I took part in COPE’s 6 hour marathon AGM yesterday (Sunday Feb 19th) along with nearly 300 other dedicated COPE members. Like many others I found the evident dis-unity and factionalism within COPE and its impact on the elections process frustrating. Unlike some members however I don’t believe there is an “existential” crisis based on a lack of consensus or agreement on progressive polices.
In fact, you would be hard-pressed to distinguish the candidates on the two slates in yesterday’s election on any other basis than the electoral strategy agreements between COPE and Vision during the past two elections. The talent pool on both slates was also impressive and should not be dismissed out of hand when considering the closeness of the votes. The Treasure elected by one vote, and other positions filled by 3 or 4 vote margins.
Although COPE was all but shut out in Vancouver’s civic elections just a few months ago (electing only one of its candidates – Alan Wong to School Board), and declared dead or on life support by various political pundits it still managed to pack a large hall with a standing room only crowd. It also attracted 21 high calibre candidates for the 12 positions executive positions up for election.
As in most elections, emotions were running high at the start of the meeting (which was delayed due to the high turnout) and there were (in my view) far too many points of order and inappropriate comments which further prolonged the meeting.
There was one area of contention which definitely needs to be dealt with before the next COPE AGM, and that concerns the sign-up and approval of new members immediately prior to the start of the meeting. While the COPE constitution provides for this at regular meetings and the AGM, it does not allow this for meetings to nominate Candidates for Civic elections, for which there is a thirty day membership requirement.
Since we just had such a meeting a few months ago, I believe that lead to confusion and concerns, including assertion that COPE is undemocratic. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, and COPE is so democratic that at times it almost seems like anarchy. The motion was passed at the meeting for the incoming executive to review and bring forward to the membership changes to clarify and update the constitution will hopefully address both these issues.
I am suggesting that the 30 day rule for nomination meetings be extended to AGM’s and meeting where a notice of motion will be dealt with. I believe this addresses concerns raised at the start of the meeting, while still allowing COPE to build its membership by continuing to approve new members at the start of regular meetings. Since there hasn’t been a review of the constitution in a number of years, I expect the executive (and those members who are process oriented) will find others areas in the constitution that can be amended and/or clarified to help COPE function in keeping with its principles.
My final point, deals with strategy (electoral, operational, and issue based), and I expect this to be the most contentious. I say that because at least with respect to electoral strategy, as this is where I see the greatest divide/dis-unity in COPE. For those of us on the left of the political spectrum the greatest challenge for us is not usually on the goal or objective, or even principles and values. It is almost always finding consensus on strategies and tactics, and failing consensus reaching a respectful agreement to disagree democratically so we can still move forward towards our common goal(s).
Like many others on the left I have had some experience with the tyranny of the majority, and also the obstructive (and in more than one case the destructive) actions of a committed and passionate minority. I also have experience working with a bargaining committee that included an avowed anarchist, and was having trouble negotiating a new agreement because their usual committee practices became unworkable.
Based on these experiences, I suggest COPE needs to reach a broadly accepted agreement on a protocol, and the processes it will use in developing and adopting any significant and potentially divisive strategy in the future. I hope this is made a priority, and see it as both a challenge and an opportunity for the new executive. I also say this with all due respect to those who see or saw the agreements with vision as something more that an electoral strategy, and hope my suggestion is viewed in that spirit.