establishing a proportional governance council

Establishing a proportional Governance Council

in the Green Federation of Canada

At latest GPC AGM 2006 the GFC Constitution will be proposed as the next GPC Constitution. Should it be rejected or any major attribute of it fail to be adopted, then, the Green Federation of Canada will form a separate federal political party and compete with the GPC for candidates - see GFC candidate protocol for more. The following also makes reference to GPC officer protocol and a more robust GFC officer protocol that have in common the need for a governance/working board split.

Composition of the Federation Council

The GPC Council had a poor legacy design that led to the GPC Council Crisis and inability to handle the full slate expectations and per vote funding. As it makes the transition from being a working board to a governing board, the individual members will no longer be expected to do personal "hands on" work for the Party, but, unaccountable staff have proven untrustworthy to do it as they are subject to inordinate interference, e.g. by the ill-fated and sadly not-short-enough-lived GPC ERCT.

Most of the specific titles and portfolios that the GPC elected Council members to fill ceased under the ERCT regime to have any significance. They will likely not be restored. A logical constitutional change would involve council members being elected without portfolio as their job has ceased to be that of doing a specific task and instead becomes that of representing the membership as a whole for strategic planning. This however would leave a Council lopsided in favour of very small provinces and territories, and with no protections against commandeering by a demogogue or other poor leadership choice.

There are specific council functions that will probably be continued. The difference is that these are specific tasks that refer to jobs that involve either governing the governance (i.e. the Chair) or interface with institutions that exist outside of the Party (i.e. the Leader and International Secretary). The following positions will be retained in the GFC:

  • The GFC Party Chair controls process for Council. She organizes the agenda, rules on points of order, and is the official spokesperson for council to the membership. She is the last resort for matters of GFC protocols - these being the actual means by which "governing" is separated from the "working" fucntions. This person is never the same person as the GPC Party Chair, as the GFC serves an important function as a check on the GPC. This position is also responsible for keeping the chairs meeting agenda of Living Platform itself.

  • The GFC Leader is the leading political spokesperson of the Federation and the chair of GFC Shadow Cabinet. As such, she is not only a member of Council, but is also a creature of Elections Canada and (at least potentially) Parliament. When the GPC Leader is the same person, they become responsible for the additional functions of the leader of a Canadian federal political party - which the GFC itself is not, at least - not yet.

There are limits to how big a Council can become before it begins to become increasingly unworkable. The experience of other nonprofit boards is that the optimal size for a Governing Board is between 5 and 12 members. Currently, the GPC Federal Council consists of 24 positions and this is a major cause of its dysfunction:

1. One representative of each province and territory of Canada
2. Chairperson
3. Leader
4. Secretary
5. Francophone Secretary
6. International Secretary
7. Chief Agent
8. Publications Chair (Communications Chair)
9. Organizing Chair
10. Fundraising Chair
11. Membership Chair
12. Administration Chair

The problem with having a very large Governing Board is that the logistics of decision-making begin to weaken the ability of each member to truly represent their constituency. For example, if in a contentious debate everyone has a five minute say in a 24 member Federal Council, that means that more than two hours will be taken up. Since there are also ex-officio members of Council, such as the Deputy Leader and the Executive Director, and important issues may take much longer than 5 minutes to explain, it is easy to see the value of having a smaller Council. As well, the cost of holding face-to-face meetings for 24 members is so large that they will have to be few and far between. (By definition, a 12 person Council would be able to afford twice as many face-to-face meetings as a 24 person one.) And it is hard to believe that a 24 person teleconference can produce very much worthwhile work.

As a result, the GPC is considering constitutional changes that would involve shrinking the size of Federal Council. For example, consider the following model:

1. the Leader
2. the Chair
3. six members-at-large
4. six bioregional representatives

Under this model, instead of having one representative from each province, the regional reps would come from six-very broadly defined-bioregional areas. One potential way of breaking these down would be: Pacific, Prairie, Shield, Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, and Atlantic. (As the Party grows in the North, we might want to add another position: "Arctic/Boreal". ) (The task of dividing the country up by bioregions would be trivial in that it would simply consist of mapping out the regions, assigning each riding to one of them, and doing a computerized Canadian postal code "walk" to assign each member to a specific bioregion.)

The members-at-large would not seek portfolios as part of their election. However, there would still be a need to have them chair policy research committees for Council (along with the regional councillors.) These committees undertake research for Council on specific questions and return with a list of suggested alternatives options (including each item's advantages and disadvantages.)

The GFC can simply adopt such a structure on day one, with no need for constitutional bureaucracy.

Electing Federal Council

Between General Meetings, the Council is a delegation of members to govern the organization. Instead of electing council members to functional portfolios, the Council election should focus on communities of members to ensure adequate and effective representation of all different tendencies or factions within the Party.

The Chair and Leader will be elected in a separate process from the other members of the Council. These positions have their own ballot with a preferential ranking vote process.

The provincial and territorial reps are elected by a separate ballot depending on the party of the country that each member resides.

To this end, insofar as we elect the council members without portfolio, it will be possible to maximize representation through the use of a single-transferable proportional voting system (the same recommended by the BC citizen's assembly.) When the Party assigns positions on council through electing members with specific portfolios, minority points of view have to spread their votes through a slate of candidates. That is to say, they have to present a secretary, treasurer, international liasion, etc, for the ballot. If as much as 49% of the people support one particular slate of candidates, they will end up with all of their votes being wasted and none of their people being elected. With no portfolios and a single transferable vote, however, that 49% of the membership would be able to pool their votes on several particular candidates and ensure that they would be elected to the Federal Council---thereby ensuring a voice at the table. Insofar as proportionality is usually a key part of our election platforms, it makes sense for the Party to maximize it in our internal elections.

Regional Representation

An objection may be raised about the fairness of the regional representation on the council (ie: one rep per province no matter the population or membership). In effect, regional representation on council is done deliberately to ensure that specific geographic areas are represented as well as individual members. In contrast, the priority for General Meeting is to have all members represented equally---whether they can attend the conference or not. The only way to do this is to have a delegate system at General Meetings that will ensure that GPC EDAs will be able to send votes according to their membership, or at least according to their ability to organize delegates. These two contrasting ways of awarding authority are meant to balance each other by ensuring both that the entire membership has equal influence in the Party, and that areas of low population do not end up being treated as "hinterland" or "colony" by Party majorities.

This regional representation on the council must be highlighted to people who object to the delegate system to demonstrate that we have two tiers of decision making that balance each other.

Incorporating the official agent

At this time, the Official Agent is one elected person who personally holds all the assets, debts, liabilities, bank accounts, and, signing authority of the party. To protect the personal liability of any one person and to limit their authority, it has been decided that the function of official agent should be incorporated as the "Green Party of Canada Fund" (GPCF).

To limit the personal liabiity of the Official Agent, the Fund will be registered as a non-profit corporation. In keeping with the regulations governing non-profit corporations, it will need to be managed by a board of directors. The Fund will be the entity that holds all assets, liabilities, contracts and legal responsibility of the Party. It also is the administrative arm of the Party as it employs all staff, receives all donations, and writes all cheques.

The paid and volunteer staff members are the employees of the Fund; the Fund is an arm of the Party and should be subordinate to the Federal Council. There are two ways in which this may be achieved.

The GPCF Board may consist of people, (Councillors, staff, or simply GPC members), who have been appointed by the Federal Council. A disadvantage to this system is that the GPCF Board could end up assuming actual powers and end up competing with the Federal Council for control of the Party.

Another option would be to simply have the GPC Federal Council itself take on the role of GPCF Board. Since most of the important strategic decisions govering the GPCF will be made by Council anyway, there should be no conflict.

Moreover, because GPC Management will be doing most of the day-to-day work coming out of the GPCF, undertaking this role should not add an onerous amount of work to Council.

Two Examples of Important Standing Committees in a Governance Council:

Administrative Oversight

An important standing policy research committee of the Federal Council is required to suggest financial and administrative policies, and, keep an eye on the Executive Director and her staff. This shall be called the Administrative Oversight Committee (AOC.) The AOC is the internal auditor of the Party as it independently tracks performance without getting directly involved in the daily supervision and direction of the ED. Please note, the AOC will not itself take any action, or even recommend action on any administrative issue. Instead, its task is simply to research issues of importance and provide alternative suggestions to Council---which will make the actual decision.

The Electoral Readiness and Campaign Team (ERCT)

The ERCT was purely an electioneering body, preparing strategies and plans for the next election. In the GPC it reports to the Executive Director, not Federal Council - a major source of controversy. It's mandate is to institute the strategic decisions of Council vis-a-vis elections.

As originally envisioned:

The members of the ERCT are selected by the Executive Director who has sole responsibility for hiring, managing and firing its members. Any Party member may sit on the ERCT, but in doing so they relinquish any authority they may wield through elected office. In theory, the Executive Director may discipline and even remove the Party Leader from the ERCT.

During elections the ERCT will, if executed as defined, end up running the Party. Moreover, the Executive Director will probably choose to delegate most of her authority to the Chair of the ERCT for the duration.

After elections, however, the ERCT's role will decline to that of a planning body and other elements will reassert their importance. (It is important to realize that a political party has other, very important tasks besides running in elections: these involved organizing General Meetings, policy creation, fundraising, building memberships, etc.)

Staff Members in a Governance Council

It is important to realize that a political party, no matter how wealthy, will always require a great many unpaid staff members. It should be realized, therefore, that as we move from a Working to a Governing Council, all that has been said about separating hands-on work from governance applies equally to volunteers as well as employees. The volunteer centres remain the main pools of expertise.

The current GPC council structure (i.e. a working council) attracts people who have strong organization skills and functional interests. But a governance Council will be different. It should attract people who are good communicators, people-oriented and have strong long term planning and visioning skills. Moreover, the members of a governing council should be leading Party personalities, have a high level of political acumen, a deep understanding of formal GPC structures, Party history and the informal realities of Party organization.

Although not forbidden by Elections Canada or other rules, there is a strong and useful tradition for board members to NOT be staff members. It is critical to avoid a conflict of interest, or even the perception of a conflict of interest as the perception alone can cause much damage to the organization’s credibility. Depending on the budget and the demands we place on council members, an honorarium is sometimes considered for board members as long as it remains equitable and general.

Current GPC Council members must understand that their jobs will split in two. They will have a decision to make. Some may wish to continue with Council under the new strategic job description. Others may prefer the notion of hands-on work and may leave it to seek paid or volunteer staff positions under the direction of the Executive Director.

Disgruntled members can become GFC Council members and will participate in the more proportional governance council.

Conflicts of Interest

A governing council specifically attempts to create a "firewall" between the people making the decisions about where the Party is going (i.e. Legislative function) and the day-to-day decisions about how it gets there (i.e. Executive.) It is ultimately impossible to totally separate these two functions in all cases, but the ideal it strives for is a totally APOLITICAL bureaucracy and a leadership that doesn't meddle with the employees.

When we make the transition from a working council to a governing one, those members who opt to take paid employment for the Party cease to have a right to an opinion on the strategic direction of the Party except as individual members who are allowed to vote in elections.

Any attempt to influence the process should be seen as a decision to resign from their position in the Party bureaucracy! Being a paid member of staff gives an individual a huge advantage over other members in terms of time and connection to the Party--only if they are forbidden from taking part in internal partisan politics with the Party. This reduces the risk of the Party being taken over by its staff, as it has been in the past - see fire the spin doctor and fire Ken Dickerson for some of the problems arising and how they have to be dealt with.

While it would be unfair to expect volunteer staff to relinquish all of their rights as Party members, it should also be clearly stated in the terms of their volunteer activities that as long as they fill such positions for the Party, they may not participate in internal political operations that have direct relevance to their volunteer position. For example, someone volunteering at the office and having access to GPC membership lists and GPC donor records is forbidden to get involved with the campaign team of someone running in an internal Party election.

To police such rules, the GFC counterstructure is required.

Changes Required to the Party constitution

The GPC Constitution needs amendment to restructure Federal Council, eliminate most functional titles and add the position of President and Treasurer. The General Meeting of 2004 mandated a GPC Constitutional Review Committee to receive representations and design a constitution that better serves the current needs of the Party. The CRC will deliberate in 2005 and present a constitution to the members at GPC AGM 2006.

The GFC will present a proposal even earlier, at GPC AGM 2005 or at the same time as such a meeting would be held, if the emergency GPC AGM petition fails to proceed.

In any case at GPC AGM 2006 the GFC Constitution will be proposed as the next GPC Constitution. Should it be rejected or any major attribute of it fail to be adopted, then, the Green Federation of Canada will form a separate federal political party and compete with the GPC for candidates - see GFC candidate protocol for more.