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 or on twitter at bclobbyist



BC Mary said...

The road ahead—new ideas for governmentBy Patrick Brown
Island Tides newspaper, p.3
May 20, 2009

Two lists—one about principles of government, the other about critical issues for BC in the coming years.

Some critical thinking to remind us of first principles. Recommended reading.

BC Mary said...

... that should be .com, not .ca

G West said...

Thanks for that Bill - the fact you post the critical material is a feather in your cap.

I appreciate it...and I appreciate Michael's perspective too.

I just don't think you're going to get reform when the levers of power (and the emasculation of the legislative body) is the sole prerogative of a government that gains its power in an all or nothing contest.

That's the essential problem and the nub of what Michael says too – although I'm afraid we're dancing around on the head of a pin if we don't address the warts on a system which puts bullies in charge of the equipment of government just because one party gains a plurality of votes in a majority of ridings.

There’s also the big issue of the illegitimacy of today’s so-called experts. If I were looking for a professional consultant I certainly wouldn’t have anyone on my short list with the record of poor management and compromised leadership of the average appointed deputy minister or ADM (in fact, in this government that goes applies even further down the food chain) among the so-called experts behind any of the parties in this province. And, sadly, I could pick some real dogs for my excluded list from advisors to a couple of ministers in the last NDP government too – just so my critics don’t get the idea that I’m only critical of the Campbell Hegemony.

We need to start looking at the fundamentals of the way we do politics, and, we need to stop listening to the experts - they all have feet of clay. And Michael, don’t expect much from Stephen Harper or Michael Ignatieff either.

The voter turnout in this election is about all the evidence I need to mount to buttress that assertion.

Anonymous said...

The issue with the political system in BC is the lack of young people involved. They simply do not care. All the written pieces about using new media to get the young voters out was nothing but bs.

We need more vision, less gotcha journalism and a leader who can connect with the young voters of today.

We need Obama!

G West said...

Sorry, no Obamas on the horizon. I think that's the last thing we need - charisma is never as important as character.

David St. Hubbins said...

The lesson here isn't so much one of political civility or tolerance, but one of non-partisanship. Everyone, regardless of political ideology, becomes a richer, more involved citizen through progressive democratic reform.

Geoghegan makes a seemingly obvious, but no less relevant, point about the need to loosen up the referendum process. So rare they are, so difficult they are to get on a ballot. As such, referenda become something akin to holy privilege, rather than democratic right. This has to change. Democracy should be about greater grassroots power and more options.

I likewise share Mike's doubts about forcing people to vote. This smacks a bit anti-democratic, and it misses the root causes of why apathy exists (currently at an all-time high in BC, says ANgus Reid) in the first place: an outdated, unfair FPTP system which allows the premier absolute power for four years.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike. Your analysis is bang on as always!

Skookum1 said...

"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."

Yeah, I'm among that 65%, but how do you sell that to the federal powers in charge of the Criminal Code. Could it ever be possible for a province to have a different set of criminal laws from the rest of the country? This question applies to more than just legalization, of course.

But your proposal raises the question of what's the NATIONAL level poll say on that; could a national-level referendum work? Or are the more conservative values in other provinces going to be able to override the wishes of a majority of the BC population? Bear in mind, also, that no other province is so affected by the marijuana industry as this one is, or by the impact of the ongoing war against it, and the resulting gang wars....

Similarly, and more intriguingly (and perhaps more successful nationally) would be a referendum bringing in laws that would provide for greater enforcement of breaches of trust?....hmm and/or broken campaign promises, provided that those campaign promises were made in bad taith.

For a while now I've also wondered about something like a primary system, where the party inner-circles are not in charge of their anointed leaders but the public has a say in who would be Premier or Leader of the Opposition. Too American-style for some people, maybe, but it WOULD get more people (hopefully) more interested. Also, a run-off election system like used in Europe, but seat-by-seat, to make sure that an MLA is supported by 50%+1 of a riding's electorate.....

As for the apathy spoken of; no, it's antipathy.

Getting young people involved....hmmm hard to do with a generation raised to be SELF-involved....

DPL said...

Getting different views is always a good thing. People who start to focus on only one way of doing things are talking to themselves. They mean well but nobody else listens. I have four grandkids of voting age, and they vote. In the federal event, one of them tried to vote on one of the islands close to Victoria. The old woman running the show told her she couldn't as it wasn't her riding. Too bad for the old witch trying to do a job she really coudn't handle, and the young woman from our family eared up to her height of about five foot one. She has a degree in history and teaches it. She has a pretty solid background in the voting system. She has travelled outside the country on a few trips so has opinions. Didn't make a fuss just wouldn't leave until she voted. All young people havn't tunded out the election process. so maybe there is hope for us all. I don't beleiev in referednda for Senators, actually I don't believe we need senators, there must be a better way.

Anonymous said...

We no longer have democracy in Canada. We do have a system that should have died with the dodo bird. We did have a chance to change but missed it. Not because the people of B.C.did not want change, but because democracy did not exist, and an unreasonable percentage was used as the bottom line. We did have a referendum to separate our Great nation and the bottom line there was 50 + 1. Further more, we have people, who as individuals, think they are far smarter then 180 + = - of their peers. And these same few convinced a lot of our citizens that we, as citizens of a Nation, are dumber then the Irish, Maltese, Australians, etc.So. now we live with the convict and his henchmen. Thank you - Jo5ey

Anonymous said...

Some really intriguing ideas were expressed in Michaels article. Though I didn't think you could change the laws of senate appointment as he suggested, but for the most part the points he articulated highlight the broken parts of our governance succinctly. I also think that party based politicians determined how to manipulate or perhaps subvert democracy a long time a go. Michael offers us some effective methods of curtailing political parties dubious agendas that have little regard for ensuring the public trust. A good read, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Seems Bill underestimated how upset people are with his tactics. It's not easy to maintain a free speech blog and cordiality at the same time under those circumstances. I think Bill has done the right thing though by drawing the line on acceptable standards. Too bad it has come to this but that's what happens when you push too hard and offer no room for discussion.

DPL said...

Some folks might be upset with Teileman but that's not earth shatterng. I for one am very upset at how the election went but its done. The small article from the Island newspaper mentioned by BC Mary was pretty good with the writer's opinions. If we all had the same opinions on all subjects , we would be living in a stange world. I seem to recall debates exist to bring out different points of view. Some you win ,some you don't. somebody once said that I am totally opposed to your position but will fight to the death to ensure you can have the opinion. so I didn't get the quote right, but that was the idea.

Anonymous said...

Canwest's Stephen Hume denies that the last election was a Canwest Nuremberg Rally.

BS. They coloured stories with the Libs' "strong government" shade. Further, they exploited fear by over-reporting gang violence - little of which touches the general public - to boost support for anti-crime rhetoric, as spewed by Stonewally and Kash Heed. Criticism of Oppal appears spiked. And Heed's $40,000 election handout from West Vancouver's reactionary city council, didn't make it past the blogs. His opponent, Gabriel Yiu, received all negative copy.
Canwest copy appeared somewhat like re-write of Public Affairs Bureau spew.

Hume points out that the NDP won in some Canwest saturated areas. Big deal. The trick was to ride shotgun for the Lib juggernaut in general, and not to focus on individual particular candidates. Hence, the strategic mouthing of the "attack ad" bogie. Where are the Canwest mouthpieces on Harper's smears of Ignatieff? Yah, really impartial and objective.

Canwest-Vancouver suppressed coverage of the Cambie fiasco and Basi-Virk obstructions, because they knew that those issues would kill the Libs in Vancouver.

And who led the media-coup against Glen Clark? Prosecutors knew they had a junk case because Clark had a barter explanation for his conduct, but they didn't want to take media abuse by not joining the lynch mob. Results: the mud-slingers reduced the NDP to 2 seats in the next election.

By the way, Canwest received 2 deferrals of principal payment calls from lenders. They owe $4,000,000,000 and ad revenues have been slashed. It is in their interest to have friendly government parties that advertise in their publications. Leonard Asper has already asked Harper to increase federal advertising. Watch for millions of our tax dollars to fund PAB hagiography for our convict Premier.

Anonymous said...

Putting cabinet appointments to a caucus vote is a radical idea

I love it.

But what would the two Johns (Les and Van Dongen) think?

Anonymous said...

Too bad for Mike Geoghegan, he broke the golden rule (never contradict Gordon) he's soon to be in the unemployment line with everyone else.