Monday, November 29, 2010

 

Post-partisan politics, an idea whose time has come in B.C.

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BC Mary comment:  Another topic I've mentioned again and again on this blog: post-partisan politics. I've promised not to  let this site turn into the "Me good, You bad" political squabble between people who, if they stop and think about it, all want the best for this province. [Exception: Gordon Campbell who, in my personal, independent opinion, deserves tar-and-feathers for leading the relentless sneak-attacks to cripple, give away, or sell off British Columbia.]

Well ... Peter Ewart has written a column explaining why our maddening voting system doesn't work properly. And most encouraging is his reference to an earlier time in British Columbia history which had legislated a more independent system of representation in the legislature. 


Quote:
Unravelling socks and BC Politics, Part 3

By Peter Ewart

Opinion 250 - Nov. 29, 2010

...  some voters put politicians, including both MPs and MLAs, in the category of least trustworthy of occupations. Not a few people accuse them of cowardice, timidity, dishonesty and blind obedience to their party leadership.

How has this situation come about? Why is what should be the most honourable profession considered to be a dishonourable one?

{Snip} ...

The political process seems like it should be straightforward. Voters elect their MLA; and, then, that MLA, presumably full of enthusiasm and fresh ideas, goes down to the Legislature in Victoria and represents the voters of her or his riding, and of the province as a whole.

But there is a fly in the ointment. Something gets in the way of what should be a "natural connection" between voter, MLA and the legislature. That is, of course, the party system which has been superimposed upon the political process.

Under the party system, it is not the voters of the riding who get to select candidates, it is the local members of the political party riding association (and even, sometimes, the party leader). These riding association members often represent less than 1% of the riding population.

To get the party nomination, the candidate must swear allegiance to the party platform and the party leader. And thus the humbling of the candidate begins, in a ritual that is reminiscent of a serf pledging loyalty to a feudal lord. Or to put it another way, it resembles the "breaking" of the spirit of a wild horse.

Then the election takes place and, if the candidate is elected, some more "humbling" and "breaking in" follows. The MLA now is under the authority, not just of the party brass, but also of the party legislative whip who is charged with making sure that the MLA votes in line with what the party leadership deems to be appropriate. Failure to adhere to strict "party line" voting in the legislature can lead to various punishments, ranging from being denied seats on legislative committees and other perks (some of them financial) to outright expulsion and "banishment" from the party, with an accompanying "shunning" by other MLAs and party members.

And, so it is that, instead of being a "tribune of the people" for her or his riding, the MLA becomes a robot of the party. Rather than taking the concerns of the people in the riding to the provincial legislature, often as not, the reverse happens. The MLA's main task is reduced to selling party policy to the voters.

Nowhere is this more evident than in an election campaign. Take the example of the BC NDP in the 2009 election. Candidates who ran in the Central Interior of the province had much political "fodder" to draw upon. Under a BC Liberal government, the region was undergoing the worst forest industry downturn ever. Dozens of mill closures. Thousands of layoffs. School closures. Service cuts. Mortgage foreclosures. The decimation of entire settlements such as Mackenzie, a proud town which, in the past, had pumped out huge revenues for the provincial government. And so on. The defeat of the Liberal MLAs should have been a slam-dunk.

However, instead of drawing upon this experience to develop made-in-the-north policy, candidates were given a policy binder developed by the party brass with all kinds of input from unelected party officials, "spin doctors", and pollsters, based in the Lower Mainland. If candidates deviated from the crushing mediocrity of the policy binder by even an inch, they were called to task. This resulted in some candidates literally "gluing" themselves to the policy binder to the point that frustrated journalists and constituents pleaded with them to set the binder aside and simply speak their mind on issues.

Candidates were also cautioned to stay away from talking too much about "economic issues" because, according to the party "spin doctors", this might remind voters of the NDP's mishandling of the economy while in office back in the 1990s. Instead of layoffs and mill closures being a main issue in the campaign in this region, such Vancouver-based issues as "affordable housing" became front and centre. And thus, despite the fact that the candidates were certainly dedicated and hardworking, they were soundly defeated.

Is it any wonder that an NDP MLA like Bob Simpson, who has a detailed knowledge of the forest industry and other economic issues in this region, might bridle or even rebel against such idiocy?

But it is not just NDP candidates who suffer from this flawed political process. Liberal Party candidates were defeated in the 1996 election in this region precisely because Gordon Campbell, leader of the party, had pledged to sell BC Rail. Opposition to this sale was deep and widespread amongst the voters of the Central Interior and North, and, as a result, Liberal candidates lost ridings that they should have been able to win easily.

Of course, by the time of the 2001 election, Gordon Campbell had reversed his pledge to sell the railway and apologized to the voters of the region. A year or so later, it must have been quite a bleak morning for the newly-elected Liberal MLAs in the Interior to wake up and find out that Premier Campbell, in still another stunning reversal, was going to auction off the publicly-owned railway after all.

With the exception of MLA Paul Nettleton, who was eventually expelled from the Liberal caucus, the Liberal MLAs of the region had the humiliating task of trying to justify this major flip-flop and outright treachery to angry constituents. This cost them both votes and even longstanding friendships.

It must also have been quite a morning to wake up to find out that Premier Campbell, just two months after the 2009 election, was planning to impose the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) on a unsuspecting voting public. This "gift" from the Premier, which just as well might have been "written on a napkin" the night before, probably means that the political careers of many Liberal MLAs are over for good. Nonetheless, all Liberal MLAs, as part of "party discipline", have been expected to get out on the stumps and "sell" this hated tax. Surely, some part of their soul must be deeply embarrassed and insulted by all of this.

Is it any wonder that Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom resigned as cabinet minister? Is it any wonder that MLA Bill Bennett blew his top?

Political parties can be very useful mechanisms for the people of the province, especially in the area of developing ideas and policies,  and educating voters on issues. In that regard, there is nothing wrong with parties having their own kinds of discipline and rules of operation. Let them function as they so choose.

However, as the examples above demonstrate, a big problem arises when this political party "system" is imposed on the electoral process and directly interferes with the relationship between voter and MLA. 

Thus the "unravelling" that is taking place in either party is not over. Nor can it ever be over, until party-domination of the electoral and legislative process itself is ended. In the early years of the province, British Columbians put a non-party process in place, where MLAs, in effect, represented their ridings as independents. That system was eventually overturned by the establishment political parties and their bagmen, hailing from out East.

Perhaps it’s time to consider a modern-day version of what was the original impulse of British Columbians to have as their democratic  structure.  

This article is the last in the "Unravelling socks and BC politics" series. Read the full article HERE.


http://www.opinion250.com/blog/view/18497/7/unravelling+socks+and+bc+politics-+part+three
 
Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca

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Comment by Skookum1, cross-posted:


That is, of course, the party system which has been superimposed upon the political process.

Indeed in BC, it very much was. There were no parties in British Columbia, not at the provincial level, until they were formally introduced and made virtually mandatory in 1903 by the incoming McBride administration. The Tories especially wanted to create party discipline in the House because of the years of chaos that preceded their rise; namely the Dunsmuir-Turner-Semlin-Martin succession, in whatever order that worked; and Martin was a case of a guy who, once in possession of the Crown's power, made a point of not calling the House so he couldn't be deposed (sound familiar?). Before that a Premier had to work with MLAs individually to build policy, and alliances were always shifting, including during campaigns and right after elections...

Party discipline was "for stability" and "to encourage investment"....

Though official parties were not allowed in the House until 1903, there were individuals MLAs who self-declared for one party or another, notably early labour candidates, but before 1900 that was considered rude and ungentlemanly (as was breaking one's word to the electorate).

Another feature of those times that should be revived is, upon announcement of a cabinet, immediate resignations by those appointed, such that they have to win a second mandate to prove their riding's support for their new position. This included the first minister.....

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Skookum1 adds:
Just by way of correction, the succession was Turner-Semlin-Martin-Dunsmuir-Prior (1895-1903). Mounting, and migratory within the province, population meant not only fluctuating electoral politics but a slew of political carpetbaggers....especially Martin, whose career is one of the more amazingly extroverted in Canadian, or BC, politics. Dunsmuir was an establishment replacement after Martin was ousted, when a sitting of the House was finally inevitable and a vote of non-confidence held; the L-G - the most conflicted-interest viceroy I think in Canada's history - was replaced by Henri Joly de Lotbiniere (i.e. a transplanted Quebecker brought in to stabilize things). Dunsuir was a dud, Prior only a caretaker until the party system could be introduced (i.e. also a dud). There's more to it than that, and far more as to the strategics of why the Tories wanted the party system. Essentially the non-party system was being blamed for the province's political turmoil.....of course we know now that wasn't the solution at all.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_premiers_of_British_Columbia

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Comments:
That is, of course, the party system which has been superimposed upon the political process.

Indeed in BC, it very much was. There were no parties in British Columbia, not at the provincial level, until they were formally introduced and made virtually mandatory in 1903 by the incoming McBride administration. The Tories especially wanted to create party discipline in the House because of the years of chaos that preceded their rise; namely the Dunsmuir-Turner-Semlin-Martin succession, in whatever order that worked; and Martin was a case of a guy who, once in possession of the Crown's power, made a point of not calling the House so he couldn't be deposed (sound familiar?). Before that a Premier had to work with MLAs individually to build policy, and alliances were always shifting, including during campaigns and right after elections...

Party discipline was "for stability" and "to encourage investment"....

Though official parties were not allowed in the House until 1903, there were individuals MLAs who self-declared for one party or another, notably early labour candidates, but before 1900 that was considered rude and ungentlemanly (as was breaking one's word to the electorate).

Another feature of those times that should be revived is, upon announcement of a cabinet, immediate resignations by those appointed, such that they have to win a second mandate to prove their riding's support for their new position. This included the first minister.....
 
Thanks to Peter and Skookum1 for the history lesson. I agree wholeheartedly and am encouraged to learn that independant representation has worked in the past. This would go a long way towards ensuring accountability and co-operation back into the process.
 
My Husband when He seen the mail this morning yelled at Me something is going to make You very happy, He handed me the Envelope that said Will YOU please sign this
(in blue) Petition to Demand a Full Public Inquiry into the BC Rail, Basi-Virk "Deal" to find the Truth(underlined
Inside the envelope BCNDP )My name is on the letter
Oh its a good letter. Michael Smyth's blurb on it says " Bit by stinky bit, the truth is emerging about the Gov. foul smelling 6 million plea-bargain deal with convicted BC Rail insiders David Basi and Bob Virk............

Hail Mary ( could not spell hallelughya)Of course the NDP are asking for donations.
PETITION
To Mike De Jong Attorney General

Im outraged by the deal made with convicted BC Rail insiders David Basi and Bob Virk. I dmeand a full public Enquiry in the BC Rail Bribery scandal so that British Columbians know that Justice was served and all guilty parties were held accountable.
And a prepaid postage envelope enclosed.
--------

I wonder If the Gov, will rule this Petition is too wordy. arggggggh, Still makes Me happy, I am going to post this on facebook,and taking a copy to Frame for myself.
Diff then NDP website Petition where there has been only 4255 signatures.

http://www.bcndp.ca/demandthetruth

I Will look for the one I got today and post for those that did not get it,as it is 4 pages!!!!!!
 
Just by way of correction, the succession was Turner-Semlin-Martin-Dunsmuir-Prior (1895-1903). Mounting, and migratory within the province, population meant not only fluctuating electoral politics but a slew of political carpetbaggers....especially Martin, whose career is one of the more amazingly extroverted in Canadian, or BC, politics. Dunsmuir was an establishment replacement after Martin was ousted, when a sitting of the House was finally inevitable and a vote of non-confidence held; the L-G - the most conflicted-interest viceroy I think in Canada's history - was replaced by Henri Joly de Lotbiniere (i.e. a transplanted Quebecker brought in to stabilize things). Dunsuir was a dud, Prior only a caretaker until the party system could be introduced (i.e. also a dud). There's more to it than that, and far more as to the strategics of why the Tories wanted the party system. Essentially the non-party system was being blamed for the province's political turmoil.....of course we know now that wasn't the solution at all.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_premiers_of_British_Columbia
 
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