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Distributed Democracy

By Stuart Hertzog
June 8th, 1985

Towards a fully regionalised structure
for the Green Party and for Canada

The goal of this discussion paper is to raise the prospect of achieving a regionalized structure for the Green movement, one that will allow it to evolve along fully democratic lines. A secondary aim to outline a new concept of federal organisation, one that can be applied to all national Canadian institutions.

A new distributed federalism would allow Canada to become a true Confederation of Bioregions, ending forever the inter-provincial bickering that continues to hinder our evolution as a post-colonial nation.

I have given the name distributed democracy to this proposed strategy.

I believe that distributed democracy will allow the Green movement to become a vital federation of integrated Green Circles and Councils, active in all regions of this country. I also believe that once its implications are fully understood, distributed democracy will be seen by the Canadian public as a natural evolutionary path for Canadian society.

I am convinced that that distributed democracy is the way of the future. It is Green theory and politics, in tangible form.

Presented By Stuart Hertzog, Northern Alberta Greens
To the 1985 BC Green Party Convention
Oliver, British Columbia
June 1985

An historical perspective

I believe that Canadian society is in transition, moving from the existing institutions of centralized democracy, towards a new form of national organisation based upon distributed democracy.

The present tension within the Green Party, between increased regionalisation and chapter autonomy on one hand and organized centralism on the other, is essentially due to this long-term, historic change presently affecting Canada.

An historical perspective may help us to understand both the stress that we are experiencing and why we must adopt from the start a distributed structure in order for the Green party to emerge and grow into a vital national presence.

This country was founded as a colony of both Britain and France. Our national institutions, rooted in the past as they still unfortunately remain, suffer from the remnants of this (mainly British) colonialism. Even we Greens are afflicted by it.

Nowhere can our colonial past better be seen than in Canada’s federal government and administrative structure. Westminster set itself up in Ottawa, built a parliament modelled on its own architecture, and administered Canada.

British parliamentary system

The British parliamentary system was imported whole to the new colony. British and subsequent Dominion administrations carved out Canada’s provinces according to their whim. Later, they stocked them with people.

We have now, what we call a federal system—a Confederation. But is Canada a true confederation in reality? Or should we be calling the government in Ottawa, the centralist government and administration?

Does it make sense to pay our dollars to the cents? Or are we fed up with that worn-out system of political misrepresentation?

The British parliamentary system in essence dates to the signing of the Magna Charta in the thirteenth century. After its replacement of the power of the monarchy by the power of the Prime Minister or provincial Premier. Apart from the establishment of universal suffrage, there have been very few changes since.

Remember, the British ruling class has successfully stifled proportional representation, since around 1832. There really is nothing new, under the (Imperialist) sun! Canada, certainly, has departed little from this model.

British Imperial law

When the British established Canada, they also brought with them the British system of law. Existing provincial Elections Acts, under which most provincial Green Parties are incorporated, are examples of British Law. These Elections Acts essentially dictate the existing structure of Canadian political parties.

British Imperialist Law functions on the premise that there exists an educated Ruling Class who are born to dominate the unwashed masses, be they of another culture, religion, stupid, or simply uneducated. According to the tenets of imperialism, ordinary people are incapable of making decisions.

We reject this as unegalitarian and undemocratic. In fact, the Green movement itself exists as a lively and practical alternative to this way of thinking. We Greens believe that all people have the capacity to govern themselves.

However, political parties in Canadian are still based upon the basic principle of class superiority inherent in elections law. Each party must be run by a Leader, who has total power over the organization. The members have very little say.

The only exception to this is the Annual General Meeting, at which members can nominally make policy. They also elect a new leader, but that is the extent of the of their power. Except for the AGM, the leader of a political party holds all power.

British Imperialism never intended the ordinary members to direct anything. That would be tantamount to giving the natives of the colonies of the British Empire power over their own affairs.

First Nation’s democracy

However, when the British came to North America they suppressed an existing form of social organization that was not based on the subservience of the individual to the will of a distant monarchy. The notion of the tribal council was very much alive on this continent, long before the Europeans arrived.

Distributed democracy is in fact an indigenous political structure—look at the Six Nations of the Iroquois, and how the tribes elected Elders as representatives.

Perhaps it is time we re-examined our North American social and political roots, especially in this age of mass education. Because of better education, people are better informed and able to decide complex policy issues, by themselves.

The very existence of our Green movement, rests upon this fact. Canadians generally are an educated and caring people. Can we still allow the tired, old, imperialist patterns of authority to dominate our system of government?

I say we cannot. If the Green movement is saying anything at all, it is that we must cast off old-paradigm ways of thinking that have created the wars, sadness, destruction, waste and ecological devastation that we see today.

Our planetary society must evolve, for the sake of life on Earth.

What Is Distributed Democracy?

Existing Canadian political party and social organizations, with their Leaders or Presidents, Boards of Directors, CEOs or Central Committees, are a democratic variation of the pyramid form of centralised hierarchy.

Distributed democracy, on the other hand, is an organic, growing, molecular model based on the circle. It represents a fundamental and historic change of structure and ethos. It is completely different from centralised democracy.

Distributed democracy is a decision-making process that takes place throughout an organization, in each regional area. It is essentially non-hierarchical, oriented towards the needs of the locality, and co-operative in its nature. Distributed democracy is in many ways, the opposite face of centralized democracy. Here are some of their differences:


In a distributed democracy, members are encouraged to define their area of local autonomy—the ‘natural’ region—and form local Circles or associations that attract a strong local membership.

Decisions are taken by vote of the whole membership at the local level. Thus, they are arrived at by an ongoing process that can be permitted to take place over a long period of time.
Distributed democratic decisions are communicated laterally to local membership, and to other regional groups.

In a centralized democracy, decisions are made by a central committee or ruling body, geographically located in the traditional centre(s) of administrative power. Centralised decisions are made at the “upper” levels of the organization, and directed “downwards”. The centre administers the local regions, who are expected to obey instructions.

In fact, the regional areas are themselves created by legal or administrative fiat of the central committee or ruling body. These regions may or may not reflect the regions, and therefore may or may not be attractive or convenient to the potential local membership.


Communication within a distributed democracy is by ‘networking’—a complex system of interlinkings in which any one region can be in touch with any other at any time. No one centre emerges as dominant except due to the activity of members within that region. Information is shared openly within a network.

In a centralized democracy, communication is of the ‘top-down’ variety, in which the decisions and activities of the central committee are passed on to the membership as a subtle combination of orders and carefully-controlled factual information. At best, ‘top-down’ communication is only partial information. At worst, it is half-truths, lies, and political propaganda.

How does this apply to the Green Party?

I have taken care in this discussion paper to establish an historic framework for our deliberations. Why? What does Canadian history have to do with the Greens? Surely, the Green party is not composed of British Imperialists!

However, whether we like it or not, whether we consciously believe that it exists or that it affects us, the present structure of any Canadian political organization is based upon an imperialist model of centralized democracy. This is a fact.

What is important is that if we accept conventional centralised political organisation as the basis for Green Party, we could be deflecting ourselves from our purpose. A centralized Green party could prevent us from carrying out our our wishes in a healthy, open, fully democratic and participatory manner.

Democratic bioregionalism

Further, a centralized Green party structure would severely limit our ability to promote democratic bioregionalism as the model for Canadian society. I personally consider that the distributed, decentralised mode is vital to the continuing existence of our Canadian confederation.

The tendency of some members of the Green party to form traditional and rigid political party structures, as shown by some of the Ontario Greens and as indicated by the tension that we are called upon to resolve at this convention, must be rigorously examined if we are to avoid falling into the Imperialist trap, and become “just another political party.”

The Green party is—or should be—different. Our basic approach of distributed democratic bioregionalism is what makes us the party of the future.

We Greens are neither right nor left; neither purely Conservative nor purely Socialist. We are not old-fashioned, Imperial Centralists. We are just plain… right on! At least, we should be.

Some advantages Of distributed democracy

  • A distributed, democratic structure would allow the Green movement to function in all regions of this country, throughout the year.
  • Putting the emphasis on decision-making at the level at the grass-roots membership—the Green Chapter or Circle—would increase the motivation of people to become active within the Green movement.
  • A process of networking between regions would enable the problems and policies of the Green movement to be discussed across this nation, with decisions then taken at the local level by an informed membership.
  • A system of distributed democracy will allow all national Green party decisions to be made on a ongoing basis throughout the year, a huge saving on the expense of holding a large, unwieldy and not necessarily efficient, annual national convention.
  • A strong regional presence would allow the Green party to develop policies and strategies that would appeal to people on a loca1 level, with issues that interest them and to which they can relate.

A distributed Green national structure

  1. The Green party of Canada would be reconstituted to become a national confederation of regional Green Bioregional Councils. Provincial Green parties would also adopt a distributed democratic structure as their organisational model. This would be built up from the local level by identification of natural bioregions and the formation of bioregional Green Circles in all parts of Canada. Local Green Circles could form an autonomous bioregional Council.
  2. Each Bioregional Council would be registered in its province as a Society, and would be entirely autonomous. There will be no attempt made to impose any preconceptions upon the definition of a natural bioregion. There will most likely be more than one bioregion in each province; larger provinces may require several bioregional Councils.
  3. Bioregional Green Councils would each elect representatives from their membership to sit upon to a regional Green Council to relate to provincial politics and to their neighbouring Green Circles.
  4. These provincial Councils would be legally incorporated in their province. Their job would be to evolve and represent policies particular to that province to the public and to the media, if such representation is so desired by the concensus of the regional Green Circles;
  5. Each regional Green Circle will elect a member to the Green Party National Council, which would sit at least four times per year, rotating its venue throughout the country. At other times, Internet email, telephone or video teleconferencing would be used to discuss issues and make decisions.
  6. It should be clearly understood that the primary decision-making unit in this structure is the bioregional Green Circle. When topics requiring a major decision at the national or provincial levels, full information must be openly communicated back to all the regional Circles involved for consideration.
  7. All provincial and national Council decisions must be ratified by 75% or more of the bioregional Green Circles concerned, for the policy or decision to be passed. All national and provincial Council members must vote according to the collective wishes of their bioregional Circle, and may be recalled by the collective membership for failure to do so.
  8. Within the regional Councils and Circles, ward associations (or local Chapters) should be formed in accordance with the Canada Elections Act to promote candidates for election at any or all levels of political activity.

The urgency of our choice

What I have outlined is a thoroughgoing overhaul of the structure of the Green party in the light of a deeply-felt need for a modern, fully-democratic structure that can serve the Green political movement, throughout this country.

However radical it may be, I can only ask that you give this concept of distributed democracy your full consideration, and that these proposals be circulated to your membership.

If you look closely at modern Canadian society, you may detect a repetitive similarity in the political arguments that arise within all national groups and societies. Perhaps you have already experienced this with national organisations other than the Green Party.

In the light of my assertion that all Canadian institutions are in fact still based on the British imperialist model, this common political thread is entirely understandable.

Canadian independence

Canada’s struggle is to escape from its past as a British Colony, and to avoid a future as an American one. This struggle affects every aspect of Canadian life, from jobs, through politics and organizations such as ours—even to our sovereignty as a nation.

The same problem that is affecting Canada, also afflicts the Green movement. The tension within this convention, between Greens from different parts of this country, is this same tension.

I am glad that such a tension exists. If it did not, then this paper would be of no use. The Green party would not exist, Greens would be satisfied with the status quo and there would be no evolution possible within Canadian society.

I believe that only this structural approach ultimately offers hope for the continued growth of the Green party in Canada. In the long term, nothing less than totally distributed democracy, will guarantee the health of our movement.

Moving beyond the past

We cannot continue to flounder around with the outmoded ideas of the past. They have been proven not to work. Our very survival is at stake: the future of this planet and the vitality and well-being of the Green movement in Canada, is on the line.

For the benefit of all that lives in this world, for the continuing existence of life on this planet, and for the Green party in this country, I hope that we set up the Green Party of Canada as the first distributed democracy.

Stuart Hertzog
Northern Alberta Green Caucus
Edmonton, Alberta
June 1985


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