GPC whistleblower crisis, 2006

The GPC whistleblower crisis, 2006 was and is a long-simmering set of disputes that were deliberately ignored by GPC Council during a long period of total dysfunction and inactivity - see GPC Council Crisis. The emergence of many longstanding structural and ethics issues at once during the Canadian federal election, 2006, surprised only those who had not been paying attention through 2005.

The crisis was actually triggered by a Canadian Press news story which reported a long-standing complaint by Matthew Pollesel regarding Jim Harris's run for GPC Leader in 2004. It also reported Gretchen Schwarz's account of similar events in 2003 that cast doubt on the integrity of Harris and GPC Chief Agent John Anderson. A long record of abuses by Anderson and Harris, compounded by Council Chair Bruce Abel, had left the GPC constitution as a meaningless, unenforced, toothless document and the elected GPC Council afraid to speak, afraid to act, on the sidelines, and entirely out of control of the GPC's funds.

predictable failures

The failures of the 2006 campaign had been predicted.

Condemnation of the laughable "We_Can" election slogan, for instance, had been foreshadowed by the resignation of the only actually elected official on the Council, Elio Di Iorio, in June 2005, who noted the party's invisibility in the media despite $250,000 spent on leader promotion. The party put extremely clumsy TV ads together for the Canadian federal election, 2006, and was forced to actually admit that the pamphlets and related material were very poor and useless to the GPC candidates - as evidenced by an apology issued to candidates from the GPC.

The alienation of longtime GPC members was amplified by concerns Di Iorio noted with the party's inability to retain talent, especially young and female talent, an issue also raised by the informal GP Womens' Caucus - and in other resignations from Shadow Cabinet and from Council.

Another of Di Iorio's concerns was the party's extreme, paranoid, inward-looking focus including the Code of Conduct for GPC Council, which seemed to put rather extreme conditions on Council, such as making it impossible even to say that a statement by another Councillor was untrue, misleading or conflicted. Finally he protested the GPC Council having the ability to remove its own members by simple majority vote, in contrast to any known rules of order but consistent with the GPC Constitution. The GPC Council openly defying GPC Ombuds, the only mandated committee with the power to review Council decisions, was also widely protested. These failures of accountability and transparency were the key factors leading to the crisis when the press discovered whistleblowers had talked, and were willing to talk.

Bueckert's story

Bueckert's story picked up some errors along the way, heightening the paranoia:
Gretchen was cited as "Mr." Schwarz in the Globe and Mail. Mr. Pollesel's claim that a 2004 gathering should have been declared as part of Mr. Harris' leadership campaign in that year, was reported by the Globe erroneously as occurring in 2003.

Possibly due to a seemingly prevalent belief among some GPC members and staff that there was a conspiracy "going back to the 1980s", these minor discrepancies were soon used as an excuse to launch libel chill letters and then actual libel lawsuits against Pollesel and Schwarz. A particularly strange and vitriolic press release by the GPC accused them both of being, effectively, in league with the NDP, citing Schwarz's candidacy for that party in 2004. That release did not mention her role in the GPC nor the fact that she had since left the NDP trying to found the Peace and Ecology Party.

The lawsuits and the manner in which they were filed and the wording that was used, all of which was intimidatory in the extreme, angered some Greens enough to distribute a draft press release for GPC candidates to use to condemn the action while at the same time praising Harris' action to publicly release the disputed financial information. It was clearly an attempt at spin control, and also suggested that candidate should put the blame on the press:

  • "These errors should be withdrawn, but not by these two activists, volunteers, and former candidates for the Green Party of Canada, by the journalists who made the mistake," said _candidate_, Green Party of Canada candidate for location_."

The only condemnation of the GPC was for its poor legal advice and bad political judgement in this one particular matter:

  • "All letters threatening any libel action must also be withdrawn, and any lawsuits that they entail: these are a terrible message to send to activists, to candidates, to journalists, to whistleblowers, to dissenters, to rival parties, to any person who is weaker or poorer than those they oppose,"

It slyly introduced the matter of "Paul Martin's legal posturing against Stephen Harper that came in November, but which was not carried out" and made mention of the Leader of the Opposition's role as a whistleblower on a national scale, also noting the "a Government party has a particular obligation not to use its influence and privileged position to chill the Opposition." Accordingly it set up an even higher standard for other parties than for the GPC.

It also left open the option of a suit by officers: "If John Anderson wishes to sue Gretchen Schwarz, he must hire his own lawyer and pay them as well - a person who votes for me is not voting to subsidize Mr. Anderson's lawsuit, and must know they don't."

This relatively friendly rebuke had few or no takers within the GPC, which quickly sent out a "loyalty oath" and other spin control documents which lauded "dedicated staff" and the new unaccountable structure in which they operated - except for the whole management system where you lose your job if you don't do it well... At once point, over December 28-29, six different letters and press releases came out all at once. This was the initiation of the crisis proper, which was to bloom in full in 2006:

impact on 2006 federal election

Michael Oddy, the unelected leader of the unregistered Green Party of Nova Scotia, disavowed the GPC and called for strategic voting in a widely reported radio interview in January 2006. Having not cleared it with his own party, he resigned, but there were many in his party that agreed with him and in fact he had been saying similar things for over a year, including challenging Harris in public.

"dedicated staff" message

Among the documents issued in a panic to attempt to stem the flow of votes away from the GPC was an Message to Members from the Green Party Leadership, a fictional entity as the Green Parties in Canada are not affiliated formally in any way.

This document made various claims that seemed to address the whistleblower crisis by claiming that the issues were being cleaned up:

"The Green Parties in Canada take pride in doing politics differently. We recognize that a diversity of opinions," except as noted above from whistleblowers and dissidents who had already found themselves facing lawsuits funded with money that they themselves had given the GPC by running for it and advocating that people vote for it, and "constructive debate and grassroots democracy" which had been instantly cut off by imposition of GPC unperson, a code of conduct or other similar means to shut out members simply for offending others, "can lead to the best and longest-lasting solutions" presumably via the courts and the use of public funds to silence critics.

The letter also acknowledged the strategic voting issue: "When talking to supporters of other parties many of you will have come to the realization that they want the same fundamental thing that we do - a sustainable, just, tolerant Canada." This had been the thrust of various efforts to encourage strategic voting including Think Twice on January 23rd and Oddy's.

The letter was signed by Jim Harris but also by three GPC Deputy Leaders who had previously distributed another failed "loyalty oath": Lynette Tremblay, Andrew Lewis, David Chernushenko. Chris Bradshaw and Chris Lea, two other former leaders, signed it as well for the GPC. George Read the GPC's national campaign manager and GPAB leader signed on behalf of his province.

Adriane Carr, Victor Lau, Holly Nelson, three other western leaders, also signed, as did Frank de Jong the GPO Leader, despite clear direction from his own Council not to get involved in federal politics.

There were unsurprisingly no signatures from provincial Greens in Quebec or the Maritimes or Newfoundland as there are no provincial parties in these locations. It invited those who received it "to add your own paragraph or two to support our current direction, our staff or others in the party who you believe are making a difference. The GPC will plan to publish your comments at a later date." This was widely seen as an attempt to differentiate loyalists from critics, and gather intelligence on which GPC fulltime staff or which aspects of the "direction" had offended fewer people than others.

Evidently, even the GPC bunker had by now realized that there was a serious and visible problem.

condemnation of tactics, and even dirtier tactics

Many members in the activist community were appalled and demanded retraction of both the lawsuits and the various attempts to identify and attack people who sympathized with the whisteblowers.

GPC supporter Michael Marshall, for instance, in an attempt to intimidate Harris opponent and Oddy ally Craig Hubley, said on a Green Party of Nova Scotia mailing list that "my concerns about Craig's behavior are now being forwarded to the RCMP". He did not state the nature of these "concerns", and was actively lobbying to take control of the GPNS member functions, presumably to exclude Hubley, Oddy and others who had agreed with them. He actively advocated the GPNS being unable to easily criticize the GPC, as did several other GPNSers in those last days before the election. He predicted also that the GPC would get more votes than the NDP got in the Canadian federal election, 1993. Hubley predicted on the same list that due to the crisis and the publicity around it, the vote would be down..

the vote

as of 2006-01-22 the vote was unknown.