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´╗┐For some reason one of the main arguments against some form of proportional representation is that it invariably means minority governments and often means that it takes a long time to form a government after an election as parties negotiate towards a coalition. This fear is unjustified.

Let’s deal with minority governments first.

What’s the matter with having a situation where the premier and cabinet must have their legislation tested by the entire legislature instead of, as now, where the government tables the legislation, goes through formal “debates” which are not debates at all, before cramming it through? There is a great myth abroad that we have debates in the Legislature. We have no such thing – at least we certainly didn’t have any the five years I was there.

When the bill is tabled, it may or not be called for “debate” depending on the government’s wish. When the government does call a debate there is a period where the opposition, limited to 20 minutes per speaker, can say what it doesn’t like about it in principle. Most of the time the government doesn’t bother to put up more than one or two speakers. The opposition can nominate one speaker who speaks without time limit which is the time the “poor” designated speaker battles the evil forces until exhausted. If the government gets tired of listening, it brings in closure and that ends it.

When the Bill is referred to Committee this means that MLAs can argue about the wording of the bill, not the principle which just got settled. Usually the opposition tries to continue debate on principle in order to attract media attention. These days that doesn’t work because the media is so far up Campbell’s etc etc it won’t report anything less than the Opposition leader committing hara kiri on the floor.

The bill then goes to final reading which, of course, the government wins but even then it doesn’t pass into legislation until the Lieutenant-governor signs it and in most cases even that isn’t the end because the government will usually retain the option of having it proclaimed when the premier feels like it.

If debate means making arguments in the hopes of persuading someone else to agree with you, nothing approaching debate happens. In fact, here is the reality – MLAs have no power to do anything except what they’re told.

This changes with minority governments where the government must really have to get approval of the MLAs. This isn’t to say that deals are not made and the power to overthrow a minority government always depends upon the ability of opposition parties to go to an election. What it does, however, is force the government to be very careful what legislation and policy it brings forward and it also forces them to listen to all MLAs.

What about the time it often takes, under proportional representation, to cobble together a coalition? Doesn’t that mean that the province is without a government for that time?

That’s what proponents of the First Past the Post supporters would have you believe. But it’s nonsense. The government carries on, bills are paid, laws enforced and so on.

The choice is really between democracy and a four year dictatorship. I would put this to you – had there been a minority NDP government there would never have been a fast ferries debacle; had there been a minority Campbell government there would still be a moratorium on fish farms, BC Rail would never have been, effectively, sold and BC Hydro would not have been forced to pay private companies twice the going rate for power they did not need.

Of course there are drawbacks with minority governments or coalitions. People will bitch about bad government and so on with the same fervor they do now. The difference is this – people will have a direct say in government because their MLA is much freer to speak and act on their behalf.

That, in itself, ought to be enough for British Columbia to again embrace the idea of radical change in how they govern themselves.

5 Responses to “From Rafe’s Desk: Minority governments”

  1. Jeff Taylor says:

    Mostly agreed Rafe. However, I wonder if the people of Southern Ontario are thinking the same thing when it comes to the federal Conservative Party’s minority Govt being kept in check when they TOLD Toronto that the G20 would be held in their city ?

  2. Kim says:

    Good point, Jeff, but if I understand correctly, with PR there are more independants and a tendancy towards more parties. As things stand in Ottawa, if I may, the leader of the opposition has effectively chosen to support (unspoken coalition?) the government just to the point of not triggering an election, by whipping votes and controlling his caucus attendance to vote. The only explanation I can think of is Mr. Ignatieff wants the power structure to remain in the PMO when he ascends the throne, so that he may continue the appearance of democracy while continueing to advance the corporate globalist agenda. Even as I write this, I think to myself how easy it is to see as a crazy conspiracy theory. The perplexing thing is when it is also the truth. I think that in a system of proportional representation, they could not whip the vote of their members, which, in theory at least, suggests that MPs or MLAs would be freer to vote in the interests of thier actual constituents.

  3. Jeff Taylor says:

    Hi Kim, I mostly agree with what you say, EXCEPT for Mr. Ignatieff “ascending the throne”. I just don’t want to believe that no matter how bad the Conservatives are, and how distrusted the NDP are, that Canadians will be so stupid as to actually vote for the federal Liberal Party with Ignatieff running their show. I think it would be called a ‘Gong Show’.

  4. Kim says:

    But where does that leave us currently with the first past the post system of voting? With a gong show. People seem to have been effectively drawn into this tennis match between two parties, which inevitabley turns into knee-jerk reactionary voting. Status Quo is maintained and the corporate agenda is furthered, we are stuck in a rut we have been in since the ’70’s. And it’s global. The thing with abuse is, if the powers that be manage to convince the majority that a few bad outcomes are random accidents, when the reality is that the abuse is systemic and widespread.

  5. Joe Boulter says:

    I don’t think it matters whether we elect people by PR, STV or stay with first past the post. The problem isn’t how we elect people, the problem is the system which demands blind loyalty to a leader and punishes anyone who dares to speak out or musters enough courage to go so far as voting against the party line. Debates in the legilature are nothing more than theatre designed to give the illusion of democracy. The people we elect don’t represent us, their job is to serve, support and defend the party leader no matter what we say or do. Gordon Campbell has pushed the envelope so far with the HST that the precious little democracy we have in this country has been further eroded away. The premier is just one of 85 MLA’s yet he/she rules the entire province. In a country that calls itself a democracy no one person should be entrusted with this much power. The system is the problem and is in need of a major overhaul. Don’t look for any government to promote change, it’ll take a grass roots movement to get it going. For starters, anyone wishing to be premier should run at large.

    Some years ago Rafe wrote a paper on the subject of reforming the system in which one of his proposals was that the executive branch of government and the legislative branch of government be separated. If he could republish this paper it would be well worth reading and could become a starting point for reform.

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