Updated: Jun 14, 2022
The Green Party of Canada (GPC) leadership contest rules that have been proposed certainly give the impression that the table is being specifically set for her. This will hardly be a celebration of democracy.
The last leadership contest was wrought with backroom deals that allowed Elizabeth to promote the candidate of her choice. The Annamie Paul year was a disaster for the party and many members have noted that Elizabeth has never properly apologized directly to members for her part in pushing Annamie over the top.
If there was one lesson that should have been learned, it is that it is critical to be honest and open with members who are the donors and workhorses for the party. This lesson has not been learned as the rules have been crafted behind closed doors with no opportunity for members to provide input. Not only that, but the members have also officially directed Federal Council to have the rules approved by members and this is being ignored.
Anybody who tells you that the members run the Green Party is gaslighting you because all evidence is to the contrary.
Emergency Motion E-007
The following motion was approved by the members by a margin of 91% at the General Meeting which was completed March 27, 2022.
Whereas the previous leadership race rules, developed in secret by Federal Council, led to problems which caused embarrassment for the Party and contributed to later crises:
Be it resolved that: “Federal Council will put the proposed rules of the next leadership contest to an online vote of the general members, with a voting period of one week, and that the proposed rules must pass by a 60% margin before the contest may be instated. If any proposed set of rules fails, Federal Council will amend the proposal with input from members and seek approval again.”
Most of Federal Council were apparently not even aware of this motion or that it had passed. This is not surprising because members are merely a nuisance for those running the party. All indications are that those running the party want to keep tight control of this whole leadership contest for a pre-determined end.
A first draft of the Leadership Contest Rules
The first glimpse that members had as to what was going on was presented in a slide show by the Leadership Contest Committee (LCC) to the rest of Federal Council at their meeting of April 28, 2022 and was open to observers. The rules included a low bar of entry of $1,000 as opposed to the previous contest where contestants had to raise $30,000. There would be three phases—a preliminary phase when contestants can apply but 1) they still cannot announce that they have applied but 2) somehow, they have to fundraise the $1000 without announcing that they are an applicant. Then, and this is the most innovative aspect shall we call it, all of the candidates are announced at once. The second phase begins and campaigning is finally allowed, even though the contest was officially started May 24th as required by the Constitution. This was when papers were filed with Elections Canada.
At the end of Phase II, there would be a vote and the top four candidates would carry on for another six weeks during Phase III which concludes with a final vote slated for November 19th as per a motion passed by Federal Council May 18th.
What would be the best way to eliminate most of Elizabeth May’s competition?
If you wanted Elizabeth to be the leader again, and you had to come up with a set of rules, what would you do? Well first of all, you would eliminate well over 90% of the members from entering the contest. There is a lot for her to answer for directly to the membership, and they have never had the chance to do so formally in a leadership contest. There was supposed to be a leadership contest in 2010 as per the Constitution that was passed in 2006, but that was changed to a leadership review by the members who attended the 2010 BGM as per a motion sponsored by the Federal Council at the time. Some members referred to this By-law change at the time as the ‘leader for life’ clause where the leader only had to receive 60% approval from those who bothered to vote on the review.
The key rule—the only one that has been officially passed so far by Federal Council—will in fact eliminate well over 90% of Green Party members from entering the contest. The following motion was passed at the May 14th Federal Council meeting, captured from a screenshot in the Zoom chat.
This new rule, which is the first of it’s kind in GPC history, probably eliminates closer to 98% of the membership if the bilingual requirement is defined as the ability to take media questions in French from the get-go.
When the original slide show from the LCC was presented on April 28th, many of the observers were notably shocked. The first draft of the rules included a requirement to be at Level 9 French as defined by the Quebec Government but was later changed to the motion above. I immediately typed into the chat at the time that they need to be very careful with this. Even Elizabeth herself would not have qualified to be a candidate in 2006, to which Natalie Odd, co-Chair of the LCC (the other co-chair is Interim Leader Amita Kuttner), replied ‘things have changed since 2006.’ Somehow the Green Party is going to reconcile centuries of English/French tensions and issues of inequality by eliminating all unilingual climate change activists, social progressives, members representing marginalized groups, and those who want to take the party in a particular direction, etc., from even entering the contest. While there is only one winner, all leadership contestants have a chance to help shape the party by each candidate having the opportunity to express their vision to the membership. In this leadership contest they can only enter if they are bilingual.
Surely, those running the party could not come up with the most restrictive criteria to become a leadership contestant in Canadian history without having somebody very specific in mind whom they want to be the leader, and who is qualified as bilingual to Level 9. The Representative from Quebec, Jean-Charles Pelland, defended usage of this Quebec provincial standard for some reason even though this is a federal party. You can see that the motion that was eventually adopted dropped the Level 9 definition but replaced that with a nebulous definition of what bilingual means. That very subjective determination of what bilingual means is in the hands of the powerful and secretive LCC.
This is all, of course, very undemocratic. Shouldn’t the members decide how important it is to be at a high level of bilingualism from the start? I wrote Federal Council that they could test each applicant with some objective criteria and publish that so that members could make up their minds on whom they would support with that criterion in mind. But the fix is on and the powers-that-be have taken that right to make that determination away from members. Of course bilingualism is important in Canada, and this should be a key element of the Green’s Party ongoing communications and outreach, but you aren’t going to get everything from one person anyway. This is why we have Deputy Leaders and a Shadow Cabinet. Federal Council ignored many other emails from other observers of their meetings asking them to not mandate this bilingual requirement for leadership candidates.
There were only two votes against this motion out of 13 Councillors present. Thomas Boysen of Saskatchewan remarked that he was voting in favour of it, even though his riding association CEOs would be against it.
My first donation to the GPC was 20 years ago in a leadership contest and I have spent thousands of hours on this party. I wish that I was making this all up, I really do.
What should have happened
If you haven’t followed all these details, I’m sure that you are not alone. One colleague mentioned that they have started composing an email to the co-chairs of the LCC, but just about every day the situation changes so they must go back and re-write, and they still haven’t actually sent them that email.
The Constitution calls for the leadership contest to be started within 6 months of the appointment of an interim leader, and to be concluded within 2 years. Amita Kuttner was appointed as Interim Leader November 24th 2021, thus the May 24th 2022 deadline for the start of the contest. The February 27th start for meetings of the LCC meant that this would all be a bit rushed. I have no sympathy for ‘hard working’ Federal Councillors who have determined that only they can be part of any important committee. There are lots of good and experienced members who could be doing the heavy lifting. But clearly, the meetings should not have been in secret and thus away from the eyes, ears, and keyboards of members.
An open call should have been made to members to provide input, but instead they selectively sought input only from past candidates, Federal Councillors, and staff. One past leadership candidate confirmed that they were not asked for input into what these rules should be. They were only asked to provide what their experience was in the last contest. None of that information gathered has been made available to members. Of course not—the-powers-that-be are not interested in input from the membership.
President Lorraine Rekmans sent an email to EDA CEOs on May 16th justifying why the rules will not be sent to the members for a vote. Her contention was that because the contest must start by May 24th and the rules must be approved before that date, so Federal Council would be approving the rules before that date. (That didn’t happen, by the way.) The announcement of the rules as prescribed by Federal Council has been bumped from May 24th to June 17th to now apparently June 28th.
What should happen
I really don’t know. At this stage, it really doesn’t matter if Federal Council decides to implement E-007 and put the leadership contest rules to a vote. They have shown their true colours and this contest will be essentially fixed. The 2021 Council had to be forced to call a General Meeting so that ‘members can have their say’ through a petition from EDA CEOs, which took a lot of time and effort. Well, the members had their say—i.e., that the rules are to go to a vote by members—but how do you force this Council to listen and implement that? Another petition? How do you now include a grassroots input from the members when the contest has already started as of May 24th?
This all makes sense if you believe that the inner group, which includes Elizabeth and her loyalists really don’t care how big the party is as long as they are in control. This inner group includes Elizabeth’s staff—primarily Debra Eidinguer who came with Elizabeth from the Sierra club in 2006—and the senior party staff who still want a leader-centric model for the party. It makes their job much easier than a member-led, or even a member-influenced model of governance. If you start to think that Federal Council should be doing or is doing what is best for the party, this will all sound very puzzling.
It should be noted that not all Federal Councillors are buying in to this fix, however, the key ones are. The dissenters who are trying to say that we should be following our Principles, our Constitution and our rules can be handled, often with very pointed attacks behind closed doors (email and in camera meetings). This quashing of any dissent has been going on for years. The names have changed of the dissenters who have been against the wanton disregard for proper governance, but the tactics to deal with them are still the same.
On top of all this, conspicuously absent in the proposed set of rules is any restriction on Federal Councillors, or central staff for that matter, from endorsing or campaigning for specific candidates. In fact, there is nothing addressing conduct of Federal Council or the LCC during the contest. This was a major problem in the last leadership race, as at least two Councillors campaigned for Annamie Paul. I assume that they had recused themselves in closed door meetings where other candidates were being scrutinized, but the optics are still terrible. The practice that Federal Councillors can campaign for a leadership candidate fits into their ongoing pattern of entitlement.
Vetting should be extremely basic and any reasons for refusal of the application should be expressed to the applicant, unlike previous practices in the party. I do like the idea of narrowing the field with a vote at the end of Phase II before a final campaign period where debates can be much more focused with the front runners.
We don’t do politics differently.
We play the same internal power games as other parties that we claim moral superiority over, however, we actually do it worse. I will be posting other blogs about how a true grassroots structure could make the Greens a powerful political force in Canada so if you are interested, please subscribe or check back regularly.
The rule that all contestants are announced all at once should be ditched and there should be an open period whereby any member is free to
seek out support for a leadership run, whether they have filed or not. This allows for a healthy conversation as potential candidates can raise their profile and bring innovative ideas to a struggling party and test their fundraising ability. Before they actually file an application, money can be pledged and turned into actual donations upon the acceptance of their candidacy.
Even though the contest has already ‘started’, the whole party is gagged because members interested in running can’t say anything until the rules are announced. Once the rules are announced, they can apply but you won’t know who is vetted out or who the candidates are until the day of the big announcement. On that day, if you don’t see somebody who you connect with, you don’t have the opportunity to then apply or encourage anybody else to run. There is so much wrong with this but tactics like this show that Federal Council and its Leadership Contest Committee have a laser focus to keep productive discourse at bay.
What will most likely happen . . .
Directive E-007 will be ignored. A hallmark of Elizabeth’s time as leader of the GPC is that it is far easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. The Annamie Paul fundraising letter is a classic example. In time, these departures from good and proper governance will all be forgotten, and the new crisis of the day will gather peoples’ attention.
Natalie Odd is a very powerful person on Council. She was one of the many 2008 candidates who stepped up because of Elizabeth. She did very well in Calgary Centre and later in Calgary Confederation as a candidate. Natalie Odd is also the sole Chair of the Human Resources Committee which is spearheading the hiring of a new Executive Director. No one person should have this much power and influence over who the key people in the organization will be, especially in a party that purports to be grassroots driven.
President Lorraine Rekmans was on Elizabeth May’s Shadow Cabinet for years and is the prime force who pushed to have the rules approved by Council without member approval. Lorraine has been clear about that, and this has been confirmed twice in the newsletter Member’s Insider. For the President of the party, tasked with holding the party governance to a high standard, to so blatantly disregard this clause in the Constitution is astounding:
6.2 Decisions of the Members in General Meeting shall have precedence over decisions of Federal Council, and any Federal Council decision that is inconsistent with a decision of the Members in General Meeting shall be null and void to the extent of the inconsistency.
So, is Elizabeth going to be a candidate?
I sent an email floating this idea to about 20 members who have been paying attention to the governance of the party, and the consensus was that she would not enter the race. I first sent that email to Elizabeth, Lorraine, and Natalie for some reaction, and I won’t reveal what they said other than to say that Natalie emphatically denied that the rules were being crafted in any way as to give anybody an advantage. That was predictable.
I would assume that Elizabeth would pass the bilingual requirement since she speaks French in Parliament and takes questions from the French media now on a regular basis. I told her that I would retract any suggestion that the rules were being crafted in any way to advantage her specifically if she tweeted that she would not be a candidate.
But this has always been Elizabeth’s party since she became the sole MP for eight years and those who have survived long enough to have influence within the party have supported her power and control. In spite of her assertion in her Toronto Star op-ed that “Until the recent experience with Annamie Paul, the leader had no power,” she has always wielded tremendous power and influence during her time as leader, often using the big hammer when necessary; threatening to quit the party and so then we would have no MPs. Throwing her support behind Annamie Paul was the difference maker in that contest. Make no mistake, she and those loyal to her—volunteers and paid staff—are keenly interested in how this leadership contest will be playing out. It’s not a fair fight. Members don’t have a chance and are merely handled.
It would be far more convenient for Elizabeth to just become leader again. She and her key people have crafted the party to be much more like an NGO where members donate and she and her inner circle do all of the work and make all of the position statements. It’s essentially the Sierra Club with a seat or two in Parliament; however, grassroots local activity, the hallmark of successful Green Parties around the world, is effectively dead. You will hear Elizabeth repeatedly claim that members direct policy in the party but when the window of opportunity is about 30 days once every two to four years, those empty words are just simply gaslighting.
While the proposed party leadership rules have all the appearances that they have been specifically crafted to elect Elizabeth May, I now believe that the rules are actually being set up to accommodate a long-time Elizabeth loyalist who will not get in the way of Elizabeth and her people controlling the party. I must check a few more things and will reveal who that is in a blog to be coming soon, so please subscribe.
This is supposed to be a Green Party based on a key Principle of Participatory Democracy and thus run properly by the members. Hopefully, members will wake up and see that the party is not in fact run by members, but it has been taken over by an inner group for years and this group is loyal to Elizabeth May. They are specifically crafting the rules to give Elizabeth what she wants—either a run for herself or for somebody whom she has hand-picked.