Last week, Green Party of Canada President Paul Estrin threw caution to the wind. Had he been a Liberal, he might have visited a mosque with terrorist ties. Had he been an Alberta Progressive Conservative, he might have chartered the party plane for a personal vacation. Alas, he’s a Green, so his version of “throwing caution to the wind” amounted to authoring a controversial blog post on the party website. Dastardly, right? Actually, it was a pretty big deal, because his opinions deviated from the official Green Party stance on a key issue (no, not making 4/20 a national holiday), a stance that had been determined just a few weeks prior at the Green Party Convention in Fredericton, NB. The post angered a lot of people, including donors (no, not stoners) and members, who thought that it, rather than the resolution passed at the Convention, represented Green Party policy. As a result, Mr. Estrin announced his resignation this Tuesday. What caused it exactly?
Some have suggested that Estrin was forced to resign because his views ran contrary to the party’s official stance on the important issue he discussed in his blog post. These people contend that the resignation is the result of Green Party censorship. Others say that Mr. Estrin resigned because of the confusion he caused by posting his opinion on the party website. They say that Mr. Estrin should have declared that his opinions do not represent the party’s, and that his failure to do so is what caused all the anger and confusion in the first place.
Try as they may to explain the loss of a hard-working man, both these sides miss the point. Estrin’s resignation is the unfortunate consequence of a completely different party policy. Grassroots democracy killed Estrin’s Presidency.
In any other party, the President would only post a blog entry that conformed to party policy. That’s just the way it works, because a good party sticks together. Everything is better that way because it’s so much simpler. No one has to think about who is writing what, or why anyone is writing anything at all. The public is never confused, and the members are never angry, because they know what to expect. Think of it as fast food, or a motel chain…it’s appealing because it is what it is. No one should have to second-guess a burger.
In contrast, President Paul Estrin could write whatever he wanted. Since the party functions as a grassroots democracy, his opinion as a member in good standing was no more important than that of any other member. He didn’t have to stick to the party line, or have his opinions vetted by some Sith Lord in a back room. And all this “in the spirit of dialogue”, as he said himself. What the hell is that about? No wonder people were confused.
It’s hard enough to follow political parties’ policies, which often seem to rise and fall with public opinion. It’s even harder to know when a politician, especially a leading figure like a party President, is telling the truth about anything. Give the voting public a break. Make things easy to understand. In a perfect political party, every blog post would be the same, and the “dialogue” Paul Estrin would inspire would go something like this:
Politician: “Vote for _____________”
Right now, the Green Party is doing itself no favours by letting people talk and think. The possibility for disagreement is simply too strong. As open dialogue and Whip-less politics claims another victim in Paul Estrin, the Party must reflect. Is empowering people to speak their minds really worth the loss of a Party President? Can the hierarchy of the Green Party, which resembles a flood plain, tolerate such a disturbance? Can more people rush in from the sides to support the party’s horizontal structure? Perhaps grassroots democracy is bleeding edge. Perhaps the party should stick to a more traditional form of activism.