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They Call It Democracy – Part 5

By Stuart Hertzog
October 23rd, 2009

Formal complaint

So why exactly did I complain to Elections Canada?

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Sometimes we have to do things that are difficult. We may be forced to do things by others; or we may feel that have to make a difficult ethical or moral choice. What if we asked to do something that goes against our principles, or when we see things going on that we believe are not right?

Many people find themselves in just such a dilemma. They may be an employee of a large corporation who starts to become aware that the senior executives are cheating, or doing something that they believe is unethical. We’ve had quite a few examples of principled whistle-blowers: Karen Silkwood of Kerr-McGee and Sherron Watkins of Enron in the US, and Shiv Chopra and Joanna Gualtieri in Canada.

Whistle-blowers are not greeted with joy by their employers. On the contrary, often they are often subject to workplace bullying and harassment. Many have even been unjustly fired by their employers. Whistleblower protection legislation in Canada has been ineffective for civil servants, especially as is not retrospective. So why exactly did I complain to Elections Canada?

The gap between principle and practice

A whistleblower’s ordeal starts with the awareness that something is wrong. In my case, it was my understanding that two things had happened: first, the leader of a Green Party was being parachuted the into yet another riding by fiat of the federal Council; and even more worrying, a massive $62,000 had been transferred into the EDA by Council strictly for Ms May’s pre-writ use.

The first issue offended my understanding of proper Green political process, which is—or should be—based on the principle of participatory democracy, in which those people who are affected by a decision have a right to take part in that decision. This essence of Green grassroots democracy is even enshrined in section 5.1.3 of the Party’s own constitution. But apparently that’s far too open and democratic a process for Elizabeth May’s centrally-controlled Green Party.

‘Real Democracy’ is not participatory democracy

The definition of participatory democracy in Appendix A of the Green Party’s constitution is taken directly from the Global Greens Charter and is reproduced in the Values section of the Party’s recently-redesigned web site. But this has been substantially watered down on the new site’s front page link under the heading of Real Democracy, which is limited to:

  • Restoring power to your local MP
  • Spending taxpayers’ money prudently
  • Fair voting/proportional representation
  • Parliament should be a model of co-operation
  • Bringing transparency to government, and
  • Connecting policy with Canadian values.

This definition of ‘Real Democracy’ (remind you of Real Women—aren’t they concerned with something to do with Canadian values?) misses the entire point of participatory democracy, which is to return decision-making to the local level and not keep it behind closed doors in cabinet or in camera sessions of secretive, government-appointed bodies.

May’s ‘Real Democracy’ to me is just more of the same manipulative demockery that the Green Party was supposed to oppose. Participatory democracy has been watered down to just “being nice to each other” in parliament—the same political bromide May offers in her latest book.

Federal council’s decision to make getting the leader elected the goal of the next election campaign to me spoke of a desperation that would undermine the efforts of other Green candidates and denigrate their importance. The leader of a Green Party isn’t supposed to be someone special to be hero-worshipped and obeyed. He or she is simply a spokesperson for party policy. There’s no reason why there can’t be more than one spokesperson, some specialising in an issue.

I was disturbed by the democratic aspects of May’s planned candidacy in Saanich-Gulf Islands. But that wasn’t what prompted me to lodge a complaint with Elections Canada. It was that $62,000 that pushed me over the edge.

Goods and services must be offered equally

There are three important things you must know about a nomination contest. First, neither a Party nor an EDA can transfer funds to any nomination contestant, period. It is illegal. So although it was legal for the Party to transfer funds to Saanich-Gulf Islands EDA, it is illegal for any of it to be used by any nomination contestant in his or her nomination campaign.

Second, neither the Party nor the EDA can provide goods or services to any one nomination contestant without offering them equally to all contestants. And third, it’s my understanding that any expense incurred or good or service used in a nomination contest goes back to when it was given or offered, and that a special bank account must be set up for all expenses of the nomination contest.

Tricky stuff. I had researched all this before being accepted as a candidate, so I had some idea of the legalities involved. I knew at the time that this money had been transferred into the EDA, but when I started asking about where it was and for what purpose it was being used, I met a solid wall of obstruction.

Impenetrable wall of obstruction

Things got so bad that at one EDA Board meeting I was told that if I persisted with my questions, the meeting would go in camera and I would be excluded. This amazed me, as I had thought that the Green Party believed in inclusivity.

Silly me. The Chair of that meeting, a Mr. Wally du Temple, started muttering about how he “sat on many high-profile local community Boards and this was the way we always do things.” An open part of a meeting allowed for public presentations, and then “we go in camera and make our decision in private.”

Although I pointed out that this was what citizen environmental and social justice groups are always up against: secret decisions made behind closed doors by an élite that only paid token heed to public opinion, Mr. Du Temple huffily got up and left the meeting. There are many different kinds of Greens.

Something really fishy was going on, besides which it was now blindingly apparent that the deck was stacked heavily against me to the point of possible illegality. The Elections Act allows ten days from a person becoming aware that an infraction had taken place, to making a complaint. That clock was ticking.

After considering my options, and realising that making an official complaint would make me very unpopular with many Party Greens, I started to compose my letter of complaint to Elections Canada. It was time to blow the whistle.

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Next: Part 6—Lessons learned

Read other parts of this series:

  • Part 1—Challenge
  • Part 2—Green Politburo
  • Part 3—Follow the money
  • Part 4—Denial of Service
  • Part 5—Formal complaint
  • Part 6—Lessons learned

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