Thursday, May 21, 2009
Improving BC's Legislature and Democracy - a guest column by Michael Geoghegan
My friend Michael Geoghegan and I don't always agree on politics - he is a BC Liberal Party supporter, for example, despite having been a BC NDP ministerial aide in the Legislature earlier in his career.
But I do appreciate his opinion and in this column from his own blog he makes a number of suggestions for improving democracy by making changes in the way the BC Legislature operates that are well worth discussion.
Your comments are welcome as always. You can also check his business website for information about his services.
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Friday, May 15, 2009
Seinfeld election hands threepeat to Campbell
By Michael Geoghegan
It was in the end a Seinfeld election, an election about nothing.
The campaign started off with some high profile environmentalists slagging the NDP for its promise to end the carbon tax and ended with a plea from Campbell to re-elect his government to help see BC through the worst global economic calamity since the Great Depression.
Along the way we had Ray Lam resigning as an NDP candidate because of a few inappropriate pictures on Facebook and John van Dongen resigning as Solicitor General because of too many speeding tickets.
But in the end less than half of British Columbians could be bothered to vote in an election where they felt the choice was between cream of wheat and porridge.
The fact is that democracy is slowly dying in BC - from terminal boredom.
Thanks to the internet and various social media any politician who has ever said or done anything inappropriate or perhaps even interesting is finding themselves weeded out of the political process either before or during a provincial election campaign.
Well known 24 Hours columnist and blogger Bill Tieleman has suggested that voting be made mandatory in BC.
As someone who has voted in every election I strongly object to that idea.
If you give people bland campaigns and politicians that aren’t allowed to say or do anything interesting then why should we be surprised when more than half the electorate doesn’t bother to vote?
The people who aren’t voting are sending a very strong message to the politicians; the problem is they aren’t listening. The public want MLAs who are actually allowed to do the job of representing their constituents
In Delta South Attorney General Wally Oppal is only at present two votes ahead of Independent candidate Vicki Huntington.
In that riding both the NDP and Green vote collapsed, not because Huntington is left wing but because the people that generally vote for these left wing protest parties saw a chance to send someone to Victoria who would actually represent their interests rather than the interests of the Premier or the leader of the Official Opposition.
We need to revitalize parliamentary democracy in Canada and get more power back to the hands of voters and MLAs.
First of all every party leader should have to face a recorded vote of confidence once a year from their caucus. That would make the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition far more mindful of the concerns of their fellow MLAs.
Secondly all cabinet appointments should be approved by caucus. Thus if a cabinet minister runs roughshod over backbench MLAs they may find themselves vetoed out of cabinet the next time a cabinet shuffle goes up for approval.
Independent votes should be made the norm not the exception.
Imagine a Premier and cabinet that actually had to make sure the legislation they were proposing had the support of a majority of MLAs in the legislature rather than it just being a foregone conclusion. Also the parliamentary rules need to be changed so that unless it is the final vote on the provincial budget or a specific non confidence motion a defeat would not result in the government having to call an election.
Private members bills which are at present token statements of intent should be referred to legislative council that can rework them into proper legislation and time set aside for votes on these bills when they are brought back to the legislature. This might in turn lead to more bi-partisan support of legislation.
All of the aforementioned would greatly increase the functionality of the legislature and once again enable MLAs to do a much better job of representing their constituents and the collective interests of our province.
One thing the Premier could also do is pass legislation stating that whenever a vacancy occurs in the Federal Senate that a province wide election will be held to fill that position.
I am sure that is a move that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would support and once firmly established as a precedent would eventually result in other provinces following suit and us actually having a democratically elected Senate in Canada.
Finally we need to make it much easier for referenda to happen here in BC. According to a recent Vancouver Sun poll 65% of British Columbians support the decriminalization of marijuana. So let’s have a vote on it.
I am sure there are many other issues people might also want to see put forward in a province wide referendum.
The fact is that unless or until we flow some democratic power out of the Premier’s Office and back into cabinet, our MLAs and ultimately ourselves as citizens, voter turnout will continue to decline and deservedly so.
Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who can be reached via his website at http://www.bclobbyist.com/ or on twitter at bclobbyist