When Ottawa-area Green party candidate Qais Ghanem recently drew some criticism over his attitude toward Israel, an interesting sub-plot emerged in the Green party's attempts to convince themselves they're politically relevant in Canada: that of the "Ottawa group of four".
Consisting of Ghanem, Paul Maillet, Sylvie Lemieux and Akbar Manoussi, the group is made up of four Ottawa-area candidates cumulatively promoting their own policies both in the course of a federal election, and within the Green party itself.
In the end, there may be no better way to judge the Group of Four then by their policies. Fortunately, they've been kind enough to supply anyone enterprising enough to look with a list.
The "Ottawa Group of Four 2008 Proposed Policy Resolutions" document takes pains to note that it "does not necessarily represent the official policy
of the Green Party of Canada." It covers topics ranging from electoral reform to policy development.
From surveying the proposed resolutions, it would seem that Paul Maillet is the ringleader of the Group of Four -- he sponsors seven of the resolutions. Sylvie Lemieux sponsors another five. The remaining resolution -- the infamous "Palestine" resolution -- is sponsored by Qais Ghanem.
In all, the document presents 14 recommendations. The first deals with electoral reform:
"Resolution 1 - Electoral ReformOne wonders if Ghanem, Lemieux, Maillet and Manoussi stopped to consider the contradictory nature of this resolution.
Whereas we believe that Canadians want to be governed by a parliament more fully representative of Canada.
Whereas we believe that Canadians want to be governed only by directly elected people; in a fair, transparent and open process in which every Member of Parliament faces the voters.
Whereas the Green Party strongly believes in electoral reform.
Therefore it be resolved that the Green party of Canada advocate electoral reform in terms of the minimum criteria of a Canada governed by a parliament more fully representative of Canada, and a Canada governed only by directly elected people in a fair, transparent and open process.
Therefore is also be resolved that the minimum representative constituencies in parliament be (1) political parties in proportion of the popular vote, (perhaps based on a 3-5% threshold of votes, and perhaps members selected from the vote and rank-ordered from non-elected candidates) and (2) our National Diversity such as to ensure gender balance, major language groups, and aboriginal peoples, in proportion of the most recent national census results (and perhaps selected from the vote and rank-ordered from non-elected candidates regardless of party affiliation to fill imbalances)."
The four start out by recognizing that Canadians continue to favour the ability to elect their representatives directly "in a fair, transparent and open process." Yet they resolve that Canada's electoral system be reformed to elect Members of Parliament proportionally -- a process under which its utterly impossible to elect them directly.
Furthermore, even under mixed-member plurality systems, in which a portion of Parliament would be elected under the existing first-past-the-post system and another portion elected proportionally, the question of precisely how Members of Parliament would be selected remains a critical one.
Interestingly, the four seem to have their answer -- these members should be selected through an affirmative action program.
Of course, the question of who would make the decisions regarding who gets elected to Parliament under such a system is another matter entirely. Suffice to say there is virtually no way such a system could be administered in a fully open and transparent manner.
The second resolution proposed by the group of four addresses the very nature of Green Party policy:
"Resolution 2 - Vision Green ReformattingResolution number two is merely a statement on the importance of the Green Party formulating a wide vareity of non-environmental policies.
Whereas the GPC wishes to obtain seats in the Parliament in the next general election.
Whereas the GPC wishes to be a full spectrum party and not a single-issue party.
Whereas the GPC needs to expand its voter base beyond the existing environmental constituency, and that GPC wishes to appeal and be sensitive, credible and involved in all issues of concern of the voters.
Whereas the document “Vision Green” is heavily oriented in its current format to environmental issues, and can be perceived as almost marginalizing other issues. The current index reads Part 1: the green economy, Part 2: averting climate catastrophe , Part 3: preserving and restoring the environment , Part 4: people, Part 5: the planet needs Canada (and vice versa), Part 6: good government
Whereas effective campaign and marketing success is critically dependent on identifying voter issues and needs, speaking their language, and gaining their trust by addressing their needs within a clear integrity framework.
Whereas the GPC wishes to appeal to voters beyond the green constituency that is already in place.
Therefore it be resolved that the Vision Green document be reformatted to directly address, better balance and better reflect the broader needs of Canadians as a whole, and their wider expectations of elected members of parliament.
As a minimum, initial main subject areas, equally weighted and emphasized, are suggested as the Environment, the Economy, Tax reform, Health care, Education, Crime Prevention, Diversity and Human rights, Aboriginal affairs, Good government, Electoral reform, International affairs, Peace and security and Quality of life (all others)."
This is simply wise politics for a party that would like to one day contend for national power -- even if right now its willing to settle for being a sidekick for the Liberal party.
"Resolution 3 - Issues of ConscienceThe issues of consience resolution is actually quite constructive. It would promise free rein to Green party MPs to vote according to their conscience on a wide vareity of issues.
Whereas our values commit us to Social Justice “acting to secure basic human rights and build a just society”; Nonviolence, in that “every act of violence delays our progress toward a just society; Diversity in that “we honour the diversity of life on our planet. All diversity of the Earth's people has intrinsic value”; Personal and Global Responsibility in that “we must learn to take responsibility for ourselves, our families, our communities and ultimately for our planet”; and Ecological Wisdom in that “when we damage the web of life, we damage ourselves”.
Whereas there is a class of issues relating to issues of conscience, in which moral uncertainty exists, and which may be extremely personal and difficult in terms of competing rights, and potentially divisive in the party, and potentially exclusive of major voting groups.
Whereas within Green party values of respect for diversity, non-violence, compassion, intrinsic value of life, rights to existence, and broader human rights, we will respect the rights of members to make personal moral decisions in identified areas of moral uncertainty, which may be different from other member decisions.
Whereas we are a party of shared values. We are a party with the highest standards of ethical values. We are an inclusive party and respect differences of belief. This is what attracted us to the Green Party. This is what make us unique compared to other parties. We promote an inclusive values-based application to issues, rather than a power-based application.
Therefore it be resolved that being a party of shared values, and respecting the right of party members to exercise such party values, that certain and significant “issues of conscience” such as relating to religion, euthanasia and abortion and others as may be identified by the party, are subject to free votes and free positions among party candidates and members.
Whereas that being a party of shared values and respecting the right of members to express differing opinion in free and open debate and free from reprisal."
However, not all is as rosy as it would seem. The Group of Four has still left themselves a club with which to handle party dissidents:
"Whereas that once important and identified policies resolutions and positions are taken, that are not trivial or morally ambiguous, and adopted through the democratic process, that all are obligated to support such positions in good faith as a condition of party membership."Which makes one wonder how the group of four would address Green party members or MPs dissenting from some of the Group of Four's policy resolutions -- in particular the highly controversial "Palestine" resolution (to be addressed shortly).
"Whereas we acknowledge that all GPC policy, resolutions and party positions may not cover all eventualities or situations and exceptions may arise, such as involving differences between rural and urban ridings.In fact, it would seem that Green party members and MPs would actually have to seek permission from the party leadership in order to dissent from the party line on that particular issue.
Whereas as a duty of GPC integrity and respect to our members, the GPC wishes to respect the right of members to disagree or hold differing opinions, if differences remain consistent with party values, be non-trivial, and within a framework of disclosure and consensus with the GPC.
Therefore it be resolved that the GPC develop a values-based process for the efficient and timely consideration of requests to publicly adopt differing positions based in special, extraordinary and justified circumstances."
That being said, this is an issue that could prove useful to Green party leader Elizabeth May. After all, May's own views on abortion may find herself outside the party line on the topic.
It may also prove useful to Ghanem himself, who hs proven to have sympathy for the 9/11 "truth" movement.
"Resolution 5 - Organizational Ethics in the GPCResolution five may seem like some mundane administrative jargon, but it confirms that the party is beginning to grow to a posiiton at which it's starting to think more about the ordinary, pragmatic day-to-date issues in running a political party rather than merely being a political outlet for the idealism of its members.
Whereas the GPC is a party of high moral values and ethics, notably honesty and respect, for which it is willing to be held accountable.
Whereas the GPC conducts its affairs in a complex matrix of relationships, power and diversity that have ethical context and risk; such as in GPC party affairs and each other, EDA affairs, media interaction, interaction with competing parties, election campaigns, candidate nomination selection activity, fundraising, voter interactions, and policy development and others.
Whereas the GPC wishes to set the highest example of ethics in politics and party affairs.
Whereas GPC wishes to tangibly demonstrate its commitment to ethical conduct, in a manner that respects GPC values, and informs our judgement, decision-making and relationships.
Therefore it be resolved that GPC develop and implement an ethics program based on organizational ethics best practices and the highest ethical standards, which will include ethical guidelines for the GPC leadership and membership relating to the ethical conduct and ethical risk management within the GPC and in our external relationships."
Resolution six follows in a much different vein:
"Resolution 6 – International Affairs Policy FrameworkIn essence, the "Group of Four" is advocating that Canadian Foreign Policy be transformed into a political outlet for their personal idealism.
Whereas the GPC believes that Canada must fully assert our values in international affairs, and meet our obligations to the global community.
Whereas the GPC desires a consistent and values based approach to foreign policy, international affairs, foreign aid and development, and peace and security activities.
Whereas we believe that Canada’s commitment to the global community is a commitment to advocacy, leadership and action in human rights, peace and security, good governance, environmental responsibility and sustainable economic development.
Therefore it be resolved that the GPC is guided in its international policy by the following principles:
1. We commit to a value based and socially responsible approach in all our global relationships.
2. We accept to be accountable for the highest global, social and environmental values, and commit to transparency and public oversight.
3. We assert that the security and prosperity of Canada is contingent on a secure and stable world and we will contribute to global security and stability.
4. In conflict zones, we commit to a three-pillar approach of; (1) diplomacy and human rights – (2) aid and development – (3) peace and security.
5. In conflict zones, we commit to the primacy of “diplomacy and human rights”.
6. We commit to neutrality, dialogue, non-violence, ceasefire and reconciliation activity in “peace and security” operations.
7. We commit to “Aid and Development” to global humanitarian crisis and human development.
8. We believe that foreign “aid and development” requires a coherent approach to good governance, rights and freedoms, poverty reduction, health improvement, education strengthening, gender equity, sustainable economic development, and environmental responsibility."
Little is outlined about the specific role the military would play under a Green party government -- although we can imagine. Many references are made to "the primacy of diplomacy", but little said about what happens when diplomacy fails. Numerous references are made about human rights, but nothing is said about how a Green party government would address states that violate human rights.
These turn out to be important issues to overlook as one turns toward the next resolution:
"Resolution 7 - AfghanistanFirst off, the Green party insists that we stop fighting the Taliban (thereby making it easier for them to return to power), then start negotiating.
Whereas the GPC desires to maintain a consistent values based policy response to international crises of interest to Canada as part of our approach to foreign policy and international affairs.
Whereas Vision Green provides operational and implementation detail of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
Whereas the situation in Afghanistan remains extremely volatile and subject to unknown and unforeseen circumstances.
Therefore it be resolved that the GPC evolve its role in Afghanistan according to the following principles;
1. That Canada re-assert a values-based approach to restoring peace, stability and alleviating suffering in Afghanistan, through a revised mission mandate emphasizing “peace making in this conflict zone”. That Canada develop proficiency in “high risk diplomacy” in this mission.
2. That Canada reorient the Canadian military and the overall mission towards neutrality and against offensive combat operations in Afghanistan. That the Canadian military force structure in Afghanistan realigned with the new “peacemaking” role.
3. That Canada shift offensive combat operations to the Afghan national authority but agree to assist with Afghan force and policing training and operational support.
4. That in support of human rights, environmental and economic strengthening, Canada conducts humanitarian aid, governance development and reconstruction projects.
5. That the primary function of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan be diplomacy through the creation of safe spaces for all parties involved, and the facilitation of dialogue with the aim of stopping the violence and beginning the process of reconciliation.
6. That the primary military role be to contribute to diplomatic activity, through initial contact with all parties in conflict, protection of military and civilian diplomatic staff, and protection of safe space activity.
7. That a secondary military role be the protection of all mission components be they defence forces, diplomatic staff, humanitarian aid agencies, governance development and reconstruction activity."
The Group of Four seems to imagine Canadian forces defending areas of neutrality within Afghanistan so their imagined negotiations can proceed. However, their approach suffers from two key misconceptions:
First off, the Taliban is not interested in negotiating in any realistic sense. Secondly, the world knows full well what the Taliban plans to re-institute in Afghanistan upon re-taking power there, and that should be considered non-negotiable to anyone with a legitimate concern for human rights.
The eighth resolution is the infamous "Palestine" resolution:
"Resolution 8 - PalestineIn a certain sense, "Palestine" seems to be less malignant than originally thought.
Whereas the Green Party of Canada unequivocally supports the human rights of all people in the world, equally;
Whereas UN General Assembly Resolution 194, (re-passed 28 times) affirms the right of Palestinians to return to their homes and property; and its Charter stipulates that there can lawfully be no territorial gains from war; even by a state acting in self defence;
Whereas article 49 of the Geneva Convention states that the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territory it occupies;
And whereas all Arab states, in the “Saudi Peace Plan” of March 2002 in Beirut and endorsed by 57 Muslim states, have offered Israel a full and permanent peace, with normal diplomatic relations, in return for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied land to the 1967 borders;
And whereas the Green Party of the United States has demanded that Israel cease its violent actions against the Palestinian people, and proposed an international peacekeeping body to enforce a Middle East ceasefire;
Therefore it be resolved that the Green Party of Canada calls upon Israel to end its forty year occupation of all occupied land without preconditions, and calls upon the resistance movement in Palestine to simultaneously halt all violent action against Israel and for both parties to begin to implement the “Saudi Peace Plan”, without delay."
However, it remains scant on key details that make it seem much less than benign. For example, the resolution asserts the right of Palestinians to "return to their homes and property". It doesn't seem to address the claims of numerous Palestinians to the entirety of the country.
Furthermore, it overlooks the fact that Israel has been at a continuous state of de facto warfare ever since its establishment. There is a great deal of virtue to be found in the argument that Israel should relinquish the West Bank and the other occupied territories. Yet, under the duress of attacks by Islamic and Palestinian terrorist groups, Israel has never truly known peacetime.
The resolution wisely calls upon Palestian groups to cease violent action against Israel, just as it calls upon Israel to cease violent action against Palestians. Yet it seems to overlook that many elements of Islamic culture in the Middle East have begun to honour those who perpetrate violence against Israelis -- even children -- and celebrating them as heroes.
How can one honestly expect Palestinian groups to cease violent action against Israel in a cultural climate where a man who smashes an Israeli child's head in (while her father watches) is hailed as a hero?
Resolution nine is another resolution that could be effected by the Group of Four's "issues of conscience" resolution:
"Resolution 9 – EuthanasiaOnce again, one may wonder how the Group of Four would respond if their own "issues of conscience" resolution was used to resist their "euthanasia" policy?
Whereas on 15 June 2005, Bill C-407, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Right to Die with Dignity) was introduced by Francine Lalonde (La Pointe-de-l’Île, Quebec). Due to the subsequent dissolution of Parliament and the call of a federal election, a vote did not take place and the Bill was not subsequently re-introduced after the election.
Whereas Bill C-407 would have amended sections 14 (Consent to Death), 222 (Homicide), and 241 (Counseling or aiding suicide) of the Criminal Code so that, provided that certain criteria are met, a person who assists another person to die would be neither committing a homicide nor counseling or aiding suicide. The bill would have required that the individual whose death is assisted to meet detailed provisions such as being at least 18 years old; either experiencing “severe physical or mental pain without any prospect of relief” or terminally ill; made a free and informed wish to die; have designated a person who aids him or her to die.
Whereas the bill would also have required that the person who is assisting the death to meet detailed provisions including; involvement of a medical practitioner; confirmation of the diagnosis from one or two medical practitioners; be entitled by law to provide this assistance; to act as directed by the individual whose death is assisted; and provide the coroner with a copy of the diagnosis from the confirming medical practitioners.
Therefore, be it resolved that the GPC support the re-introduction in Parliament of new Bill similar to Bill C-407."
Only time -- and an unlikely Green party election victory -- could tell.
The next two resolutions deal with aboriginal peoples:
"Resolution 10 - Aboriginal Affairs – Redress for LossesThis, in particular is a resolution that many land-owning Canadians may not like.
Whereas many recommendations of the 1990 the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples have not been implemented.
Whereas Provincial, territorial and the Canadian governments have benefited greatly from Aboriginal peoples' loss of lands and resources.
Therefore, be it resolved the provincial and territorial and the Canadian governments issue a sincere apology for suffering and loss, and fully acknowledge a moral and a legal responsibility to participate fully in measures to restore self-reliance and autonomy, including land redistribution, the redesign of government responsibilities, and arrangements for co-management of shared resources."
After all, what could be said about this in Montreal, where the entirety of the downtown area is subject to an (as yet) unresolved aboriginal landclaim? What about British Columbia, where some of the claims actually exceed the sum of the land actually in British Columbia?
Furthermore, there is also the matter of the public outcry that arises whenever a politician talks about the need to restore autonomy and self-reliance to Canada's aboriginal peoples (the latter of the two propositions clearly being the allegedly troublesome one).
"Resolution 11 - Aboriginal Affairs – Nationhood StatusWhile the base principle of this resolution -- the recognition of aboriginal bands as autonomous self-governing peoples and direct partners in the enterprise of Canadian federalism -- is a huge step in a positive direction, there remain numerous problems with this resolution.
Whereas because of their original occupancy of the country, the treaties that recognized their rights, the constitution that affirms those rights, and their continued cohesion as peoples, the GPC believes that aboriginal peoples are distinct political entities and nations within Canada - with their own character and traditions, a right to their own autonomous governments, and a special place in the flexible federalism that defines Canada.
Whereas the GPC believes that our government must make a clear commitment to renewing the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, guided by recognition, respect, sharing and responsibility.
Therefore be it resolved that a new relationship with aboriginal peoples be defined and reflected in new legislation that includes:
1. An Aboriginal Nations Recognition and Government Act, to recognize Aboriginal nations and make interim arrangements to finance their activities.
2· An Aboriginal Treaties Implementation Act, to establish processes and principles for recognized nations to renew their existing treaties or create new ones; and to establish regional treaty commissions to facilitate and support treaty negotiations, and that this be conducted by representatives of the governments concerned.
3· An Aboriginal Lands and Treaties Tribunal Act, to establish an independent body to decide on specific claims, ensure that treaty negotiations are conducted and financed fairly, and protect the interests of affected parties while treaties are being negotiated.
4· An Aboriginal Parliament Act, to establish a parliamentary body to represent Aboriginal peoples within federal governing institutions and advise Parliament on matters affecting Aboriginal people.
5· An Aboriginal National Relations and Services Department Act, to establish a department to implement the new relationship with Aboriginal nations, to administer continuing services for groups not yet self-governing; and replace the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development."
First off, the insistence that aboriginal peoples must be recognized as autonomous and self-reliant conflicts drastically with the notion of funding their governments on an indefinite basis. University of Calgary Political Scientist Tom Flanagan is right when he notes that the best solutions to the dilemmas surrounding aboriginal peoples and their relationship with the Canadian government will inevitably include granting these bands the power to collect taxes within their jurisdiction.
However, the notion of replacing the Department of Indian Affairs with a department that would function on a more cooperative basis would be good for all Canadians, not just aboriginals.
The twelfth resolution is actually quite novel:
"Resolution 12 – Extending the order table through dissolution of ParliamentThis is the kind of legislative reform that should have existed in Canada a long time ago. While many politicians would likely oppose such a reform due to the time it would take away from their reelection campaigns, enacting such a reform would remind politicians and Canadians as a whole that doing the country's business must come before petty partisan or electoral concerns.
Whereas the GPC believes that the passage of legislation should be one of the highest priorities of the affairs of the parliament of Canada.
Whereas the creation of bills and legislation require a substantial investment of time and effort on the part of the public, committees, public servants, elected members, ministers, and others, and at a high cost to taxpayers.
Whereas on dissolution of parliament for an election, existing bills are lost from the order table of parliament (the order of business).
Therefore be it resolved that the GPC advocate for the amendment of parliamentary rules and procedures and the creation of a parliamentary committee, which will review bills existing previous to the dissolution, and recommend bills, with all party support, past third reading, and that transcend partisan politics, “to stand” and be included in the new order table of the new government."
Finally, the 13th resolution deals with the currently malignant environment in which the Canadian Parliament has conducted itself -- an environment that all of our political parties and elected officials have contriubted to:
"Resolution 13 – Decorum In ParliamentOne of the best ways to disperse the typically acrimonious environment of Canadian Parliament is, indeed, for one of Canada's political parties to agree to lead by example. Naturally, any one of Canada's parties would currently claim to be leading by example. For the Green party to come out and actually do so would be a welcome example.
Whereas the GPC do not accept the current manner that politics is practiced in this country; and want to change the way politics is conducted for the better.
Whereas we believe in of integrity in government, characterized by a cooperative, honest, respectful and responsible parliament and we will act accordingly.
Whereas it is observed that the behaviour of members of parliament in the House of Commons is on regular occasions unacceptable in terms of decorum, common courtesy and respect.
Whereas the GPC wishes to set an example of a new standard in Parliament which reflects that highest standards of respect and courtesy and be worthy of the public trust.
Therefore be it resolved that in the GPC develop and publish a code of conduct for our elected members of Parliament, which will set an example to others, and to which we are willing to be held accountable. This code will articulate the standards of dignity and respect we and the public want from our elected officials."
Of course, there's more to the Ottawa Group of Four than this package of policies. But it is interesting to consider what the Green party may or may not become under the leadership or influence of such a clique.
Many Canadians may want to question whether or not Canada can go where the Ottawa Group of Four would have the Green Party lead it, or even if it should.