Checks and balances

On checks and balances for the next GPC Constitution, adapted from a version by Tom Manley:''

Checks and Balances

As with any large organization, there is always the risk that one person or small group will take over the levers of power and then ignore the values and wishes of the ordinary members. The only way that this may be prevented is through a system where power is distributed to several different groups which then compete with each other in order to maintain a state of dynamic equilibrium.

Canadian society, for example, preserves democracy by creating different levels of governance (i.e. federal, provincial, municipal), the Bill of Rights (which gives the Supreme Court final say over Parliamentary decisions), placing the military firmly in the hands of civilians---and many, many other complex control mechanisms which have evolved over 1,000 years of political evolution. The Green Party will need to develop similar complex constitutional control mechanisms in order to make sure that control of the Party remains in the hands of rank-and-file members.

Types of Control Tools

Four types of controls are required to ensure democratic control of the Party:

* Active and vigilant participation by everyone.
* Clear, effective, and efficient democratic decision making processes.
* Divisions of authority that ensure the emergence of different elements of Party governance that counterbalance others and limit the accumulation of power in one specific part of the Party structure to the detriment of others.
* Effective administrative tools to oversee expenditures and operations.


When the membership, the council and the staff participate actively and vigilantly, no one person or group has free rein. This is developed through a culture of broad consultation, personal involvement, and mutual respect, trust, and confidence. Such a culture is neither automatic nor assumed. It is developed with deliberate actions such as written ethics guidelines, workshops on active democracy, newsletters, and public presentations by the leadership.

Of equal importance is the need for individual members of the Federal Council to be integral to the process of education through intensive communication with the membership, either as individuals or through internal tools such as listserves, newsletters, etc. Currently there simply is not enough time for most members of the "working council" to take on this job in addition to hands on management. When we make the transition to a governing council more time will be available for this essential job.

Democratic Culture and Process

Foolish confusion of consensus decision making with unanimity - consensus is not unanimity - and only pass decisions with 100% agreement has not only caused large problems with decision-making, it has also damaged the political culture of the Party.

In a Party where each individual has a veto, members never need to develop a willingness to compromise in order to build agreement. As a corollary, members never need to learn to "agree to disagree" or disagree passionately when debating but work doggedly once the decision has been made. Effective teamwork does not result when people think that they always have a right to "opt out" or "go to the media" whenever they lose a vote.

We believe that there is strong support for a change from formal consensus decision-making towards a majority based system. Primarily, this comes from a recognition that there is something wrong with handing individuals the ability to veto the will of the majority. A challenge remains in working out the specific details of this change for General Meetings, Federal Council and individual committees. Instead of attempting to create a perfect system from "square one", the best method may be to avoid making change extremely difficult and allow the Party to experiment with different forms until it finds one that seems the best fit.

Structural Changes Needed to Defend Democracy
Several constitutional changes suggest themselves as means of preserving the power of ordinary members in an increasingly professional party. They are:

* The Party needs to develop clear mechanisms for bringing forth resolutions and agendas to meetings, both General and Federal Council, with sufficient notice and background to allow for consideration. We cannot allow "surprise resolutions" and still keep ordinary members involved. One example drawn from Ontario that may be worth considering is a mechanism whereby the agenda order of General Meetings is decided by mail-in ballot.
* Implement a delegate system that will allow all members to participate indirectly in General Meetings.
* If we do decide upon mail-in ballot systems for the Party, we must find a way of dealing with the severe limitations for communication and debate that such systems labour under. Democracy is much, much more than simply the act of voting---without debate and opportunity for negotiating compromise it becomes an easily manipulated sham.
* Implement a new decision-making process at general meetings, and perhaps even council meetings, to be more efficient and productive. The Bonzer or Robert's Rules methods are examples of such systems. The Party may have to let this matter evolve by adopting something like the Bonzer method for the moment and growing into something better as our experience dictates.
* Develop different mechanisms for selecting different elements of the Party leadership that will give various officials their own independent power-bases. This will strengthen their hands in internal disputes and allow no single person to adopt dictatorial powers. For example, the Leader is currently elected by the entire membership in a preferential ranking vote. By electing members of the Federal Council without portfolio through a single transferable vote system, we would encourage greater representation of minorities. As well, by having important committee chair positions elected through votes on the Federal Council, we will ensure a certain amount of "consensus building" within the Council as members negotiate between themselves for support in gaining specific positions. A further suggestion may be to have the Chair of the Party elected by the delegates at a General Meeting.
This would give him or her a different power base than the other members of the Federal Council and hopefully ensure that the person selected has proven him or herself committed to the defense of the authority of the General Meeting in particular and the Constitution in general. Finally, by having the Executive Director appointed by the Federal Council, s/he is accountable to it and will be limited in his/her ability to manipulate the Party through control of staff.

Administrative Oversight Tools

Administrative checks and balances are procedures that ensure appropriate and efficient consultation on decisions, expenditures, and public communications. It typically involves a sign-off by two or more stakeholders. Periodic reporting procedures provide all stakeholders with summary reports on decisions, expenditures, and communications made in other departments. It is useful both as a monitoring tool and as an internal communications tool to build better cohesion. A collection of such procedures surely exists in certain NGOs. The Party could review current systems and select or adapt the tools to fit our needs.