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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.


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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    Posted in Canada, democracy, Green politics | 7 Comments »

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    7 Responses

    1. SIR Says:

      How much are the movie rights? 🙂

    2. Stuart Hertzog Says:

      First… The Book! Of course, I could consider a package deal…. 😉

    3. Stuart Hertzog Says:

      And the book is now available!

      (See the ad at the top of the right-hand column or just click here.)

    4. Erich Jacoby-Hawkins Says:

      I was worried you might neglect to post the resolution to your complaint, so here it is:

      OTTAWA — Elections Canada has officially rejected allegations by Stuart Hertzog that funds were being used inappropriately during the run-off for the Saanich Gulf Islands nomination.

      “The Green Party of Canada is satisfied to have this unsubstantiated allegation put to rest,” said National Campaign Director Catherine Johannson. “Party members can rest assured that their donations are being used properly and in accordance with the Elections Act.”

      During Hertzog’s campaign to be the candidate for Saanich Gulf Islands, he submitted a complaint to Elections Canada that party funds were being used to benefit Leader Elizabeth May, who has since secured the nomination.

      Legal counsel for Elections Canada have now ruled that these claims are groundless and have closed the investigation.

      “One of the Green Party’s core values is participatory democracy and we believe every citizen has the right to express their views. That said, we would never use party funds inappropriately and I am glad that this issue has been resolved,” said Saanich-Gulf Islands Green Party Campaign Manager John Fryer.

    5. Stuart Hertzog Says:

      Thanks for the Green Party Machine’s news release, Erich. I assume that you believe that because it’s written down, it must be true? However, just because Mr. Fryer claims that one of the Green Party’s core values is participatory democracy, doesn’t mean that the Party hierarchy gives a hoot about practising it. It doesn’t.

      The fact that Elections Canada’s counsel didn’t recommend investigating further also doesn’t prove that the funds were being used appropriately, or that services weren’t offered equally (which they weren’t). Her letter read more like come from the Green’s Party’s lawyer than an impartial review by a government body.

      Counsel’s recommendation only proves how useless Elections Canada actually is when it comes down to complaints. She used only the limited evidence that I could scrape together, which I pointed out would likely be inadequate as I had no access to the records of the EDA, as the basis of her review. I was expecting that Elections Canada would at least make its own enquiries, but it doesn’t seem to have even tried.

      How Elections Canada seems to work is that unless a complainant can prove beyond a shadow of doubt that something untoward has taken place, it won’t even investigate. Sounds to me either evasion of responsibility or maybe just plain incompetence. Only in Canada you say? Pity.

    6. Erich Jacoby-Hawkins Says:

      So now you turn from slagging Elizabeth and the party to slagging Elections Canada, one of the most (if not the most) respected election authorities in the free world? The one that dares to stand up to Harper even if it gets the Chief Electoral Officer denigrated or even fired? Yeah, now tell me how evil Santa Claus is to wrap things up.

      You don’t have to prove to EC “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that something is wrong – you have to provide at least ONE real indication that something is wrong – and you didn’t. The mere fact that the party put money into the SGI EDA account does not indicate that even a penny was put into the account of the nomination campaign (which is a separate entity), nor did you indicate that any money – at all! – had ever been spent on Ms. May’s nomination campaign. Unspent money outside the contestant’s account does not an unfair process make. EC, in their wisdom, knows when not to waste time on a spurious complaint.

      I have in past made complaints to Elections Canada and provided actual indications of wrongdoing; they followed up, investigated, dealt with it. In this case you failed to provide ANY evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever for the simple reason that you could not – because there wasn’t any. Did the majority of the party (nationally and locally) support Elizabeth? Yup. Did they assume she’d win? Yup. Did they continue planning and acting on that assumption, while allowing you free reign to run against? Yup. Is that unethical or illegal? Nope. It’s just politics and prudence. Democratic elections are about who has more support, not about ensuring a fair coin toss. Heads or tails, SGI members didn’t want you to represent them. No amount of railing at EC or EM or GPC will ever change that, but maybe it will make you feel better.

      (And if the coin tossed is a loonie, then that plus two votes will buy you a coffee. Even if the votes have already been destroyed. Drink up, Tuart!)

    7. Stuart Hertzog Says:

      Cheers, Rich!

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