Agenda: For a meeting with Hal Walker, President: WRA

There are two major issues and one over-riding concern.

The concern

The current 2010 AGM plan seems aimed at producing a carefully scripted, tightly controlled, and completely non contentious spectacle for national television. Unfortunately this is not appropriate to the party's needs, is not what members want, and requires members to accept unconstitutional limits both on the election of a new board and on policy discussions.

AGM's are member events. People come to elect an executive, to talk policy, and to meet each other. Supporting that is what organizing an AGM is about - not impressing some talking head in Toronto.

All talk of national media presence is misdirection: they're not our market and they don't represent our market. We're an Alberta party, more than 90% of their audience doesn't vote here, and their general editorial posture supports liberal opinion in Ontario, not conservative opinion in Alberta.

The party is its membership - and we are the members. The executive director's apparent fear that some members may embarrass us in front of national media has no real basis - and speaking personally I find his contemptuous dismissal of members as mere bloviating policy gurus both ill informed and fundamentally inappropriate.

We do have members with extreme views on some issues - but extreme does not mean wrong, they have every right to air those views, and hearing them strengthens, rather than weakens, the party. Thus the people who moved separatist resolutions at last year's AGM got a polite hearing but few votes - and that wasn't embarrassing, it was a profound endorsement of the basic principles of this party.

What's behind the attempt to manage policy discussions while suppressing floor nominations seems to be a knee jerk repetition of the decision the federal Reform organizers made in muzzling their members, obfuscating their policies, and trying to hide their internal conflicts from the media.

In their case the argument for doing this seems to have been that the regional conflicts exposed in open policy conventions can be easily exploited against them - thus national media coverage of an Alberta delegate talking about fairness in confederation can be exploited against Conservative candidates from Quebec to Newfoundland - and video of a Quebec member demanding language rights be enforced across the country can be used against the party in the west.

They clearly thought that argument compelling, but their decision was a disaster because hiding member agendas left the party open to the charge of having a hidden agenda - a media wielded accusation that seems to have cost Harper government in 2004, his majorities in 2006 and 2008, and is now being brought out again in preparation for the next round.

The argument does not apply to us: we simply don't have the problem this solution is intended to address. I would argue, in fact, that all of Mr. Marchino's efforts to reshape our party on the federal conservative model repeat responses to problems the federal party faces - and because we don't face them, these efforts reflect a fundamental mis-understanding of the nature of our party and the directions our members want us to go.

Thus local TV coverage of our members fighting for their executive committee candidates or sparring openly and enthusiastically over policy is something we want, not something to be avoided - simply because honest dealing earns member loyalty, inspires new recruits, and generates credibility where the present course will have exactly opposite effects.

It comes down to this: if the AGM is structured as a political sham with only a few carefully sanitized and largely uncontentious policies discussed, no real election for the executive committee, and a successful divide and hide strategy running out the clock on Saturday afternoon - then we'll be making three crippling mistakes:

  1. we'll be inviting the media to invent our agenda for us just as they have for Harper;

  2. we'll be accepting the structural inversion in power flows in our party from bottom up to top down; and,

  3. we'll be confirming to cynics that the party is a mechanism by which people who see themselves as superior to the general membership expect to gain political power.

On the other hand we still have a few weeks to fix this - if the executive can take back control of the AGM; if they can act to ensure that elections are free and fair while doing as much as possible to put the policy process back on track; then I believe we can trust in the good will and good sense of the membership to get past this.

Here's how

Resolving issue one: Executive Committee Elections

The issue here is that the processes now being applied to select the members of the 2010/11 executive committee do not meet the requirements laid out in the party constitution and thus deny members in general and AGM attendees in particular their rights with respect to the nomination and election of members of this committee.

The applicable constitutional section is IVb:

Not less than ninety (90) days prior to any Annual General Meeting of the Party, the Executive Committee shall create the Nominating Committee, consisting of three (3) members. It shall be the duty of this committee to nominate candidates for the officer positions to be filled at the Annual General Meeting. The Nominating Committee shall report to the Executive Committee prior to the notice of the Annual General Meeting being sent to all members, and such report shall be included in the notice of the Annual General Meeting. Nominations may also be made by any member up to sixty-five (65) days prior to the date of the Annual General Meeting, and such nominations shall also be included in the notice of the Annual General Meeting.

Thus the executive director's claim that "The Party Constitution does not allow for nominations from the floor" (from the AGM letter) is literally correct1 because the issue is not discussed in the document - however the conclusion: that they are disallowed, is completely unsupported.

In contrast, the constitution does require that the list of nominees proposed by the nominating committee be provided to the membership in the AGM announcement letter, and because this was not done a court asked to rule on the constitionality of any vote carried out at this AGM would most probably have to void that vote.

(Note that interpreting IVb above to require that nominations be closed 65 days prior to the AGM would also require the executive to consider the present process under which the nominees were kept secret until mid May and nominations kept open until late May unconstitutional -leaving no nominees for the 2010/11 committee.

Note too that under the existing constitution, elections for executive committee positions must be held at each AGM, but sections 6.4 and 6.5 (although contradicted in 7.3) of the amended constitution [PDF] to be voted on at this year's AGM, suggest future executive committees could simply cancel biennial elections.)

Nomination Solution

We can't undo past mistakes, but we can provide members attending the AGM a full and fair opportunity to select the executive committee for next year by simply doing exactly what we've done in the past:

  1. requiring all nominations to be made and seconded in a committee of the whole meeting at the AGM; and,

  2. scheduling nominations, presentations by the candidates, and voting for a continuous block of time on the Saturday.

The rule to remember in making the decision to do this, is, I think, that a party which can set aside its own constitution simply because someone thinks it politically expedient cannot claim the moral right to govern.

Resolving issue Two: policies to be discussed at the AGM

It is argued first that the AGM schedule is cast in stone and allows no more than 210 minutes for policy discussions; second that we have 86 policy motions to discuss; and therefore that the list of motions up for discussion needs to be cut to about 40.

None of this is correct: no schedule is fixed until after the event; I believe only 71 policy proposals met constitutional conditions2 and the number actually discussed at the AGM depends on the time members choose to give each discussion.

The current winnowing process, under which the executive director asked CAs to vote for or against specific policies [PDF] as input to political judgements he will then make on which to discuss and which to veto, runs counter to constitutional requirements, is unfair to CAs and members proposing policy, is not auditable, and is technically impossible to implement fairly first because the question is wrong and secondly because the process and scale he choose can't produce a definitive member rating for each policy.

Solution: setting the order in which policies get discussed.

There are two parts to this, but they are not directly linked and can therefore be considered and/or implemented more or less independently.

The first part is obvious: reconsider the AGM agenda. Recognizing that there is no need to hide from the national media allows us to move some filler events from Saturday afternoon to Friday evening; and slotting the nominations and elections for the executive into the immediate post-lunch period, should allow two policy slots, each 3 hours long: from 9AM to 12 and from 2PM to 5.

Second, we have technology that will allow us to offer each member registering to attend the AGM the opportunity to rank the policy proposals in the order in which the member wants to have the policies discussed. Done correctly this produces a unique schedule allowing us to start with the policies most people want to hear about and continue until we run out of time or policy proposals.

There are some issues with respect to members who don't have regular access to the web - presumably the CAs and regional directors can be asked to facilitate their access - but I'm not aware of any issues with respect to openness, auditability, or people gaming the vote.

In brief:

The demonstration survey linked below does not have the token management feature because it's only a demo of two different ways of setting the schedule - but click here for a background document prepared for the executive director on May 5th embedding two fully tokenized examples - and my note volunteering to make all this work.

  1. the first approach simply asks people, for each proposal, whether they want it discussed - and the schedule is then formed by taking policy proposals in order by the number of votes received.

  2. the alternative approach groups the 71 or so qualified proposals under about 14 headings, (possibly putting the other 17 into a separate group), and asks people to rank the proposals within each group in the order in which they want to see them discussed.

    The schedule would then be formed by taking the top ranked proposal from each group in the order in which the groups are in the policy book, then the second ranked, and so on until we run out of time.

    Click here (Removed, Dec 3, 2010) for the one question demo survey - and here for the matching public statistics page.

    Action Requested

    At this point the executive should take full control of the AGM - and require that both solutions described above be adopted.

    A personal note

    I've made myself the target of a lot of nasty personal attacks fighting for our members on this and two other, relatively minor, issues (the $100/yr CA websites and the dispute resolution process). So please do consider joining me here on what I am assured is the dark and destructive side - but bring a thick skin and a sense of humor: you'll need them.

    1   In a subsequent statement (EDict4) Mr. Marchino states this differently:

    The Party Constitution clearly requires that nominations be announced to the membership and AGM attendees well in advance of the Annual General Meeting and, thus, does not allow for nominations from the floor at the AGM.

    There is no such requirement in the constitution.

    Instead, what the constitution requires is that a nominating committee be formed, that it nominate at least one person for each named position on the executive commitee and report these nominations to the executive, that this report be included in the AGM notice sent members, that other member generated nominees known 65 days before the AGM be included in this notice, and that the notice be given to all members at least 60 days in advance of the AGM.

    All of these requirements are real: fully articulated in the present constitution, and geneally not met by people who now want us to accept that a a major procedural change in the party is required by an imaginary constitutional condition.

    2   I was told on June 11th that a majority of the other 17 also met the deadline. Thus the number "71" as used here needs to be replaced by something in the 80s - but I don't yet have the actual number.