Changing government, and changing the way we change government

In a vibrant democracy, people should change their government on a regular basis. In B.C. in 2017 it would be timely, as well, to change the way we change our government.

It is time for B.C. to abandon the two party system and embrace the multi-party system.

Consider, first, the inertia of momentum that the two party system enjoys in the current campaign. For example, with a week to go until election day, we are seeing the idea of “strategic voting” hauled out and dusted off once again. The strategic voting proposition is one of the mainstays of the two party system.

Basically, the strategic voting proposition is that voters in each constituency should coalesce around the one candidate most likely to defeat the incumbent member of the governing party (the Liberals in the current B.C. election) and coalesce around the representative of the Official Opposition Party (the N.D.P. in the current B.C. election) everywhere else. The problem is that the effectiveness of strategic voting depends upon a strong, and ultimately reliable, consensus about which candidate to coalesce around. Historically, strategic voting has depended upon polling results and a dependable campaign trajectory for all parties and candidates. Neither requirement holds true any more. First, there are no poll results available to the public that have a high degree of confidence at the constituency level. Second, the campaign is volatile, and upstarts are appearing from constituency to constituency while stalwarts are falling back. In such circumstances, the advocates of strategic voting are actually shilling for a party at the provincial level (where polls still have some sway), rather than promoting a focus on the individual constituency. Basically, the proponents of strategic voting 2.0 are saying that if a citizen wants to see a new government s/he must vote for the second dominant party – in this case, the N.D.P. – even if they have to hold their nose while doing so.

The power proposition of the two party system is “power over” or “zero sum game”. The power proposition of the two party system is that only the big can beat the big; or, the only way to reduce the power of the Liberal Party is to remove their power entirely, and on a (more or less) consolidated basis, transfer it to the next largest party.

The problem is, the long-standing power proposition is obsolete and should not be maintained through another election cycle. The emerging power proposition is “power with” and “generative power”. The emerging power proposition is not consistent with the two party system.

As someone who sat in government for 15 years, and around the Cabinet table for 7, with a party that enjoyed very large majorities, I would urge British Columbians to grasp the golden opportunity of a coalition or minority government.

Having been a very partisan Progressive Conservative for 29 years (in another province), I find myself in the still (even after four years) unusual position of supporting the Green Party of B.C. (Why they have my support may be the topic of another post.)

I do believe that B.C. needs to change its government. Yet, if the people change one majority government for another, the same abuses of power will eventually and surely emerge with the new government, because a majority government enjoys absolute power and the freedom to operate behind closed doors (what pundits call an elected dictatorship). As Lord Acton famously said: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

The best thing that could happen in B.C. right now would be to have the election lead to a minority or coalition government. I would be happy to see excellent candidates elected, regardless of party, and I expect that Green candidates would do well on that basis. I would be happy to see the negotiation of priorities and policies carried on under the quasi-public eye of the media, rather than in the absolutely secret confines of one party’s caucus. I would be happy to see a “new person” at the table, with ideas about new ways of doing politics, practicing servant leadership and focusing on investments rather than costs. I would be happy to see the emergence of a culture of “power with” rather than “power over”. I would be happy to see a government that served with a sense of constraint rather than with a sense of being completely unconstrained until 6 months before the next election. I would be happy to see a government for which collaboration was an imperative and a benefit rather than a throw-away and a sign of weakness.

I would expect the Green Party to be a generative force in such a situation. B.C. would be well-served.

1 Comment

  1. I concur. I’m voting Green and hoping that there will be a minority government with the Greens holding the balance of power. Right now several of the Green candidates look really good to me. And I’m aware, that may also be because they are in a honeymoon phase and have never been tested with parliamentary power.
    I would like to see “first past the post” changed, but I just don’t see the popular support needed in order to change the system. I have the sense most people will not take the time to try to understand the alternatives.

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