Yes, I know there are other burning issues such as pipelines, blockades, and the spend-‘em-if-you-got-‘em ways of the provincial legislature, but should we really be shoving better governance into the back of the drawer?
Is that it? The referendum’s over and now it’s back to the way it was before without a whiff of changing anything? If that’s the case, then we haven’t learned anything.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we re-visit proportional representation. However, if there was one thing that most can agree on it’s that we can certainly improve how government works.
UNBC professor Todd Whitcombe and I disagreed on proportional representation, but we did, and still do, agree that a bigger problem than how we elect MLAs is keeping them accountable once they are in office.
So how can we do that within the current electoral system.
The illustrious CFIS Community Radio political panel of Whitcombe, Tracy Calogheros, host Nathan Giede (sometimes Allan Wishart), and myself, did make a few suggestions a couple of weeks ago.
Whitcombe put forward the idea of staggered elections (no, not because of the truckload of booze smuggled out of the legislature).
Why do we have to elect all of our MLAs all at the same time? Why not, for example, have provincial elections every two years and elect half of the legislature in one election and half two years later. We used to do just that for city councillors, only they had two-year terms.
Those opposed will city the high cost of elections and say that it would put MLAs, or at least half of them, in an almost constant campaign mode. Actually, we seem to be doing that now.
For me, I’ve always been a fan of democracy so, as far as I’m concerned, more opportunities for the electorate to have an impact on government, the better.
The down side is that the government could change every two years. The upside is that the electorate would have the opportunity to change the government every two years.
It would make governments more accountable to the electorate who put them there.
Another suggestion that our radio brain-trust came up with was changing how we make up cabinet, which is where the real power in government lies.
Calogheros suggested that perhaps cabinet members don’t always have to come from the party in power. There is no rule or legislation stipulating where cabinet members have to come from. In fact, Prime Minister Jean Chretien appointed an environment minister who wasn’t even an MP. His name? Stephane Dion. Dion, of course, was eventually elected and, for a time, was even party leader.
I took the idea a step further and suggested that if we can’t have proportional representation in the legislature, why not have it in cabinet?
I can hear howls of derision now, but why not? The argument, of course, is that there is the little issue of cabinet confidentiality etc. However, all cabinet ministers would take the same oath. It would still apply.
And, yes, I’m probably still a naive purist. I still believe that once an MLA is elected they work for the province, not their party. Sadly, the party comes first for too many.
There are a million reasons why it could be disastrous but it would force politicians, from all parties, to work together in a meaningful way to run the province.
Even though proportional representation isn’t in the cards for British Columbia, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at innovative ways to make the legislature more accountable and more representative.