Tuesday, August 26, 2008

STV and the legislative goon show

Sometimes Gregor Robertson had this slightly dazed expression on his face in the legislature, like someone who has shown up at a party, realizes he's the only sober person in a crowd full of rowdy drunks and isn't sure how long he has to stay.
Carole Taylor had a different look, sitting serenely at her desk with an expression that hinted she wasn't even prepared to acknowledge the party-goers dancing in the koi pond in their droopy underwear.
David Cubberley's look - a half-embarrassed smile - suggested he'd decided to be a good sport about the whole weird business.
All three were keen on being MLAs in 2005, when they were first elected. And barely three years later, they've had enough. None of the three is running again.
That should worry us. It suggests that our style of politics, and in some part the abusive, stupid things that go to often in the legislative chambers, are driving sensible people from the job.
Robertson was billed as a rising NDP star in the 2005 election. A youngish, good-looking, earnest guy who had started a successful wholesome juice business - he was a dream candidate.
But he never made an impact, at least a public one. And it certainly looked like he found the legislature foolishness somewhere between inexplicable and repugnant.
Taylor made much more of an impact as finance minister. She just refused to participate in the foolishness and acted like a serious, courteous person who had an important job to do. And as a result, did it well. But only for one term.
Cubberley, a NDP MLA for the Victoria area, should have thrived in the job. He'd spent years in government on the policy side and more than decade as municipal councillor. But he didn't last either.
All three had good reasons for not running again, as did the other MLAs packing it in.
And there are lots of drawbacks to the work, from long hours to the required adherence to the party line, often dictated without much consultation.
But still, the legislature itself - especially question period - is both part of the problem and a symptom.
It is really appalling most of the time. Shouting, insults, bad questions and worse non-answers. Most days, at least some MLAs act out in ways that get them kicked out of a Grade 6 class. Almost none of them would act in the same way around the kitchen table or at a meeting back in their ridings. It's irritating or embarrassing, depending on the day.
And it's got to be demoralizing for a sensible MLA.
It doesn't have to be such a horror show. In fact, after the 2005 election - perhaps because there were so many new MLAs - the tone wasn't bad for a while. But things deteriorated in time.
Which leads, in a roundabout way, to the referendum, to be held at the same time as next May's provincial election, on changing the way governments are elected in B.C.
This is a repeat of the 2005 referendum. A majority of voters - 58 per cent - wanted to change to a single-transferable-vote system of proportional representation.
But the referendum law required 60-per-cent support. The proposal failed.
Premier Gordon Campbell, to his credit, said that because the results were so close, the public should get another chance to vote on the change in May.
It will take a separate column to look at all aspects of the STV option. But one huge advantage is that candidates' qualities and reputations would become more important. It would not be enough to be a New Democrat in a traditionally left-leaning riding; you would have to be seen as the best representative from several NDP candidates.
And that would mean, I hope, a different kind of legislature - one where the loud and obnoxious no longer felt at home.
Footnote: Some of the enthusiasm for electoral reform might have faded since Campbell launched the project in 2001, after the second straight election that produced wildly unrepresentative results. This time, however, the yes and no sides will both have provincial funding to make their cases.


Bernard said...

It is not too soon to start raising the issue and getting people informed. Thanks for the column


Brenton said...

Interesting. I didn't know that we had another kick at the can in May. Will there be loud campaign this time, do you think?