How 'the system' failed B.C. voters -

How ‘the system’ failed B.C. voters

B.C. is now being ruled by a ramshackle regime beholden to a fringe party. This is not good democracy at work.

British Columbia Premier-designate, NDP Leader John Horgan pauses while speaking outside Government House after meeting with Lt-Gov. Judith Guichon in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, June 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

British Columbia Premier-designate, NDP Leader John Horgan pauses while speaking outside Government House after meeting with Lt-Gov. Judith Guichon in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, June 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Judith Guichon gave British Columbia a new premier last week. She is a woman of such exceeding obscurity provincial journalists were forced to run “who is Judith Guichon?” stories to supplement coverage of her decision.

Guichon is a rancher by trade, they told us. Her current title is Lieutenant-Governor, a job assigned to her by Ottawa in 2012. She possesses no political or legal experience.

The premier Guichon chose was John Horgan, leader of the New Democratic Party of British Columbia—a man who had, in the last provincial election, failed to win either a plurality of seats in the provincial legislature or a plurality of the popular vote.

Horgan was made premier because his New Democrats aligned with the third-place faction in the B.C. legislature, the Greens (which holds only three seats and are thus not officially recognized as a “party”) to vote, by narrow majority, that they had no confidence in the incumbent administration of Liberal premier Christy Clark, who had won both a plurality of seats and the popular vote. Clark submitted her resignation to Guichon and the Lieutenant-Governor appointed Horgan in her place.

With 44 seats in the 87-seat legislature, Premier Horgan will only remain in power by subjecting his legislative caucus to tyrannical control, and drowning the Green leader, Andrew Weaver, in obsequiousness. Since the NDP/Green alliance will have a wafer-thin majority, the only way anything will get done—the sole way Horgan will pass any laws or budgetary measures—will be through the strangled loyalty of his people. There must be absolutely no dissent or objection when something comes to a vote—a unanimous “yes” must be the NDP’s answer to his every ask.

But so too must Horgan prostrate before the Green leader. Over 80 per cent of British Columbians made a conscious choice to not elect Green candidates in the last election, yet Weaver expects his platform will be thoroughly implemented by the Horgan administration. Weaver’s most ardent partnership preconditions consisted largely of demands to permanently strengthen and entrench the power of his small party—official status in the legislature, a ban on corporate and union party donations (assumed to weaken his competitors), and a new electoral system biased towards small parties.

Horgan can afford to do nothing less, for at the first opportunity Clark’s Liberals will do what the NDP just finished doing to her, and pass a vote of no-confidence. This will force B.C. into a new election that will serve no purpose other than scolding the electorate for voting badly the last time around. The voters, they say, are never wrong, but British Columbians can be excused for thinking they made some grievous error given what a logistical mess their government will be.

This is the reality of B.C. politics at present: rule by a premier most voters did not elect, subordinate to the whims of a fringe three-man party an even larger number of voters did not elect, installed in power by a woman no voters elected at all. This preposterous outcome, writes David Moscrop on this site, is proof “the system worked.”

Canadian political scientists like Moscrop expect us to chirp a grateful “isn’t that nice” at any convoluted outcome our parliamentary regime produces, but rarely do their conclusions begin from a place of principle, and judge upwards from there. Instead, they tend to fetishize the system that already exists, lecturing about conventions and precedents, then attempt to rationalize principle from the top down (if at all).

As British Columbians begin life under the rule of a truly ramshackle regime, our thoughts should focus less on celebrating the flowchart of rules that produced this result, and more on whether we’d ever devise a democracy that works this way if forced to start from scratch.

Unless you’re living in the midst of a civil war, every system of government on earth “works,” in the modest sense of the word. Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy “works” just as well as the Swiss Confederation, in the sense both provide their citizens with a stable political system operating according to clear procedures and protocols. Yet many would argue Saudi Arabia’s stable system of hereditary dictatorship is not a terribly moral system of government, and others would say Switzerland’s system of extreme devolution—in which citizens vote directly on many important matters—isn’t terribly moral either (particularly in B.C. where there has been much debate on the merits of dictating public policy through referenda).

The system of government British Columbia uses—and indeed, Canada itself—is one still largely tethered to the values of Victorian colonialism from which it emerged. It’s a system based on the assumption that democratic government exists primarily as an advisory board to an unelected representative of the British monarch, and that premiers should be more accountable to the legislature and Crown than the voters who bear the brunt of their decisions.

In many other countries with similarly British-derived systems, from India to Ireland to South Africa to Papua New Guinea, the office of the monarch’s representative has either been abolished and replaced with an elected official, or is at least appointed in a relatively democratic fashion. In America, governors are elected separately from legislatures in order to balance each others’ powers. These are systems that have chosen to emphasize principles different from our own, namely direct lines of accountability between voter and ruler.

Given how powerful premiers are, it is vital voters hold the ability to exert meaningful control over who gets the job. It is equally important voters be able to elect community representatives to the legislature able to effectively represent the wishes of their constituencies, which means holding the power to vote freely on bills and budgets without risk of triggering a pointless election. My personal conclusion is that an American-style checks-and-balances system, with separate elections for leader of the government and members of the legislature, is the best method of implementing these values in practice—values which I believe are far closer to the modern British Columbian/Canadian understanding of what democracy is supposed to do than the 19th century assumptions our present system embodies.

Partisanship being what it is, it can be hard to objectively evaluate the flaws of a political system. “Show me someone complaining about process,” a wise politician once said to me, “and I’ll show you someone upset with an outcome.” The polls indicated a majority of British Columbians wanted Christy Clark to leave, which Guichon made happen, but I’m sure plenty would have supported Clark getting overthrown by the army and hurled in prison, too.

When targeted questions are asked about component parts of our current system itself, however—say, would we like to see a directly-elected prime minister, or, do we think it’s right for an unelected figurehead to be making decisions about who should be in charge—Canadians often express opinions that don’t indicate a great degree of reverence for the rules of the status quo. In response, the nation’s political scientists furrow their brows and declare the country needs more educating (ideally, from themselves), but in a moral democracy public values should play a larger role shaping systems than the other way around.


How ‘the system’ failed B.C. voters

  1. Wow, what shoddy stuff. Either not very familiar with the Parliamentary system (possible) or a political piece loosely wrapped in “opinion” (most likely).

    EIther way, more like this, and no more need to wonder why subscriptions and readership is way down. Tsk tsk.

    • Certainly the notion that parties should always vote en mass i.e. party members should always represent the party rather than their constituents, implied in this article is wrong headed; of course, this is pretty much way party brass sees it: they have even crafted the notion of the ‘free vote’ to lionize the few occasions where members are able to ‘vote their conscience’ or possibly represent the interests of their constituents. We’ve seen majority governments, minority governments and coalition governments and we’re still here!

  2. The system is working pretty much as it should. An NDP-Green alliance results in a pseudo-majority government. This government will last for a while, but will likely fall prior to the next scheduled provincial election. At that point, we BCers get to do it again.

    Not being a NDP fan I am hopeful the Greens will keep the NDP honest. Green Party Andrew Weaver has already done this once by vetoing the NDP intention to allow unions to certify without the need for a secret ballot (a move that can not be rationalized as anything other than a sop to unions). I am hoping that when corporate and union party donations are banned (as they should be) Weaver ensures that donations-in-kind are also banned.

    Really, the sky hasn’t fallen, and we’ve already seen this scenario play out once before in Ontario in 1985 when despite the Ontario PCs having a plurality of MPPs, the Ontario Liberal Party formed the government due to an accord with the Ontario NDP. That government lasted 2 years, I believe, and was then followed by a Ontario Liberal majority government. Not a big deal then, not a big deal now.

  3. Is the writer really so woefully ignorant that he does not realize that almost every “majority” government in Canada is one that most of us did not vote for? And that most of us are “represented” by candidates that most of us voted against?

  4. It seems that this author doesn’t have a very good understanding of democracy. It is sometimes a bit untidy and can be messy around the edges but the result that British Columbians now face is very democratic.
    The author needs to study the history of minority and coalition governments over the last 150 years in Canada. While some were troubled, the vast majority were very successful and we can trace some of our most cherished programs to periods of minority governments which led the governing party to compromise. Granted, the plurality of the two parties is razor thin and will require some adept footwork to keep it running. It can be done and I look forward to a period of relative progress from the cooperative effort. Perhaps one or two Liberals can be persuaded to cross the floor and then the numbers game isn’t quite as precarious. Another security measure would be to appoint a Liberal as Speaker but that carries risks of its own.

  5. This is a woefully dramatic and inaccurate representation of what has just happened in BC. I’m delighted some of the other commentators have explained exactly why. Get your facts straight Maclean’s. This is very shoddy journalism.

    • “My personal conclusion is that an American-style checks-and-balances system, with separate elections for leader of the government and members of the legislature, is the best method of implementing these values in practice”

      This system in my opinion has just elected the worst President in U.S. History. So much for Checks and Balances. Plus the difference between those that voted, Was Liberals have 40.36 percent of the votes, compared to 40.27 percent for the NDP. .09 Differance. While the Green party increased 16.84 percent of the popular vote Just about 2X’s more then the previous election. So it’s just, that the Greens are in Coalition with the NDP.

      Personally I’m very Happy to have a minority government has this will keep all our MLA’s working for the people they represent.

      • Wow .. what a bunch of UN-educated whining… by someone who has no clue about the Democratic Process ….. but feels the need to write this ridiculous article ,hoping to vent his emotional disappointment of the loss of a non-confidence vote… one need only look as far as who owns Maclean’s Ragazine..!! in order to flush out Liberal Donation elitist’s,and corrupt Journalism..!! it is a sad day indeed,when the political process fails the needs of the voters..!! in order to gain party funding from Corporate Con’s looking for an easy,sleazy dirty handed Contract…Disgusting to say the very least,Macleans Ragazine needs to be permanently hung on the wall (in the out house ) and used where the sun never shines..

  6. This is the worst written article I have ever read from MACLEANS. Sadly disappointed and not impressed. Obviously the writer knows nothing about BC politics or is very biased.

    • Totally agree Amanda. The author clearly doesn’t understand our system of government, or prefers to fall back on his political biases. If anything, Horgan and Weaver have a way higher proportion of the popular vote than usual compared to the BC-un-Liberals; around 57% compared to 40% for the latter.

      Given that former premier Clark stole much of the NDP’s and Green’s platforms for her Thrown Speech, her party shouuld have a difficult time voting down legislation proposed by the GreeNDP coalition; if of course they have any integrity or honesty, which is unlikely. Give this new government a chance, and just maybe we will be pleasantly surprised!

  7. Absolutely nailed it. Many are now regretting their vote and many will certainly ensure they don’t make the same mistake when the next election is called (which will hopefully be within the next few months). This coalition is a joke with neither Horgan or Weaver able to keep this Province moving forward and economically viable. The system absolutely failed.

  8. The system worked just the way it’s supposed to, and Guichon reached the correct decision after much consultation (not that I necessarily support the NDP/Green alliance, but given the evidence she needed to give them a chance). She accurately read the mood of the electorate, which is that it did not want another election so soon after the last one. It also would have been a summer election, meaning a lot of people would be away, and would have meant a continued lack of government for many more weeks. At least now we can get a government into place and see how it does.

    As for pieces explaining who Judith Guichon is: she is certainly well-known in B.C. as the Lieutenant-Governor; the pieces I saw were more about the office and powers of the L-G, since not everyone is a constitutional expert.

    As for the system of government that we have in Canada: it reminds me of the quote often attributed to Winston Churchill: ‘Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’

  9. I agree with many of the other comments here that this author seems ignorant of how the Westminister parliamentary system works and that this is definitely an opinion peice and not a news article.

    The point that I would like to make is this: between the NDP and the Green party they received over 56% of the vote. It is rare (I cannot think of an example) that a majority government has that much support.

  10. The British parliamentary system is far superior to the fatally flawed US system of government. It has left a legacy of democratic government and respect for human rights and the rule of law around the world. Something no other former colonial power, nor the United States has done.

    Yes…sometimes things get messy in a parliamentary system, but they will work themselves out quickly enough.

    The first thing we will see is whether the new NDP Speaker will have any respect to the traditions and conventions of the British parliamentary system, or whether the Speaker and the NDP government will undermine the traditions and conventions to stay in power.

  11. What a crock. Thank God for someone other than a politician or lawyer as Lieutenant-Governor.

    Macleans should print a better quality of political discourse and Mr. McCullough should stick to creating cartoons.

  12. Pardon my language, but this writer is an idiot. What an insult to the good writers at Macleans.

  13. ‘This’ is journalism? One has to assume the author is writing satire because as political comment it makes no sense whatever.