Modest proposals for good governance in B.C.

Integrity BC executive director offers some governing advice to B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

By Dermod Travis

To the victor goes the spoils, cheered New York Senator William Marcy on news of the victory of Andrew Jackson to the White House in 1828. Marcy wasn’t kidding. After Jackson assumed power close to 10 per cent of government officials were fired and replaced with candidates loyal to the new president.

Yet, despite Senator Marcy’s zeal, there’s still something to be said for magnanimity in victory. A point particularly true in B.C., where a single political formation (in one incarnation or another) has governed the province for nearly five of the last six decades. A streak to which the B.C. Liberal party will now tack on four more years.

Because of this lopsided advantage, the real test facing Premier Christy Clark shouldn’t be over how she divvies up the goodies, but instead how she rises above that time-honoured practice to exhibit the political leadership required for the greater good of the province.

The same leadership Clark showed when she established the office of the auditor general for local government in the face of considerable reticence from some of those same local governments.

This Friday, Premier Clark will present her new cabinet. As is customary, ministers will receive their marching orders.

There will be the obvious “to do” tasks: LNG plants, 10-year labour deals with the BCTF, and replacing the Massey Tunnel. But in the wake of the election, Premier Clark is also in a position to cherry-pick some of the very best ideas from other parties and cherry-pick she should.

According to an Ipsos Reid exit poll poll of 1,400 British Columbians, the top issue influencing voters was open and honest government. On this issue voters chose the BC NDP by a 10 per cent margin (47 to 37 per cent).

The fourth issue was trust in a particular leader or party. The Liberals lost those voters by five per cent.

It’s easy for political operatives to sweep such inconvenient truths under the rug when they’ve just pulled-off a miracle, but Liberals do need to take note: they’ve lost the trust of a significant block of voters.

One of the contributing factors to that distrust is a lack of transparency and accountability in government, which is why it’s never too late to say “we get it,” particularly on those issues that go to the heart of how government functions and how our democratic system operates.

Fixing B.C.’s democratic deficit starts with restoring the true role of MLAs. British Columbians need to know they have a voice in Victoria on the issues that affect them in their daily lives.

Yet, MLAs can rarely speak up for those who elected them if their words run counter to their party’s position. There are no free votes in the legislature. According to journalist Sean Holman, from May 2001 to April 2012, 99.75 per cent of all the votes cast in the legislature toed the party line.

MLAs also need to lead from the front and not dig in their heels over issues such as pay and the posting of their expenses online.

Taxpayers have a right not just to know the numbers behind the province’s finances, but to have the straight goods on what those numbers will mean in the way of taxes, rate increases and tolls as well.

A government that truly wants to be open doesn’t respond to access to information requests with answers that are too cute by half. What has become known as “oral government” needs to be consigned to the trash bin of bad ideas.

While their reports may sting, public watchdogs are supposed to have some bite which is why their roles need to be respected and their offices given the necessary budgets to do the job.

Whistleblower protection for public sector employees is long overdue in B.C.

And then there’s electoral finance reform. It’s time to cleanse B.C. politics of what one political observer called “the sewer scents,” by finally banning corporate and union donations to political parties.

B.C. has been on the cutting edge of democratic reforms in the past: fixed-date elections, recalls and citizen inspired initiatives. There’s no reason it can’t continue on this path.

Since politics is often about comfort zones, what should make these ideas all the more appealing is that each is a position already staked out by Alberta’s right-wing Wildrose Alliance.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBCinte


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