What do you think of the B.C. Green Party, with just three seats in B.C.’s 87-seat legislature, holding a gun to the head of the New Democratic Party to prevent it caving in to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain project; while most British Columbians support it?
Closer to home, exactly what is the benefit to our province of our three main political parties taking turns in governing, all at great expense, while accomplishing few substantive changes in policies and outcomes?
How about the U.K. Conservative Party, hoping to shore-up it’s political support, taking a risk with the “Brexit” referendum – and the mess that resulted?
And finally, do you think that either of the current U.S. Republican and Democratic parties have the moral authority to govern that country, while they have abandoned their ideological principles and stood by while the democratic process in their country is corrupted by Trump and his followers?
Over three years ago I wrote a piece for this column entitled “Are political parties worth the trouble?” arguing that the political party system common in the civilised world stands in the way of truly democratic government.
It was greeted with stony silence, as was a later follow-up article, and I was beginning to doubt if there was any kind of support for this viewpoint; then it came out of the blue a few weeks ago, in a letter to the editor of the P.E.I. Guardian, written by no less than the Hon. James Aylward, Leader of the Official Opposition and Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I.
His letter was entitled “Time to rock the cradle”; a play on P.E.I. being the Cradle of Confederation and suggesting that P.E.I. could also be the cradle of change among the 10 provinces for more effective government; and that maybe it was time to rock the cradle by considering a “consensus government” with no role for political parties to play. In fact, political parties would cease to exist, replaced by a legislature made up exclusively of elected independents representing their respective constituencies.
James Aylward boldly described what his vision of consensus government would look like. “Each MLA would be elected on an individual, independent, candidate basis. No party platforms, no party signs, no party advertising, no premiers selected by a party, no focus on politics over policy, no backbenchers, no formal opposition. Just good people elected by each district working to provide good government.”
His intention was that your elected representative could not be relegated to an “opposition” role, because there would be no such thing, and he or she would have the opportunity to play a full and active role in decisions made in the legislature.
While you consider this very different scenario, recognise that though the political party model in Canada seems so entrenched, history tells us that it was not always this way in western democracies.
For hundreds of years the British parliament carried on its business in the absence of political parties contesting for power. Members were elected from the various boroughs and went about their business in parliament furthering the interests of their electorate.
In the late 1700s the first political factions emerged; the Whigs and the Tories, who saw parliament as a means to further their specific causes. The Whigs were basically anti-monarchy, and the Tories argued for a strong monarchy to fight off any republican tendencies in parliament. Over time a “party” model developed with parties becoming identified with particular ideologies such as liberalism and conservatism, and populated by cadres of followers, often out for their own selfish ends.
Thankfully, we have non-partisan arrangements of government at the municipal level across the land. Councillors, with no official political affiliation, represent the interests of their citizens, and important decisions are made without the rough and tumble of partisan politics.
Nunavut, Canada’s newest territory, was established in 1999 and it deliberately opted for an elected assembly void of political parties, with decisions of the legislature being consensus-based. And the premier of Nunavut is now routinely chosen by democratically elected members of the legislative assembly, not by party members whose sole qualification is having paid their party membership dues.
So ask yourself, as you observe our political scene going forward, if we would be better served in our legislature by representatives answerable to their electorate, as opposed to those complying with party dictates.
Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and
worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at email@example.com.