Bonser method

The Bonser method of decision making was co-created by a number of participants at a confrence of the Green Party of Ontario co-chaired by Greg Bonser. The method is widely used among Green Parties in Canada. The Green Party of Canada, Green Party of Ontario and Green Party of Nova Scotia all use some variant of this method, with extensions and further democratic structuring.

It is one of several methods using green/yellow/red cards distributed at live meetings. Earlier methods of this kind were pioneered by Tom Salsberg who based them on prior use in the green movement. According to the GPO, the Bonser method "consolidated earlier GPO consensus practices approved at the 2002 APC," and was an "innovation in maintaining process efficiency and accurately determining the true will of the participants. Both are necessary for empowering the membership."

The Kingston, Ontario GPO CA and GPC EDA use it for "voting on significant resolutions" that are "to be forwarded to the GPO and GPC for adoption as part of the party's policy, or for directives to the" delegates "at an AGM or other general meeting". Their simple description is as follows:


green/yellow/red card

"First, the facilitator reads the resolution, as provided by its sponsor. The facilitator then allows three questions on the resolution. Friendly amendments are not accepted at this stage. A vote is called by the distribution of three coloured cards to each member eligible to vote."
  • "GREEN CARD: The presentation by a voter of a Green card indicates that the resolution should be passed as it stands.
  • YELLOW CARD: The presentation of a Yellow card indicates that the resolution should be discussed at a workshop.
  • RED CARD: A Red card indicates that the resolution should be rejected without further discussion."

three votes

  • "FIRST VOTE: If a quorum is present, the resolution passes if it has sixty percent support (Green cards only), fails if rejected by sixty percent of voters, and goes to discussion in a workshop on any other vote.
  • SECOND VOTE: When a resolution is returned from a workshop or debate to a second vote, three questions are allowed and friendly amendments (those accepted by the sponsors) are allowed.
  • FINAL VOTE: For the final vote only red and green cards are allowed. Sixty percent Green votes are required for acceptance, provided a quorum is present. One quorum call (a request for members to return to the meeting) is allowed."

variants and extensions

Bonser method users typically vary or complement it by:

GPC variant

In the Green Party of Canada, since "the constitution does not make reference to whether vacant positions should be included in quorum calculations" the method is slightly ambiguous for GPC Council decisions. http://web.greenparty.ca/gm27aug05.html One solution is that "councillors who will not be present at general meetings should send a one page report in their stead" to specify at least resolutions that they unambiguously support. Outcomes are recorded as "OUTCOME: 70 Green, 7 Yellow, 15 Red."

The GPC constitution has been controversial often in the past, with concerns sometimes raised such as those in 2004 that a GPC "meeting is being stampeded" and that "despite the voting method we adopted, which was supposed to streamline the process so we could quickly move through the resolutions, the meeting was still spending large amounts of time on single resolutions." The GPC agreed "that the general meeting use the Bonser Method for discussion and adoption of policy resolutions, party directives and constitutional amendments, with 66.6% as the threshold for acceptance or defeat of a resolution." This varied from the 60% threshold.

Some supported a 75% threshold. Others (such as Chris Bradshaw have opposed using the method). The GPC however requires that any "constitutional amendment it considers will be deemed adopted by the party unless and until ratified by the membership by a vote in favour of not less than 2/3 of all ballots cast in a secret, secure mail-in ballot." There are also quorum concerns, "as a mail-in ballot is a general meeting held by post", no vote by less than 20 members is valid.

used only for policy, directive, constitution

The Green Rules of Order were used "for administrative discussions" before Bonser http://web.greenparty.ca/gm27aug05.html, and are still used for everything except "policy and directive resolutions and constitutional amendments." The description used in that resolution:

  • "the resolution is presented, there is a small amount of time for debate, then a vote is held. To vote, delegates display coloured cards (red, green or yellow). If 60% of delegates display a green card, the resolution passes, if 60% of delegates display a red card, the resolution fails. These decisions are final. If the result is not clear, the resolution is sent to workshop. Delegates who wish the resolution to go to workshop should display a yellow card. Once workshopped, the amended resolution is presented to the plenary where another vote is taken. In the vote on the amended resolution, delegates may only vote with a red or green card." Eventually it was settled that "the support of 2/3 +1 of voting members" was required and that "a constitutional amendment require more than 3/4 of the voting members present vote in favour of the motion." Proposals by a zero wing, however, to dissolve the GPC itself require 90% approval.

GPO variant

The Green Party of Ontario uses the method at its GPO APC. In 2002 it passed this simple definition:
  • "Resolution: Council resolves that the facilitator at the APC will present the ‘Bonser Method' decision-making process to the membership present, and place a formal vote at the end of the meeting. (If 60% in favour - motion passes, If 60% against - motion fails, otherwise motion goes to workshop)" - http://www.greenparty.on.ca/council/minutes/min20020217.shtml

The GPO has used a "randomized ordering of APC resolutions http://www.greenparty.on.ca/council/minutes/min20020217.shtml but as of 2005 it ordered all resolutions by mail-in ballot and has been generally very satisfied with this means of avoiding manipulation of the agenda order.

complements GPO proxy system

In the GPO, Bonser was combined with a proxy vote system since "requiring members to represent their views personally at the biannual meetings was no longer democratically sound practice."

Stewart Sinclair in particular praised "a constitutional amendment passed by the 2003 AGM of the GPO" as "a breakthrough for democratic
organization and method. “It is probably unique on the planet and shows how effective the GPO is at democratic organizational innovation.” He noted that “The transition from direct democracy to representative democracy in a bigger organization has so often degenerated into rule by power grabbing cliques and anal retentive bureaucrats, but what we worked out lays out a path for a smooth transition from the direct democracy (one member one vote on all issues) to a truly representative system.”

The GPO proxy vote system extends the Bonser method to delegates. It assures each GPO CA has representation closer to their actual numbers while individuals have an expanded range of methods to express themselves: CAs may select delegates to represent them. A delegate may represent from four to nine other members: they carry those votes into the conferences and be counted as casting that many votes. Requiring signed permissions that give delegates their voting power is intended to ensure that real discussion of resolutions happened at the CA level. Individual members who don’t agree with any of the chosen delegates still have the right to attend as individuals, or mail in a ballot for first round voting. The delegate system can assure CAs, that are both large and remote from the site of the conferences, a reasonable degree of representation. It also facilitates participation by members, and quorum was boosted to 20% of the membership being represented in some form.

GPNS variant

The Green Party of Nova Scotia specified the Bonser method at its GPNS AGM 2006 at 60% as a compromise between those seeking a 75% threshold, those preferring majority vote and those who wanted consensus decision making even for non-delegate direct democracy at a live meeting - usually used only for GPNS executive meetings. The GPNS protocols specify the exact organization protocols for meetings among others, e.g. a separate GPNS position protocol is executed by GPNS Policy Committee.

complements consensus methods for committees

The GPNS variant in all details will be finally ratified no later than its GPNS AGM 2007 with clarity on the proxy, delegate, executive and representative matters - for instance, threshold of consensus that applies in different situations including all GPNS executive and GPNS policy committee decisions which involve fewer people and so may use unanimity minus two or unanimity minus one instead of a percentage.

This is similar to the GPO approach where GPO Council works on consensus while a larger general meeting employs only the Bonser methods.