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Green Party of Canada Living Platform

The Green Party of Canada Living Platform(external link) is a tikiwiki-based service that was once used for participatory democracy - the actual authoring of a political party platform for use in a national election.

Status

The project remains visible but is effectively dead. Its slogan participatory democracy in action has been more accurately resated as "participatory democracy inaction": As of 2006-03, its recent changes(external link) showed only a single substantive comment, "Renewing Interest in Our Living Platform(external link)" by Cameron Wigmore?, posting as User:CamTheCat?. Prior to that it received only one or two edits a month even during the Canadian federal election, 2006. It was not used to prepare the GPC platform, 2006 which was primarily edited by Dermod Travis - ''whose efforts to censor Green Party of Canada Living Platform helped set off the GPC council crisis. These efforts involved GPC Shadow Cabinet but totally bypassed the GPC-LP - the platform remained wholly opaque to the members before release. There were no Answers to Questionnaires posted or provided to GPC candidates? in that election, while in the previous election this had been the primary use of GPC-LP.

Significance

It was notable for being the very first attempt to create a binding political platform entirely on the Internet.

Use in outreach and lobbying

Though the Green Party of Canada received only 4.3% of the popular vote in the Canadian federal election, 2004 and is not in the Canadian House of Commons due to Canada's antiquated "first past the post" voting system, it is an active lobbyist and has achieved some victories by working through members of other parties - see Canada Well-Being Measurement Act. Some features of the Living Platform are open to non-members who need not be in Canada, or Canadians: The Party allowed even anonymous parties add comments. Though only those who were members or advisors of the Party can edit the actual wiki pages, the comments can contain links to the internal wiki pages or other resources, letting anyone aid in policy research. In a February 2005 meeting of the Shadow Cabinet, (see the minutes(external link)) the "emergence of a new and improved Shadow Cabinet" was defined as one of the LP's most important goals.

Feedback-oriented Terms of Use

The Terms of Use(external link) combine the Creative Commons CC-by and CC-by-nc-sa open content Creative Commons Licenses in a way that encourages maximum sharing of policy papers and feedback, potentially among many players in the noncommercial sector. Contributions by any individual may be copied anywhere as long as attribution is preserved, but commercial use of any combination of works by multiple parties is reserved to the Party. However, any noncommercial purpose - such as other parties' debates or NGO position discussions or academic research - may freely redistribute all the content. Legal scholar Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons and Common Content, and a notable critic of monopolies on information, pronounced the terms of use as "cool". CC's own wiki debates on terms of use(external link) have similarly focused on this distinction between what a participant commits to the group(external link) and what the group commits to the public(external link), the latter being Share Alike to ensure that the group creates a shared resource that is continously available to its non-members, even if some rights in that use are reserved to the group.

Disappearance and troubled reappearance of the Living Platform

By January of 2005, the Living Platform was not only a platform development project: it was being used by many members, including one of the deputy leaders, several federal councillors, top administrative staff, and most of the active Shadow Cabinet to debate political party governance. It was the online home for many national committees including the fundraising committee, the governance committee and the women's caucus. Some argued that this use went beyond the original purpose of the wiki, but many, including party leaders and Issue Advocates, argued that it was inevitable and necessary. The governance uses included the use of it by deputy leader Tom Manley to debate party governance, by GPC Council member Sharolyn Vettese to debate a Code of Conduct for that Council, by the party's office manager to detail staff priorities to the members, by a women's caucus to build their agenda, and by members using it to discuss and develop alternative directions for the party (some of which were critical of the existing leadership). GPC management objected to some pages which were satirical in nature, and others which were critical of the administration of the party. On Feburary 8, the Living Platform was taken down. No notice given to the Shadow Cabinet, Platform chairs, or volunteer writers and editors. Project participants could not access their work, and were left in the dark about what was going on. The content of the Living Platform was mirrored to a new site, livingplatform.ca, which ultimately became openpolitics.ca. Two days later, the Green Party of Canada Living Platform was restored and Michael Pilling, Head of Research, was fired. This was a double blow to the Living Platform volunteers. The site had changed URIs which meant not only that users' bookmarks were suddenly useless, but that many links were broken. They were frustrated for having been left out of the loop, and denied access to their material and their project for two days. Pilling had played a critical role in supporting work on the Platform, and after he was fired it was not clear who was going to pick up that role. Activity on the LP fell off, and many volunteers left the project. When the LP reappeared, a number of pages, notably Green and Growing by David Scrymgeour (a governance document advocating a centralized model) and Project Fig Leaf (which described a plan to have the platform written by a staff member, instead of the Shadow Cabinet and Living Platform committee), were removed without a trace along with their histories. Open debate on the question of the appropriate use of a wiki was not possible. The Shadow Cabinet and the Platform Committee tried and failed to negotiate the amtter with Dermod Travis. They were concerned that, as Communications Director, he had control over both the Living Platform and Shadow Cabinet budget. As a member of the ERCT, the committee which had jurisdiction over hiring and firing, Travis fired Pilling (but was himself immune to firing, as he sat on the committee to which he reported)). As the Director of Communications, he permitted the funding of a Shadow Cabinet retreat only on the condition that his own six-hour "media relations" seminar was on the agenda.

Discussion

Internal party controversies are a normal and generally unavoidable part of politics. A small clique close to the Leader or against participatory democracy in general, including well-known opponent of consensus decision making Bill Hulet, spoke up for the power grab, arguing that "it is clearly not in the interest of the Green Party of Canada to use its scarce resources to advertise inflammatory comments about its duly elected leadership." However, providing a net forum is not considered to be a form of "advertising" in any other political party, and leadership and candidacy debates are key to all politics. Many questioned the need for restrictions on freedom of speech in the Green Party's forums, and desired that they not degrade to the level of the rival New Democratic Party of Canada forums, in which a very few operators have draconian control over everything said - a strategy which critics say has driven many youth away from that party. Indeed, more than one youth candidate for the NDP has lost his nomination due to comments made on web bulletin boards. This "politically correct" filter is often exploited by Greens who recruit outspoken young talent who have no future in the NDP and many favoured transparency In the original crisis in late January, Party Chair Bruce Abel blocked any executive interference in the Living Platfom, and ordered the webmaster to keep it running and intact with all comments remaining on the record. This was meant to prevent hearsay, rumour, and CC-by violations from occuring. The process (steering) committee of the Living Platform decided to make some sensitive pages inaccessible except by request, but most of the pages would remain available so as not to interrupt the mission-critical work of the Shadow Cabinet, and those working on the post-ERCT Governance Council and a new GPC Council Code of Conduct. All of this work was wholly dependent on the Living Platform. A new wiki or namespace was proposed to be be set up solely for internal party matters - this was to be called "Living Agenda." The Living Platform, as a form of deliberative democracy, is seen by most Greens as integral to modern party operations. Accusations that it was a non-democratic system that was totally unaccountable to the rank-and-file membership, despite their absurdity, were however common. Most of the people who made this sort of claim never commented, edited or participated in any way. Indeed, a few, including Hulet, found it more convenient, somehow, to edit this Wikipedia article, than to add a simple comment to any page of the Living Platform. The motives of such people were transparent: open defiance of one of the Four Pillars that has been part of the Green Party since its very early beginnings. There were valid criticisms of its systemic bias, but also outstanding proposals to correct that bias via a "mark up and mail back" and "rank a plank live" system - and of course, live meetings have their own biases, too.

no official status for ERCT or LP

Neither the ERCT structure nor the Living Platform had been voted upon by the membership at a General Meeting. Since it is important to the functioning of any political party that the employees of the Party not usurp the power of its elected representatives, the GPC Council was expected to assert its powers over the ERCT, over Travis and make its decision for the good of the Party, not for one Leader who feared some change, and not for the self-serving purposes of the ERCT itself. The Living Platform was popular and endorsed by all of its users, and had very few detractors, invariably those who defamed the concept of participatory methods and an open party. While some Green Party volunteers and employees involved in the Living Platform refused to take direction from the Party Executive, this was for clearly stated reasons: to avoid violating an open content license.

Living Agenda

In contrast to the ERCT's rigid stance, there were some attempts to compromise by promoters of the open approach: A proposal by Party Fundraising Chair Kate Holloway to integrate all political party governance in a similar framework, a variation of Living Platform called the Living Agenda, was adopted by the Party's process committee as a response to first crisis. This would be the Party's mechanism for dealing with governance questions as raised by membership, and bringing maximum expertise to bear on decisions presently monopolized by the "ERCT". It remains to be seen if the GPC will revive this proposal or if the ERCT has successfully shut down internal debate. In any case the Shadow Cabinet is using a revived Living Agenda/Platform at another "unofficial" non-GPC location:

Living Platform lives

As open content with the right to fork, the Living Platform is being revived out of Green Party of Canada web space. It is anticipated that it will remain useful to the Shadow Cabinet, and to those members opposed to ERCT control of the party. It is also anticipated that it will be far more directly critical of those who used to have the power to censor it, but now do not.