a unit of the Party. The Leader is not elected to lead the Party at large. In such a situation, it’s unclear what criteria the Party would use to determine which Member gets to file as Leader with Elections Canada.

One caution here: this process of not directly electing a Leader to lead the Party, but only to be an elected Member of Federal Council may not be in keeping with the Canada Elections Act, which has its own requirements regarding Leaders. I will need to look into that further.

How a Leader is Elected to Federal Council

So, what is the process for electing the Leader to Federal Council? The requirement for the election of all Federal Councillors, including the Leader, is found in Section 2.1.4 of the By-law, "Election to Federal Council and Term of Office". Subsection of By-law 2 indicates the Leader is to be elected every 4 years, starting in 2006. This means that the year 2010 will be the year which triggers the election of a Leader, and the next election will be held in 2014.

The process for election is spelled out in Section 2.1.3, "The Leader", of By-law 2. Subsection indicates that 100 members of the Party in good standing shall be required to nominate for the position of Leader. This means that anyone who wants to be Leader needs 100 signatures on their nomination papers, from members in good standing (not sure what might happen if a member signing the nomination paper loses their status of "good standing" when papers are filed).

Subsection goes on to indicate that all members of the Party in good standing shall be eligible to vote for the position of Leader (I believe that this is in conflict with provisions found in By-law 1, Membership, which seems to allow all Members to vote, whether they are in good standing or not, but I’ll save that for another day).

How will such a vote occur? Subsection indicates that the vote for any "office" of Federal Council shall be by preferential ballot. Presumably, the word "office" is used here to distinguish between the various types of Councillors (Regional vs. At-Large vs. Leader). Subsection goes on to indicate that ballots are to be mailed out to Members 30 days in advance of an election.

Subsection of By-law 2 spells out the process for removing the Leader or any member of Federal Council: only a 3/4 vote of Federal Council can do so.

Subsection indicates that the Leader may be removed from office by a motion at a General Meeting, to hold an election to replace the Leader.

Subsection and spell out the process for removal due to non-attendance of Federal Council meetings. This process is also applicable to the Leader, as the Leader is a member of Federal Council.

These appear to be the only ways in which a Leader can be "removed" as Leader. Of course, the Leader could still resign on their own initiative. My point is, though, that there does not appear to be any requirement for the Leader or any Federal Council to be removed or to remove themselves during an election for a position on Federal Council.

To me, this process is clear: we can elect a Leader through a mail-in ballot. And there is a constitutional requirement that we elect a Leader in the year 2010, and every 4 years afterwards.

Our Constitution and By-laws also seem to create the following situation: The Leader, unless he or she steps down from the position, does not cease to be the Leader, even during that time when a new Leader is being elected. Our Constitution does not require that our Leader resign or cease to be the Leader of the Party during the timeframe of the Federal Council election. And this only makes sense if you think about it. Last year, we elected Federal Councillors. During the time of the election process, those Councillors seeking re-election did not cease being Federal Councillors. Also, when a federal election is called, the Prime Minister doesn’t stop being Prime Minister. It’s the same with the Party: the Leader does not automatically cease being the Leader, even when he or she may be standing for election. Remember, this all comes about because we are choosing the Leader as a Member of Federal Council, and not specifically as a Party Leader.

Changing the Process: Constitutional and By-law Amendments

If this process for electing a Leader to Federal Council is failing the Party, there are remedies. Essentially, either the Constitution or the By-law can be changed (or both). Here is the process for amending these documents, as outlined in Article 10 of the Constitution, "Amendments to Constitution and By-laws".

Subsection 10.1.1 indicates that notice for amending the Constitution shall be included in the notice of meeting at which amendments shall be considered. The requirement for a meeting is found in subsection 10.1.3, which indicates where amendments can be considered. 10.1.3 indicates that amendments shall be adopted by a majority of the votes cast be 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 ½ of the votes cast in a Members’ vote conducted by mail-in ballot, with a return date of 120 days following the General Meeting.

Essentially, Constitutional Amendments follow a two-step ratification process. First, you hold a General Meeting, and those Members present at the General Meeting vote in favour of the amendment. Then, we take the amendment to our Members throughout Canada through a mail-in ballot process. If it passes muster here, our Constitution is so amended.

The process for by-law amendment as set out in Section 10.2 of Article 10 is similar to the first part of the Constitutional amendment process: notice of proposed changes has to be issued in advance of a general meeting, and amendments shall be adopted by a majority of Members in good standing at a general meeting. The only difference here is that amendments to by-laws do not require the ratification of the Membership at large: those Members present at the General Meeting alone can amend a by-law (more on what it means to be "present" later).

The long and short of it is that Constitutional Amendments and By-law Amendments can only happen at General Meetings.

General Meetings and "Special General Meetings"; Biennial General Meetings and Other General Meetings

The process for holding General Meetings is found in Article 8 of the Constitution, "General Meetings of the Entire Membership of the Party". Subsection 8.1.1 indicates that General Meetings shall consist of individual Members in good standing who have one vote. Subsection 8.2 indicates that quorum shall be 50 Members present at a General Meeting who are in good standing, representing at least two regions, as defined by the by-law. Subsection 8.4 sets out the notice provisions for General Meetings: 60 days notice to Members is required (and not just Members in good standing!). Subsections 8.5 and 8.6 indicate that General Meetings of Members and "Special General Meetings of Members" (presumably something different than just regular General Meetings of Members", by virtue of reference in two subsections, although I’m not sure in what way they are intended to be different) shall be called in accordance with the By-laws.

What do the By-laws say? By-law 4, "General Meetings of the Entire Membership of the Party", sets out the process further. Note: while this by-law provides for processes for holding "Biennial General Meetings" and "Other General Meetings", I do not see the term "Special General Meeting" defined anywhere. To me then, at present, the although the Constitution allows for holding "Special General Meetings of Members", as per subsection 8.6 of Article 8 of the Constitution, there is no process spelled out in the by-laws for doing so. Since 8.6 clearly indicates that "Special General Meetings of Members" must be held in accordance with the by-law, and as there is no by-law currently available to implement this provision, it is my interpretation that the only type of General Meeting which the Green Party of Canada can currently hold is a General Meeting of the Members. This will remain the case until such a time that we have a by-law for Special General Meetings of Members. This is similar to provision 8.1.2 of the Constitution, which indicates that proxy votes are allowed at General Meetings, but only in accordance with the by-laws. As we don’t have a by-law to implement proxy voting, proxy voting remains unavailable (even though the Constitution contemplates it occurring in the future). The only difference between 8.1.2 and 8.6 is that the Constitution in 8.1.2 for proxy votes makes it clear that a by-law is required for implementation, while 8.6 is silent.

Silence, though, does not imply that we have a process under an existing by-law.

One might try to argue that a "Biennial General Meeting of the Members" should be considered the only type of meeting to be considered a "General Meeting" for the purposes of Section 8.5 of the Constitution, and that there is in fact a process for holding "Special General Meetings of the Members" outlined in By-law 4 for "Other General Meetings of Members". I can not concur. Not only is the terminology different (which to me implies that there has always been an intended differentiation between "Special General Meetings" and what the by-law refers to as "Other" General Meetings), but the Constitution itself requires only that a "General Meeting of the Members" be held every 2 years. Interestingly, our By-law does not indicate that it is to be the Biennial General Meeting which is intended to be the General Meeting held every two years! One might presume this to be the case, based on the title of the meeting (Biennial means "once every two years"), but the fact is By-law 4 does not require the Biennial General Meeting to take place in that timeframe, and our Constitution does not identify that it’s to be the Biennial General Meeting which we hold every 2 years!

As long as a "General Meeting" of some sort is held every two years, the Party meets its Constitutional requirements.

Holding General Meetings

Anyway, whether a "Special General Meeting" falls into the category of "Other General Meeting" is likely a moot point anyway, as the process for holding these meetings are largely the same. The difference is found in who is able to call a Biennial General Meeting (only by Federal Council in a majority vote) versus an "Other General Meeting", which may be called by: a committee mandated by a General Meeting; Federal Council (in a 2/3 majority vote); through a petition to Federal Council submitted by 10% of the Members of the Party; a petition to Federal Council submitted and signed by the CEO’s of at least 1/3 of the registered EDA’s and Provincial Organizations; and, through a resolution adopted by a majority at a General Meeting. This is all found in subsections through of the By-law.

For those meetings which came about as a result of a petition to Federal Council, subsection 4.2.2 of By-law 4 indicates that Federal Council shall within 90 days of receipt of the petition select the location and date of the General Meeting (note not "Special General Meeting", so again more ammunition that these "Other" General Meetings are not "Special General Meetings").

This is where things get really interesting. There is a 60 day notice provision in the Constitution for Members to be notified that a "General Meeting" is taking place (subsection 8.4 of Article 8). As Article 8 distinguishes between "General Meeting of Members" and "Special General Meeting of Members" in subsections 8.5 and 8.6, I would argue that the notice provision of 8.4 applies only to "General Meetings of Members" and not to "Special General Meetings of Members". Others may disagree with that interpretation, but I would have to think that the framers of our Constitution considered GM’s and SGM’s to be two different animals.

If you accept my interpretation, though, that right now our by-laws only authorize "General Meetings", it doesn’t really matter what the Constitution says or doesn’t say about notice provisions: since all General Meetings are "General Meetings" (and not "Special General Meetings"), the 60 day notice provision applies.

But what if you believe By-law 4, through its use of the term "Other General Meetings" applies to "Special General Meetings" as set out in subsection 8.6 of Article 8? If you accept that, then it’s clear: when one of these "Other General Meetings" (or "Special General Meetings") is called, no notice is required. Which seems ridiculous! And that’s further ammunition (to me) to suggest that "Other General Meetings" are not the same as "Special General Meetings". "Other General Meetings" are still General Meetings as per subsection 8.5 of Article 8; they’re just not the same as the Biennial General Meeting (the same Biennial General Meeting which, as I noted before, is not actually a requirement of our Constitution).

Amending the Constitution and By-laws at a General Meeting

Therefore, I think I can safely get back to describing the process for amending the Constitution and By-laws at a General Meeting, as I believe that’s the only kind of meeting which our Party can currently hold. Amendments to either the Constitution or by-laws will take place by way of motions made to the Membership which, if adopted (or "passed") become resolutions which for constitutional amendments require the further ratification of members throughout the country. For by-laws, the resolutions are simply implemented right away.

Beyond the 60 day Constitutional requirement for notice of the General Meeting, subsection 4.3.1 of By-law 4 indicates that Members shall be notified 30 days in advance of any deadline for the consideration of motions at an upcoming General Meeting. Note, subsection 4.3.3 sets out a process for hearing motions from the floor, but only if they are of an "emergency nature".

Subsection 4.3.4 indicates that all motions must be provided to the Membership 60 days in advance of the start of a General Meeting.


Note the timeframes involved here. A General Meeting must be set far enough in advance to accommodate the following by-law provisions:

-30 days for Members to be advised of the deadline for motion submission;
-60 days for Members to be advised of the motions.

This means that at the very least, and assuming instantaneous transmission of documents through Canada Post, which is unreasonable, a General Meeting which considers motions can only be held 90 days after it is called, and not before. Realistically, it should be at the very least 100 days, so that received motions from Members can be copied and mailed to all Members.

Curiosities - Location of General Meetings

This is going to surprise you. If a General Meeting is a Biennial General Meeting (as defined in subsection 4.1 of the by-law), and if the General Meeting is an "Other General Meeting" which has come about through a petition (as indicated in and of the by-law), ONLY THESE MEETINGS NEED TO BE HELD IN A PHYSICAL LOCATION as per the provisions of 4.1.1 and 4.2.2 of the By-law. All other General Meetings (including a General Meeting called by a 2/3 majority vote of Federal Council) do not have to be held in person.

Seems strange that we can hold a General Meeting without actually meeting? Yes, it does. Yet, this process is clearly contemplated by the By-law. The By-law even tells us how this is to occur. Subsection 4.4.1 of the by-law indicates that votes cast by mail or electronic mail, or by fax, shall follow a process where the authenticity of the voter can be verified.

What it Means to be "Present"

I arrive at this conclusion despite the fact that subsection 8.2 of Article 8 of the Constitution refers to quorum for a General Meetings as being "50 Members present at the General Meeting who are in good standing, representing at least two regions, as defined in the by-laws". While this subsection seems to suggest that members need to be present physically, I would argue the opposite. What it means to be "present" is not defined elsewhere. Since the Green Party has developed a voting process through Section 4.4.1 of the by-law which does not require someone to be physically "present" to cast a ballot, I suggest that it would be best to determine who is present by simply counting the votes. By developing a voting process, and through silence on defining what it means to be "present", it seems to me that the framers of our Constitution and by-laws contemplated holding meetings without attendance of those meetings in person.

I would further argue that this is the case, because both our Constitution and by-laws do not provide for processes for opening and closing General Meetings, who chairs these meetings, etc. It seems to me that the only thought the Party has expressed about decision-making at these sorts of General Meetings has been to establish a process for a mail-in, electronic or faxed ballot. This, to me, is in keeping with the notion that the Party has always considered the need to hold some General Meetings in a "virtual" way. As long as the votes tallied meet the quorum requirements of 50 Members in good standing from two regions, the "meeting" and decisions rendered at the meeting through the vote should be considered valid.
Virtual General Meetings

Whatever shortcomings there might be with amending by-laws and our constitution through such a process isn’t really the issue I’m trying to make here. Nor am I commenting on the logistics of holding a "virtual" meeting. My point is that I believe we can amend our by-laws through a virtual meeting process. I am not at all suggesting that we should.

Again, our Party can hold virtual General Meetings. No physical location is required. It might make the consideration of emergency resolutions from the floor a little problematic (well, impossible), but no matter: we can do it. Of course, we could also hold one of these General Meetings in a real location, and follow regular meeting processes. The point is that we do have this innovative option available to us in our Constitution.

What Does This All Mean?

Here’s what this all means to me. Clearly, there is currently a requirement for the election of a Leader to Federal Council in the calendar year 2010. All who wish to become Leader need to follow the same process for nomination; everyone starts out at square one. A mail-in ballot will determine who is elected.

This does not mean that Elizabeth May would cease to be Leader during this time frame; only that she would be standing for election to Federal Council (if she chose to stand) to occupy the position of Leader on Federal Council. By virtue of her having filed as Leader with Elections Canada, she remains Leader, presumably until somebody new is filed.

However you see such an election unfold, it remains clear that currently, as written, our Constitution requires that we hold an election to elect a Leader to Federal Council in 2010.

Now, some have said that this process is problematic politically. But that’s the process we have in place; it’s currently a requirement of our Constitution that this process occur. That being said, if we were to amend our Constitution or By-laws (or both), conceivably there would no longer be such a requirement. To amend, though, and as we have no processes for convening a "Special General Meeting", we need to follow the process for submitting motions for consideration at a General Meeting, and pay attention to timeframes, notice provisions, and opportunities for all Members to bring forward motions. The General Meeting, though, need not occur in a physical location; it can be conducted "virtually", and decisions can be made through a mail-in ballot, or electronic ballot, or by fax.

Conceivably, we can amend our Constitution or By-laws to remove and/or replace the provisions regarding the 4-year requirement for the election of a Leader to Federal Council, as that whole process could potentially take place within approximately 100 days. I’m not going to comment today on whether I think this is a good idea or not, although I have a strong opinion about it which I’m sure I’ll share in the near future.

Can of Worms

Of course, if a General Meeting is called, the By-laws indicate that there needs to be a 30-day opportunity for the Members to bring forward other motions in advance of the 60-day General Meeting notice. At a virtual meeting, there is no chair to rule motions "out of order", and if decisions are to be made through the mail, there will be no opportunity for debate. As long as motions are worded properly and submitted on time, they will need to be provided to the Membership for consideration. That means that things could potentially get quite interesting at a virtual General Meeting. We’d certainly be heading into new and uncharted territory if we tried to hold a meeting virtually!

Comments are welcome and encouraged.