Do you know when the B.C. legislature or the federal parliament is actually in session? Do you follow the goings-on in those institutions?
I suspect most British Columbians (and fellow Canadians) fall into the “I don’t care” category. After all, the number of people involved in our political system (involved to the point of actually voting) has been steadily declining for years, so why should anyone expect a larger majority of citizens to pay attention to what their elected representatives are up to?
And that’s too bad, really.
Ignoring our political institutions is risky, as it opens the door to everything from faulty public policies and bad laws to outright corruption.
But what may be feeding this public disengagement with politics is the actions (or non-actions) of the politicians themselves.
And three political leaders in particular have, in recent weeks, contributed to this growing malaise. They are: Prime Minister Stephen Harper, outgoing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and B.C. Premier Christy Clark.
The prime minister especially has whittled away the respect and the power of an elected body. His distaste for parliamentary process is one thing (he’s not the only PM or premier to arrive at that view after being in power for a while), but his insistence on “bundling” all kinds of laws into a single omnibus bill goes well beyond treating parliament like a nuisance that must be tolerated.
Not allowing adequate debate and scrutiny of legislation that can affect so many people in so many ways is not only bad public policy, it’s anti-democratic. Our MPs are elected not just to represent the interests of their constituents, but also to keep in check the power of the state.
By effectively by-passing much of the role of the MPs, the Harper government has chosen to snub the historic role of an elected body.
McGuinty’s actions are no less questionable. He is presiding over a minority government, yet has chosen to use his power to prorogue, or end, the legislative session.
His motivation seems suspect. His government is becoming enmeshed in a potentially messy controversy (if not scandal) over the cancellation of some power plants in the province, and getting rid of the legislature is a neat way to shield himself and his colleagues from some potentially embarrassing questions on an almost daily basis.
All of which brings us to Clark. Her cancellation of the legislature’s fall sitting is not extraordinary in terms of precedent in this province (no party is innocent of shutting down the house when it politically suits them) but it doesn’t make it right.
And she exacerbated her snub of the house by calling the place “sick” and suggested nothing good comes from it, reinforcing in some peoples’ minds no doubt that the legislature is useless.
In all three instances, our leaders have demonstrated an attitude that says our elected representatives and the place they do the peoples’ business are not worthy of their respect or time.
And I can’t help but wonder whether their actions push even more people into the “I don’t care” category when it comes to their take on politics.
Will George Heyman be appointed to cabinet if the NDP wins next spring’s election?
The former union leader and current environmental activist won the party’s nomination in Vancouver-Fairview last weekend, beating out Geoff Meggs, a former Glen Clark aide and current Vancouver city councillor.
If Meggs had won, he would have been a lock to get into cabinet. He worked along side party leader Adrian Dix in the premier’s office in the 1990s, so the two have a natural alliance.
I’m less sure about where Heyman stands with Dix, however. The NDP has not shifted noticeably green since he became leader, although environmental activists such as Heyman have pushed for greener policies.
Geography may also play a role in Heyman’s chances of getting to the cabinet table.
Dix represents a Vancouver riding, and so does MLA Shane Simpson, another likely cabinet minister.
Two other Vancouver MLAs—Spencer Chandra-Herbert and Mable Elmore—are well liked by Dix, and if one of them makes it to cabinet that would mean Heyman would be the fourth minister from Vancouver, which may be one too many.
Of course, he’s going to have to win the seat first. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid holds the riding for the B.C. Liberals right now.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.