Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What do you want the opposition to the NDP government to look like?

It is clear that the NDP will win a large majority.   All the serious projections I am seeing out there are calling for the NDP to win between 60 and 70 seats in the legislature.   This means 70% to 82% of the MLAs will be from the NDP.

The long term nature of the NDP is for all decisions to be made in private and then there to be 100% caucus solidarity in public.   The NDP has always been opposed to the idea of allowing free votes.   What this means is that no one in the media or public will know if any NDP MLAs are speaking out against what the government is doing.  We will have no public voice from the majority of the MLAs.

This means it is very important to think about what the opposition will look like after the election.   Every party says they want to win all the seats, but I do think it will make for a better NDP government if the house has a strong opposition from more than one part of the political spectrum.

Adrian Dix will be a better premier if he has a decent opposition in the house.   Mike Harcourt suffered from the fact the BC Liberals were not ready to be effective official opposition in 1991 and Social Credit just gave up.

In retrospect I think Bill Bennett was a decent premier from 1979 to 1986 because he had a strong NDP opposition in those years.   I think he was his weakest when the NDP opposition was weakest in 1975 to 1979.   I suspect Bennett would have been even better if the BC Legislature had more parties in it.

At the moment the largest non-government caucus is likely to be the BC Liberals.  The BC Liberals are likely to elect between 10 and 20 MLAs but I suspect a number of their MLAs will retire specifically:

  • Ralph Sultan in West Vancouver Capilano - he has been there since 1996 and is 80.   He is still working hard at 80, but I have trouble seeing him going for a sixth term.   
  • Linda Reid in Richmond East - She is the Dean of the house at the moment as the longest serving MLA.   She has been an MLA for 22 years now. 
  • Gordon Hogg in Surrey White Rock - he has been an MLA since 1997 which means he will reach 20 years in office by the time of the next election and that marks 40 years of local or provincial elected service for him. 
  • Rich Coleman in Fort Langley Aldergrove - An MLA since 1996.   Does he have the drive and desire to rebuild the centre right?

That is only four but there might be more if they discover being in opposition is not much fun and the prospects of rebuilding the centre right may take longer than people thought.  The NDP saw this in the 1979 and 1983 election when a number of their long term sitting MLAs retired instead of running again.

The Liberals MLAs have a new role as opposition members to take on, some of them will be able to do it well, others will not really be oriented to taking on this role.  When the NDP came back with a caucus in 2005 it took several years before the party found it's feet and started to be an effective opposition.

I am not convinced the BC Liberals will be able to offer a strong and well thought out opposition to the government in the coming term of the Legislature.   I honestly expect them to spend more time in the next four years on the defensive about the last couple of years as government than holding the NDP to account.

The very idea of who and what the BC Liberals are needs to be clearly laid out but this will take time.   If this work is not done they may be like Social Credit was after the 1991 election.

The Liberals are not going to be the only opposition after the election, we are likely to see the election of four independents.    Quick disclosure, I have done contract work for Bob Simpson in the past year.

We saw to some degree the way the independents in the BC legislature were able to make a difference to the issues under discussion in the province.  They also served to give voice to people that were not heard in the BC legislature on a regular basis.   The problem with the independents will always be that they are individuals and some of them will do well and others may not.   Being an MLA is a much harder job than being a party MLA because you need to be on the ball all the time.

I think the four independents will offer an interesting new dynamic to the legislature that we have never seen before.

This then leaves us the Greens and the Conservatives.  Next disclosure, I am volunteering for the BC Greens in this election.

The Greens have the potential to elect up to three people in this election.  This would not be enough to have party status in the Legislature, but party status in BC does not bring you much more in resources. The Speaker has a lot of lee-way in what resources any MLA or party gets in the House.

Can three MLAs from a party make difference?   Yes, if they can figure out how to make use of the tools available to MLAs.   Elizabeth May has shown that a single MP in Ottawa can have a measurable impact on the political scene.  The one advantage a caucus of three Greens MLAs would have over the four independents is a formalized cooperation and sharing of resources.  They would also have the backing of a party to make it easier to make points about issues.

BC would be well served to have several Greens elected to have an opposition that wants to be a constructive watchdog of the government.

I am not currently convinced the BC Conservatives have much chance of winning a seat, but I do think there is an outside chance that Scott Anderson in Vernon Monashee or Mike McLoughlin in Kelowna Mission could win.   Even if a couple of them do manage to win I am not convinced that the BC Conservatives would much of an opposition force because the party has been so disorganized for so long.  

If the BC Conservatives were to elect any MLAs, I would expect them to eventually find common cause with some of the remaining BC Liberals and try to create some sort of new free enterprise party.  

Good governance in BC after the election requires a good opposition.   If the issue good governance matters to you, think about how you can vote to ensure it happens.


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