As the May election approaches, I’ve become increasingly aware of the fact that politics, at least the way we appear to be currently practising this art in BC and in Canada, seems to be increasingly negative, partisan, divisive and unhealthy. It also seems that almost every time I hear a politician open his or her mouth, the first thing out is a shot at what the “other guy” is doing wrong – or did wrong, or will do wrong. Truth is, I am rarely able to discern how the current political process actually serves the needs of the citizens vs. the needs or goals of the party. It generally feels like the subtext in most political pronouncements is something about “will this get me/us re-elected?”
As I listen to the increasingly acrimonious comments slung about, I wonder if there could ever be space to exercise the fine art of politics in a healthy, respectful, thoughtful, inclusive and consultative manner that actively and genuinely considers the issues that challenge and concern those of us who support this process through our taxes, our involvement in the democratic process and our participation in the ongoing dialogue that collectively weave together this political experience of social contract.
A couple of days ago, I heard for the first time in my memory, a politician say in public “I screwed up.” Now granted, it was the newly elected President of the United States who so far appears to be immune to the “old way of doing business.” However, when I consider this statement, especially in light of the fact that he ran one of the most positive and clean campaigns in recent history, I begin to hope that there may indeed be another way of “doing business” that could infiltrate our currently dysfunctional political process. I recall when Mr. Harper was asked if he made a mistake in introducing a budget statement that was so profoundly partisan and aggressive that it nearly brought down his minority government, his response was “no.” This capacity for an elected politician to acknowledge a mistake, and the possibility that it could actually someday be stated by a Canadian politician, encourages me to continue to stay engaged in the process as a voter, a commentator and a contributor.
There is another, profoundly traditional Canadian approach to government that is practised in the Northwest Territories. It’s called Consensus Government. In the NWT, people run for election based on who they are rather than which party they belong to. As the web site of the NWT Legislative Assembly notes:
The Northwest Territories is one of only two federal, provincial or territorial jurisdictions in Canada that operate under the consensus system of government rather than the more familiar system of party politics. Within this system, all Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) are elected as independents in their constituencies.
Elected Members of the Assembly then meet to elect a Premier and six ministers who all hold office at the pleasure of the Assembly. (This ensures political power is not necessarily invested in one individual, but rather in the Assembly itself.) When the Assembly meets to discuss issues and debate motions and legislation, decisions are made based on the consideration that each member gives to the motion. While unanimous agreement is not necessary, members generally accord each other the courtesy of listening and questioning. In the end, although an overall consensus would be welcomed, a simple majority carries the vote. This style of governing is consistent with the way in which First Nations people have traditionally made decisions. It’s representative of a system that has existed for thousands of years and remains relevant and could inform our current combative, partisan and often disrespectful approach to political decision-making. It also removes the positioning, evasiveness, defensiveness and aggression that seem to have infected the current partisan style that ultimately seems so self-serving.
Imagine for a moment, a parliamentary house peopled not by Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats, but rather by non-partisan people elected to represent their communities without the requirements of necessarily adhering to a party line. Imagine a process where debate is respectful and decisions are made after thoughtful, considered and informed evaluation. Imagine that no one political party has all the answers and that considering an opposite view may have merit. Imagine that the source of wisdom is often in the listening rather than the talking.
Perhaps discuss options with those who are running. Write your MLA and ask them about other ways of doing business. Challenge politicians who hold the “party line” without serious consideration of other points of view. Perhaps vote for the person rather than the party. Look at the entire process as an exercise in evolutionary politics. No one approach will be perfect, but we can do better. Explore options.
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