I sincerely believe that if the GPC becomes what it says in its Constitution, that it will be a powerful force in the political landscape of Canada. We have long departed from any meaning to the spirit of our Constitution and anybody telling you that the party is member-led, member controlled is gaslighting you because all of the evidence is to the contrary.
Blame is an excuse for inaction so I want to dismiss blame and I invite you to consider what a truly grassroots structure can do for the party. It will take a while to get there, but I believe that it can be done.
The highest Principles of the Constitution are the Global Green Principles. Participatory Democracy includes
power and responsibility are concentrated in local and regional communities, and devolved only where essential to higher tiers of governance.
That isn’t us, is it. What does power truly mean here and how would that really be expressed?
Power involves control of the resources as well as control of policy development. In a true grassroots structure, both of these should be directed by local riding associations (EDAs). Bear with me please. The party clearly needs a national presence and I will get to that elsewhere..
It is the purpose of the Party to advance the Party's Platform, Positions, Policy, Values and Basis of Unity.
There are many ways to do this but many members believe that this is only accomplished by having MPs in Parliament. Not in a grassroots organization. Activist Greens who want to act locally need to have an outlet for the expression of their passion. It needs to be far beyond the current situation where as a member you are mostly expected to merely donate and click on petitions. It hasn’t always been like that but this is the place that we are in currently.
It is great to have a Shadow Cabinet but really, there are thousands of members who are experts or passionate in a particular area of public policy. The current policy process stifles innovative, fact-based policy development that is based on our Principles and Values from a broad range of capable members. My model for this is the Green Party of Ontario (GPO) in the 2000’s where it was the closest to a grassroots structure that I have experienced in Green politics in Canada. We had two conventions per year, each hosted by a local Constituency Association (CA). One would be the AGM where policy motions were also entertained and the second was strictly a policy convention. Hosting was moved around from region to region. Riding associations were eager to host as we always had multiple proposals from the region whose turn it was to host each event. I personally learned a lot from these conventions and it helped me prepare for a successful run as a Municipal Councillor later on. There were engaging speakers, breakout discussions and productive plenaries all in a very well organized and respectful environment. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
Fast forward to today at the GPC and well, there really is very little strength at the EDA level but that can change. They have disintegrated for several reasons but the mainly, there is literally nothing for them to do except to ‘keep the lights on’ as one EDA CEO put it and to try to organize an AGM to maintain their legal status. EDAs went from independence to being governed by staff around 2018. At that time, CEOs were no longer able to email their members without staff approval, which often took weeks and a second request. Pretty tough to get something going in that environment.
EDAs need to be given back their independence. Some oversight is in order but I will cover that elsewhere.
I attended a meeting of the Lanark-Frontenac EDA/CA combined meeting about 10 years ago and there were about 40 attendees. There was a great speaker who explained how it is fine to buy an electric vehicle or low emissions vehicle but all you are doing is making gas cheaper for those who don’t give a hoot about their emissions. He explained how the supply end needs to be reduced as much as the demand side. But more importantly they had a discussion on how they could make their counties more sustainable. This is a discussion that should be taking place across the country at the EDA level followed up by real action where press releases are sent out regularly to the local media, petitions are taken to the public locally and good comradery face to face makes a difference in member satisfaction. So that everybody isn’t operating in their own silo, these discussions can be shared widely to inspire other local associations with actionable ideas. The culture of the party has actively stifled EDAs getting together and sharing information.
There are attempts to change this right now but it comes down to responsibility. EDAs need to feel responsible for their riding and need to be empowered to do so by taking off the shackles of staff control. I have seen far too many EDA executives over the years who are extremely competent and capable of leading a strong local effort to promote our policies simply get frustrated and leave the party as their talents and passions are not respected.
Continuous Policy Process
In addition to having the authority and empowerment to bring the Green message locally, EDAs should also take over much of what is done centrally and expensively and poorly.
Take for example policy development. I cover this in more detail here [insert link] but the current system is frustrating and highly ineffective. Instead of a small window of opportunity for individual members to submit proposals every two to four years, policy development should be continuous. This is something that the party has struggled with since before Elizabeth was leader. What I would propose is that an EDA can volunteer to host monthly policy workshops in a particular portfolio. Now they have something to do so watch out - a lot of latent organizational capacity will be released. Each month a particular subject matter could be highlighted. If there is a bill going through Parliament in that portfolio, that would be a good subject.
A meeting could start with a panel discussion from expert members or representatives from an NGO, or a Shadow Cabinet member, MP etc. Small table discussions of members in a virtual or hybrid format would follow with reports back to the group at the end of something like a two hour session. The EDA, as host of the process, can decide if further workshops are needed on proposals that may arise out of these discussions. Give members a chance and they will figure out what the best next steps are.
Asynchronous discussion can continue development of proposals between General Meetings that would make their way to the next GM for approval by the full membership. The events would need to be posted on a calendar and that is also easily covered by a capable EDA. Counting on a central staff to update events is just not working and hasn’t for years. Instead of the current process where proposals start discussions, I see it far more productive that discussions generate proposals which will then be of a much higher quality.
There are many more details to discuss but Motion Mondays which Sarah Gabrielle Baron and I initiated in November 2021 had a decent format. For the purposes of this blog though, local organizations facilitating policy development for the national party is a snapshot of part of what a grassroots structure of a party would entail.
Have you ever been to an AGM for any organization that did not have a proper financial report given to the attendees? This was the case at the last GM for the GPC. There was a report from the Fund but it only talked about the drop in membership and members still have no idea where their money actually goes. Neither does Federal Council by the way. If you want a pertinent reason why members are dropping off and so are their donations, you can start there.
How to fix this?
If our Constitution says that power is local, then we have to talk about money. A grassroots structure would see all donations come into the local organization and then the local organization would fund the Region and the central office. If you don’t have an EDA, start one or become a member of one that you trust and donate there. You will find that people are far more trusting of keeping their money local so it will be more plentiful and easier to fundraise. The Region and the Central party would provide a budget to the EDAs and ask for funding. Now we have accountability and proper reporting and a much better feeling of involvement, empowerment, trust and excitement from members. Logistics can be worked out.
This is another concept in our definition of Participatory Democracy.
We strive for a democracy in which all citizens have the right to express their views, and are able to directly participate in the environmental, economic, social and political decisions which affect their lives
You can substitute the word citizen with member for the application of this concept internally. We can’t strive for something in society with any credibility that we don’t practice ourselves.
There is no reason that we can’t regularly poll members for decisions on governance and policy matters with all of the internet tools available nowadays. Execution of these polls and votes is something that EDAs or Regions could perform on a revolving basis on behalf of the full membership. Not everybody will participate but their ongoing monetary and voluntary contributions will be validated because they have the option to participate in shaping the party. There is no need to have a central staff do this since for so many years now, we have been burdened with a reluctant staff who is too busy doing whatever it is that they do, to bother posting anything of benefit to members in the Member’s section of the GPC website.
I have to mention the current initiative of Action Teams. Briefly, this has been proposed as a way to involve more volunteers so the typical Action Team includes some volunteers who work with Federal Council and staff to improve something like Data Management or Lessons Learned. The problem is that those behind this are equating volunteerism with grassroots. It is all still centrally controlled and feeds into a failed centralized model where Federal Council and staff have the final say. There has been a consistent pattern of Federal Council ignoring the Constitution and Directives from members so why would we assume that this would suddenly change? We already have a structure in place called EDAs and respect for that structure is the only way that we can truly uphold our Constitution and Global Greens Principle of Participatory Democracy where power is local.
There are a lot of holes to fill in but this is meant to be a discussion starter and to challenge you to think what grassroots structure means so I hope that I have done that.