Green Party BDS Controversy: 'A Little Baloney' In Claim Resolution Process Is 'Very Different'

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OTTAWA — "The (Green party's) resolution process is very different from other parties. Members come up with resolutions independently. Neither the leader nor anyone in the executive of the party can reject resolutions that comply with submission guidelines, nor does the party know ahead of time what resolutions will come forward. This grassroots process is a testament to the democratic values of the party." — Green party news release, Aug. 7, 2016.

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At the Green party's biennial convention last week, members passed a resolution supporting the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

The move has drawn denunciations from Jewish groups, divided the party and thrown leader Elizabeth May's future into question. May herself opposes the resolution and says it doesn't reflect the genuine will of the overall party membership.

elizabeth may
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks at the Victoria Conference Centre on October 19, 2015. (Photo: Chad Hipolito/CP)

How accurate were the party's claims about a "very different" resolution process? Could the party have derailed the resolution at some point? Could May have stepped in to squelch the ultimate decision? And how does all this compare with other federal parties?

Spoiler Alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).

This one earns a rating of "a little baloney" — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required. Here's why.

THE FACTS:

A Green member requires sponsorship from 20 other members in good standing to advance a resolution. These resolutions are then put to a non-binding online vote, which allows the party to gauge support prior to a convention. Voters choose "red," "yellow" or "green" for each motion, with a threshold of 60 per cent for "greenlighting" motions, the party says.

Motions voted "green" are recommended for adoption by majority vote without further discussion at the convention. However, members may also vote to remove greenlit motions for additional discussion and workshopping.

A little baloney

Motions voted "red" are recommended for defeat. All other motions are "yellow" and go to workshop groups for further debate and possible amendment.

Green party staff monitor resolution submissions and a committee reviews them for issues of jurisdiction and note contradiction with existing policy, said the party's Emily McMillan. However, as indicated above, neither the leader nor party executive members can reject resolutions based simply on the subject.

The online vote results for resolutions for this year's convention were available to all about one month before the event.

The leader has one vote at the convention, and is free to argue for or against any resolution.

If a resolution is passed, it becomes party policy.

THE OTHER MAJOR PARTIES:

The Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic parties all have policy development processes that see ideas and proposals bubble up from the broader membership for consideration at conventions. So it is possible for a member's resolution to make its way to the convention floor. But in each case the route appears potentially more difficult — to varying degrees — than the Green party's resolution path.

For the Liberals, riding associations and clubs can draft and sponsor resolutions. However, provincial and territorial associations and the federal party may limit the number of resolutions that each club or association can advance, the party says.

Each provincial and territorial association can forward 10 resolutions, one of which is labelled a priority. In addition, sections representing aboriginals, women, youth and seniors, among others, can each send 10 resolutions to a convention.

Delegates from each riding association or club attend conventions, where resolutions are grouped by policy theme. "These priority resolutions proceed directly to the plenary session for voting," the party says.

Others can be discussed in theme-based workshops and may advance to the plenary.

Resolutions that pass become party policy.

"Many would point to equal marriage and the legalization and regulation of marijuana as strong examples of nationally passed Liberal policy resolutions that became prominent platform commitments and then government policy," said Liberal spokesman Braeden Caley.

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The Conservatives hold regional policy workshops where members propose ideas. If there is enough support for a resolution following debate, it will be handed to the party's policy committee. The committee then posts proposed resolutions online for electoral district association presidents to consider, said party spokesman Cory Hann.

The committee, made up of volunteers elected by other members, decides which policies should move forward, based on support and convention time allotted for different policy streams. "The committee and only the committee decides what resolutions move to the convention," Hann said.

However, the party executive or leader could be consulted on resolutions.

If a resolution passes, it becomes party policy. But that doesn't necessarily mean it is binding on a future government, Hann said. "Party policy can help determine an election platform, as we saw with family income-splitting where it was proposed as a policy, adopted at a convention, used in a platform and eventually made government policy."

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Under the NDP's constitution, party bodies including electoral district associations, provincial parties, the federal council, the youth wing and various committees can submit resolutions to a convention.

Party headquarters must receive all resolutions no less than 60 days prior to start of a convention, the document says.

Resolution panels open to all delegates determine which resolutions make it to the plenary floor in what order, the party says. Neither the leader nor the party executive have more say than any other delegate as to which resolutions are voted on.

If a resolution passes, it becomes party policy.

THE GREEN PARTY'S POSITION:

Green party Leader Elizabeth May describes herself as simply the party's chief spokesperson. She says the members are "always right" and constitute the highest level of authority in the party.

"I'm proud of the fact that we're the kind of party that doesn't say to our membership, 'Sorry, we're not going to let you discuss that.' Anything is open to discussion, as long as it's not hate speech."

May has issues with how the Israeli boycott resolution was handled — passed by majority vote after limited debate instead of extensively discussed with an eye to consensus.

But she says nothing can be done to change the outcome, short of formally revisiting the resolution.

"We have absolutely no latitude to reject a decision of the members at a biennial policy meeting. That is now the policy of the Green party," May said.

"There is no power of the leader, or the federal council that runs the party to say, 'Our members were wrong."'

THE VERDICT:

The Green party's statements about its resolution process are generally accurate. But the process includes at least some elements of the procedures other parties follow, including the need for a measure of support from a critical number of party members before a resolution can advance. For these reasons, the Green party's claim that its resolution process is "very different" from the other parties contains "a little baloney."

METHODOLOGY:

The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:

Baloney Scale Chart

No baloney - the statement is completely accurate

A little baloney - the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required

Some baloney - the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing

A lot of baloney - the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth

Full of baloney - the statement is completely inaccurate