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Time for a new Constitution?

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

The Green Party of Canada is about to begin a new era with a new leader. Or is it?

Does the current Constitution support the growth potential of the party? I'd be interested in hearing from you.

For some background, the current Constitution was crafted just before the 2006 Leadership Contest which involved Elizabeth May, David Chernushenko and also-ran Jim Fannon. It was specifically written to put a lot of authority in the office of the leader in order to give whomever won a lot of tools to take the party to the next level. The definition of that for many was to get MPs elected and the first one would likely be the leader themselves. The powers included the appointment of Deputy Leaders whose role was loosely defined, and the Shadow Cabinet whose main contribution to the party was to author the platform for each election. This is a critical role since Green Party policy comes to light and the Shadow Cabinet can highlight any particular issues. Since they are appointed and let go by the leader, clearly the platform has the stamp of the leader all over it. The leader is also a voting member of Federal Council, which generally meets monthly and a voting member of the Executive Council (Consisting of the President, two Vice-Presidents, Fund representative, and Executive Director) which generally meets weekly.

For the record, I have always been extremely proud of the platforms put forth by the Green Party of Canada. They were always well thought out, well researched, and well presented during Elizabeth May's tenure and during Jim Harris' tenure for that matter as well. I have not heard of any complaints from members that platforms departed from approved Green Party member policy. But with a new leader, will the same quality of platform remain?

A key clause in the 2006 version of Constitution was that there would be a mandatory Leadership Contest in 2010. That is, whomever won the 2006 contest would have four years to show what they could do. Then they would have to democratically face the members in a contest, should they wish to continue, and that contest of course would be open to any member to run in. Early in 2010 Sylvie Lemieux announced her candidacy for the leadership of the GPC and this caused some waves. Already, the Elizabeth May supporter dominated Federal Council was preparing a resolution for the 2010 Toronto BGM (Biannual General Meeting) to replace the mandatory contest with a leadership review following each election.

This passed and the extremely low bar of 60% approval was set with no minimum participation required of the membership to validate the result. Opponents of the motion dubbed the new clause the 'Leader for Life' clause for having such a low standard of review. Justification by Federal Council of the motion included the fact that it was a minority government at the time and there could be federal election at any time and that Elizabeth deserved a second chance to run in a general election. There was an all out effort underway to get her elected in Saanich Gulf Islands (SGI). Furthermore, it would be very taxing on Elizabeth to have to defend herself in a contest while appealing to the voters in SGI.

This was short term thinking. Elizabeth would have easily passed a review following the 2019 election since only a fraction of members participate in the reviews (25 % in 2015 and she garnered over 92% of those who voted). Since the membership of the party is self-selecting meaning those who are enthusiastic about the leader tend to stay members and engaged, and those who do not like the leadership style tend to quit the party and disengage, I would have predicted an easy pass on the review had she not stepped down at such a low bar of 60%.

Now we are in a situation where whomever the winner of the leadership contest is now, will have the same low bar for a review to contend with and quite likely could be the leader for a very long time as they attract voters who are aligned with them philosophically and those that aren't stop engaging and let their memberships lapse.

For the party to become what most Green Parties are around the world, that being member driven and grass roots driven, it will need a Constitution that does not include so many sweeping powers for the leader. It was written 14 years ago before we had seats with a few modifications. What are your thoughts?

In private discussions, comments are that Deputy Leaders should be elected, or that even Shadow Cabinet members should to be elected, and that the Executive Council should be disbanded. How can we craft a Constitution that truly respects the values of the party and provides a structure of governance that is transparent and truly member-driven?

In the forum section of this blog, I have initiated some topics and would invite your contributions to get the conversation started. If we leave it strictly to a highly dysfunctional and secretive Federal Council, I fear that the same centralized party will continue to fall short of its potential.

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