Green Party of Ontario: from Bottom-Up to Top-Down

Introduction: During my recent trip to Europe, several green left activists asked me about the Green Party in Canada. I replied that although it was once seen as a force for radical change, it is now an electoralist party with an ecocapitalist program. I quoted the Green Party of Ontario leader’s frequent assertion that the GPO was “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” And of course I mentioned the federal Green Party leader’s agreement not to oppose the Liberal Party leader in the next election.

How did that change happen? I promised to provide further details when I could. The article below is a first installment towards keeping that promise.

Steven Edwards d’Entremont has been Official Historian of the Green Party of Ontario since April 2006. He has kindly given permission to post his summary of major organizational changes the GPO made between its formation and the present. It provides useful insights into the evolution of the Party.

Steven recently launched a Facebook group, Green Left (Canada), which he describes as: “a voice for Green Socialism in Canadian Green parties.” In his view, “the 21st Century can be the Green Century, if we Greens are true to our roots. However, this decade’s rise of Eco-capitalism in the Green movement is causing our roots to wither.”

Activists in Canada who agree with that perspective are encouraged to sign on to the group and participate.

-Ian Angus


Four Turning Points in the History of the Green Party of Ontario

By Steven Edwards d’Entremont

October 1, 2007

After the founding of the Green Party of Ontario in 1983, there are fundamentally four turning points in our history. These dates are 1993, 1999, 2003, and 2006.

The 1980s saw the rise of the “Ontario Greens”, organized as a loose coalition of “Chapters”. The Spring 1991 edition of our party newspaper Ontario Green News states that “The Ontario Greens is a coalition of Chapters”, and describes these chapters as follows:

The Chapter is the fundamental political, economic and decision-making unit of the Ontario Greens. Chapters abide with the provisions of the Ontario Green Constitution and further the purposes, aims and objectives of the Ontario Greens. Chapters are autonomous in matters of structure, choice of local candidate, and activities undertaken.[1]

Further, to become a member of the Green Party of Ontario at that time, you had to join “the Ontario Greens…through the chapter only”[2]. As for the Green Party of Ontario, The Constitution of the Ontario Greens of Spring 1987 under “The Body Being Constituted” describes the Ontario Greens as follows:

“The body being constituted is The Ontario Greens which is a coalition of chapters. This Constitution shall govern the political activity of the Ontario Greens (OG), the chapters of which it is comprised, and the registered political organizations under the control of the OG: The Green Party of Ontario (GPO), constituency associations (CA’s), and electoral district associations (EDA’s).”[3]

Clearly, there are three points above that we need to highlight regarding the Ontario Green movement in the 1980s. First, what we today know as the Green Party of Ontario, with its single leader, central office and organizational structures, simply was non-existent. There was “no permanent, executive body or council governing the day-to-day affairs of the organization.”[4] The GPO was a necessary legal entity created to run Green candidates in Ontario elections, with a “leader” who appeared during those times, to act as a spokesperson.

Second, note that the GPO was under the authority of The Ontario Greens, which in itself did not hold any authority over the Chapter (the sovereign unit), which in the 1987 Constitution is described as “the basic decision-making body of the Ontario Greens”, and are “self-grouped according to interests that may transcend electoral boundaries.”[5]

Third, as a matter of interest, note that federal EDA’s were also under the authority of The Ontario Greens. The Green Party of Canada at that time was “a coalition of the provincial … organizations legally constituted,”[6] also a bottom-up organization.

It was in 1993 that the first turning point occurred in the GPO due to previous difficult constitutional negotiations. Most notably, the Green Party of Ontario became the “Body Constituted”, and Frank de Jong became the first dedicated Leader of the party (as he continues today). The Chapters gave way to “the constituency association (as) the fundamental political, economic, and social unit of the GPO,”[7] which were naturally organized, unlike the Chapters, along geographical lines.

The Updated Constitution of the Green Party of Ontario in 1997 confirmed the new organizational structure of an organized political party, with officers elected at Annual General Meetings (AGMs), and an Executive Council overseeing the operations of the party. Officers confirmed in the 1997 Constitution included a Membership Secretary (The Ontario Greens had no central membership lists), a Policy Coordinator, and “members of a shadow cabinet as required.”[8]

We then proceed to our second turning point in party history. Above all, in the 1999 provincial election the GPO became solidly entrenched as Ontario’s 4th party. In addition, increased organization resulted in the addition of a Deputy Leader and a Shadow Cabinet. The first Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Ontario was Judy Greenwood-Speers. She served the party in this role from 1999-2002. Judy was also our first Issue Advocate, continuously serving as our Advocate for Health and Long Term Care, and in our Senior’s Secretariat from 1999 to today.

The next turning point was in 2003. The dawning of the 21st century saw Ontarians becoming increasingly aware of green issues, and increased organization in the GPO. The 2003 provincial election saw the Green Party of Ontario break a historic threshold. Never before had the GPO garnered over 1% of the popular vote. Indeed, the party went from just 30,000+ votes in 1999, to over 126,000 votes in 2003. This breakthrough greatly increased the hopes and confidence of the party members. Although no candidates were elected, this reality was in our sights.

Finally, the watershed year 2006 saw a move toward major constitutional changes in the party, led by Executive Council Member at Large (present GPO President) Ron Yurick. During the May Annual Policy Conference in Toronto, and the September 2006 AGM in Lion’s Head, Ontario, sweeping changes were approved to the party’s governance structures. It was described as “the culmination of hundreds of hours of work that evolved out of a Directive passed at the 2004 (AGM) in Cambridge.”[9] Included in the changes were the formation of a much larger Provincial Executive, which includes two gender paritied Representatives from each of 6 regions, gender paritied Deputy Leaders, and the creation of multiple functionary roles (a quasi civil service) separated from the Provincial Executive.

As the members of the Green Party of Ontario now prepare for the 2007 provincial election, we look forward with an appreciation of what we have built. The four “turning points” of GPO history (1993, 1999, 2003, and 2006) have brought us from a loose coalition of Chapters to an organized political party, from an Ontario Greens movement, to an increasingly solidified and organized political institution, prepared to elect the first Green provincial politicians in Canadian history.

Footnotes:

[1] Ontario Green News, Volume 4, Number 1 (Spring ’91), page 12.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Constitution of the Ontario Greens, Spring 1987, page 1

[4] Ibid, page 3.

[5] Ibid, page 1.

[6] Ibid, page 5.

(7] The Constitution of the Green Party of Ontario, Constituted Spring 1987 (Updated Fall 1997), page 1.

[8] Ibid, page 2.

[9] Green Party of Ontario, Annual General Meeting, September 22-24th 2006, page 13.

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