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COPE and the Rush to Petty Dictatorship

Any other party that had just lost half its board, its only elected member and 40% of its support in the polls would be rushing to become broader, more open and more relevant to our city. But not COPE. The main business the party will transact at its next general meeting this March will be the current Executive’s latest efforts to prevent ordinary voters and social movement activists from setting this party’s direction going into what could be its last election campaign.

Following the Executive’s success in using procedural roadblocks, misinformation, and patently false legal and mathematical arguments to defeat proportional representation at meetings in September, October and November (despite PR winning with 66% of the vote the only time members were permitted by the chair to vote on it), the next cynical move is to appear to comply with the members clear demand for a more diverse Executive that represents more than one faction of the party. Using the language of equity and diversity, a set of Trojan Horse amendments to COPE’s constitution are now being put forward, which appear to comply with the wishes of PR-supporting members seeking diversity but which, in fact, institutionalize the current leadership through a system of appointed tokens.

This March, at the party’s two-day policy conference, COPE members will be asked to ratify a Byzantine set of bylaw amendments whose primary purpose appears to be intensifying the control of the party by the faction that currently dominates it by insulating the current Executive against defeat by the members at the July Annual General Meeting or June Nominating Convention.

2. Equity Representatives on COPE Executive
BE IT RESOLVED That PART 4 THE EXECUTIVE Point 1 be amended by adding a new point d) to read as follows
PART 4 – THE EXECUTIVE
1.  The Executive shall consist of the following persons (the “Voting Executive Members”): ….
d) representatives of each Equity Caucus, who may be so designated by the respective Caucuses and ratified  at a general meeting.
1) one Voting Executive Member position for each Equity Caucus

Four new seats are being created on the COPE Executive, increasing its size from twelve elected members to sixteen. These four new members are elected not be the COPE membership as a whole but by four party committees (“equity caucuses”); these seats will be occupied from the time each caucus selects is occupant until the caucus removes them unless the next general meeting of the party votes not to ratify the selection, in which case the seat is then vacant until the caucus can make a new selection.

Because these appointments do not appear to expire and, except at the moment of ratification, are outside the purview of the general membership of the party. These appointees sit on the executive from the moment of their appointment until they face a ratification vote at a later meeting and, only if that meeting votes to leave the seat vacant rather than accepting the representative, are they removed. If they are not removed, they continue to serve until they wish to vacate the position. And even if they are removed, the caucus can appoint a replacement who will serve as an executive member until their ratification vote.

This means that, together with those elected to two-year terms at the 2013 AGM and those elected to 16-month terms at the March general meeting, there will be ten (out of a possible 16) seats on the Executive that will not be subject to election at the July AGM. In other words, even if the general membership completely repudiate the current executive at the coming AGM, they will retain a 10-6 majority on the Executive through the election.

BE IT RESOLVED that PART 7 COMMITTEES be amended by adding a new Point 6
6. Equity Standing Committees
There shall be four (4) Equity Standing Committees: Aboriginal, Differently Abled, Ethnic Diversity, and LGBTTIQQPP2S. The Committees shall be selected by their respective Equity Caucuses.

This set of bylaw amendments is odd because it does not specify who will comprise the equity caucuses. It states that the committees will be appointed by the caucuses but not how the caucuses will be appointed. With no specific rules in effect for regulation of caucus composition, the party must default to the resolution passed by directors on May 10th, 2013 concerning the composition of all internal party committees on whose composition the bylaws are silent:

Whereas the members of COPE vest final oversight powers in the Executive,

Resolved that the Executive confer on committees the power to alter their composition by a majority vote of members;

Further resolved that any decision by committees including those pertaining to their membership may be reversed by a majority vote of the Executive;

Further resolved that all committees except those named in the Constitution and Bylaws exist at the pleasure of the Executive and may be created or disbanded by a majority vote of the Executive.

Further resolved that the times and locations of each committee and caucus meeting be communicated to the Executive a reasonable amount of time in advance of each committee and caucus meeting;

Effectively, this means that the current Executive may determine the composition of the four equity caucuses which, in turn, elect four members to the Executive. This is a political feedback loop whereby the current executive can insulate itself against the democratic will of the members depriving it of its majority at the Annual General Meeting.

In other words, the Equity motions have not been forwarded for the purpose of democratizing COPE but for the purpose of empowering the current clique to appoint themselves dictators of the party, irrespective of how members vote this summer.

Some might well ask, “does it really matter who controls the Executive when the members get to pick the candidates?” Well, that’s where the Executive’s new Code of Conduct comes in, a Code that gives it sweeping powers to fire candidates at will. Below are the relevant excerpts:

1. This Code of Conduct replaces any previously enacted code of conduct and applies to

a. Members of the COPE Executive

b. COPE Candidates elected to Civic Office

c. Candidates for Civic Office

~ and ~

2. All persons to whom this Code of Conduct applies shall refrain from

a. Speaking against or criticizing COPE Policy in any public forum or communication including but not limited to media interviews or statements, candidates debates, web comments emails blogs and/or social media.

b. Speaking against or criticizing each other or any COPE Member in any public forum or communication including but not limited to media interviews or statements, candidates debates, web comments, emails, blogs and/or social media.

c. Advising or assisting COPE members to engage in 2a. or2 b. above

d Advising COPE members to express dissatisfaction with COPE and/or decisions of its membership meetings by financial means, including but not limited to boycotting COPE fundraising events, cancelling PACs, withdrawing or not providing financial support. (This especially applies to Executive members, who as Directors of the Society have a fiduciary duty to always act in the best interest of COPE).

~ and ~

6. If Allegations are upheld, consequences may include but are not limited to:

a. In case of first incident , the respondent will be offered the opportunity to resolve the matter by providing written acknowledgement that

i. their actions violated this Code of Conduct

ii. they will offer apologies as directed by the Executive

iii. they promise not to re-offend.

b. In case of

i. a first incident, should the respondent not accept the opportunity described in a. and/or

ii. a subsequent incident where allegations are upheld,

the Executive may take the following action(s).

1. In all cases the respondent will be offered the opportunity to resign.

2. Should the respondent choose not to resign

a. The Executive may remove the respondent from any “executive-appointed” role or position.

b. The Executive may make a special resolution to a general meeting to remove an Executive member per the BC Society Act: Part 3 Directors 31 (see References below )

c. The Executive may make a resolution to a general meeting to expel the respondent per COPE Bylaws Part 2 Membership 1.d) (see References below).

d. Staff may be subject to progressive discipline up to and including termination.

To be clear, then, any person expressing dissent or suspected of encouraging others to express dissent may be summarily removed from their position in COPE unless such removal is explicitly prohibited by the Society Act. This dissent might be as minor as telling a friend over the phone that an upcoming fundraising event might not be very fun for them or mocking a member of the Executive in a humorous tweet. Given the way the current Executive assumed power in COPE, by vigorously attacking the previous majority and its policies in conventional and social media, organizing phone banks and refusing to participate in key campaign events, it is clear that this group could not survive a fair application of this Code.

This leads me to believe that, as with the rules for social assistance recipients, the goal is not to have an actually enforceable policy but instead to create an environment of arbitrary terror, in which everyone is in violation of the rules all the time but only those disliked by the Executive are punished. The addition of written confessions and show trials seems especially absurd, given that the current leadership are in no other ways Stalinist, having largely adopted a small-c conservative ratepayer politics of NIMBYism, heritage preservation and meeting-intensive processes designed to magnify the voices of the wealthy and well-educated while silencing low-income and marginalized people. Marginalized people, these proposed bylaws make clear, are not to be empowered but to act as tokens or pawns, permitted to act as proxies for a rich, white, middle-aged, property-owning, West Side lawyer, but only insofar as they comply with his will and that of his handful of long-term toadies, yes-men and financial dependents.

Obviously, whether I choose to remain active in COPE will depend on how this meeting goes in March. There is little point in participating in a party that has so completely rejected democracy in favour of the pettiest, most small-minded personality cult. If this were the Cold War, one might hear grim arguments about breaking a few eggs to make an omelette or the like but this isn’t. This is about the quest of a group of bourgeois baby-boomers trying to get one guy on city council as a kind of commemorative mascot of the days it really was a Manichean struggle between the forces of labour and capital.

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