Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Liberal MLAs could have saved Campbell

One of the scariest and saddest revelations in the wake of the Blair Lekstrom resignation is that Liberal MLAs were told the HST was coming two days before the public.
They weren't asked their opinions. The decision was already made.
They were told the new harmonized sales tax was coming, it was the right thing to do and their job was to defend it.
OK, the Liberal MLAs could have spoken up. But they were told about the new tax last July 21, barely two months after the election. And 18 of the 46 MLAs had just been elected a few months earlier and were still feeling their way.
Gordon Campbell told caucus it was a done deal and would the new tax would be announced two days later. Resistance would seem both futile and likely to bring reprisals.
It's insulting. For voters, and for the Liberal MLAs. These are elected representatives from all around the province. They have diverse backgrounds and a lot of experience and achievements. The voters respect them. The theory is that they represent the views of their constituents as the government sets policy.
And as well as being insulting, it's dumb.
James Surowiecki writes a column on business and finance for The New Yorker. He also wrote The Wisdom of Crowds, a fascinating book with the central thesis that the best decisions are reached when people with diverse backgrounds, skills and perspectives are brought together to solve a problem.
Surowiecki cites examples. A lot of very bright NASA people, he notes, were monitoring the space shuttle Columbia after it was damaged on takeoff in 2003. They decided it could return safely; it burned up on re-entry, killing seven people.
But while they were smart, they were also all engineers with similar perspectives and experience. There was no one to bring a different perspective.
Surowiecki also looks at the TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Contestants had to answer questions to win money. They had the chance, if they were uncertain, to call an expert - the most knowledgeable person they knew.
And they could poll the audience, a random group of American game-show fans, and go with their choice of the right answer.
Who was the best bet - the smartest person the contestants knew or a bunch of TV fans?
You can guess the answer. The expert offered the right answer in 65 per cent of questions. The studio audience picked the right answer 91 per cent of the time.
Many people together, with different skills and insights and perspectives, reach the best decisions. (If the process allows them to express those views and encourages discussion and debate.)
That's how our government is supposed to work. Elected representatives - MLAs or MPs - debate policy and make the decisions. Historically, they decide who should be premier or prime minister.
But the HST disaster shows how far we have moved from that traditional model of representative democracy.
The decision was made by a handful of people, who were as much, or more, alike as the NASA engineers.
They deferred to the premier. He had spent nine years surrounded by people telling him how smart he was, which does not encourage critical thinking
The result was disastrous. The tax, which shifts $1.9 billion in taxes from business to families and individuals, might make economic sense. But it has enraged the public.
If Liberal MLAs had been given a real, meaningful chance to talk about the tax, instead of being treated like sheep, the Liberals wouldn't be in such a mess.
The bigger question is why this happens. The people in ridings send their representatives off to Victoria or Ottawa with great hopes.
And they fall silent in the face of party discipline.
We all lose when our representatives are reduced to irrelevancy.
Footnote: The B.C. Rail corruption trial is providing interesting perspective on all this. It appears Campbell sent memos to ensure ministers mentioned his "strong leadership" when they made speeches. Orders to laud the boss don't encourage full and frank debate of his ideas.


DPL said...

Gordo is a control freak who works on the theory that he is always right, and if some heat comes down, he lets others take the blame. A leader really shouldn't operate that way and although the group have followed him blindly for their own perks, one can only believe he has made a few enemies in his own caucus. Now let's see if some of them have the gonads to stand far away from him, and hopefully abandon him. If they don't , some will get dumped by the voters who sent them into the legislature.

Leah said...

IF the HST made "economic sense" I for one wouldn't have signed the Initiative - but it doesn't. Not in the slightest...and the majority of BC'ers now see it for what it is.

As for Campbell and his tactics; those who surround him and keep telling him his robe is a thing of great beauty while he stands naked do no good for themselves...and even less good for him. With those kinds of friends, Campbell doesn't need any more enemies.

Kim said...

There has been a disturbing trend in centralization of power in Canadian politics. Also, centralization of Media ownership. The two go hand in hand. Free speech gets muzzled, FOI requests languish, and PAB Bots take over the internet. The the opposition rests. Where's the democracy in that?

RossK said...

Mr. Willcocks said,

"....Many people together, with different skills and insights and perspectives, reach the best decisions...."

This approach, when done well, may also be one of the ways forward for the 'new' new-media brand of investigatory journalism.

Especially when it comes to combing through masses of open source/publically available material. A good example of this is how Josh Marshall and the denizens of 'Talking Points Memo' sifted through the document dumps associated with the US Attorney Scandals down south.

Locally, albeit to a more limited degree, a number of Lotuslandian Bloggers attempted to do this with a whole bunch of publically available binders of documentary evidence related to something we are no longer allowed to talk about (at least for the moment).


Norman Farrell said...

This is another illustrative example but hardly surprising to anyone observing Canadian politics. It is not new either. Long ago, I was a campaign official with writer Paul St. Pierre when he was elected Liberal MP for Coast Chilcotin. By his own choice, his experiment with politics was short. He was a bright, honest, sincere guy who had little time for people who were not. That meant he couldn't stand Ottawa.

Good people like Paul are driven from politics by the mindless behavior expected of them. Instead, you get too many people seeking status and personal enrichment.

The Liberal backbenchers are treated like mushrooms. They know it but defend the situation, at least publicly. In some ways, it is worse for opposition MLAs who are told they must go through the Liberal's gatekeepers at PAB before they can get routine information from the bureaucracy. In effect, the Government sets up roadblocks to prevent the people's representatives from doing the people's business.

All is made worse by compliant apologists for the powerful who populate the political media. Some reporters are in real conflict of interest positions but the rest of the gallery stays quiet.

At least with politicians, when the citizens collectively grow tired of bad performance, they can be exchanged for others. Given the media ownership, the choice we have is limited to dropping a subscription. Unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

Paul could you do a story on the LOdge on fourth in Ladysmith. Rumor has it many of those new hires are fresh out of school . no kitchen experience. Care aids speak little or no English. One elderly Lady was supposedly sleeping when 3 male care aids came in and started undressing her. They supposedly had to keep her sedated.

Anonymous said...

Norman, this is all just so disheartening.
All of our Liberal MLA's blindly following Campbell and Hansen.
We sent Don McCrae to Victoria to represent HIS Constituants in the Legislature.
My question today is "why".
What was the point?
And yet there are people that wring their hands and cannot fathom why the Voter Turnout is declining, each and every Election.
They cannot or will not..........
In my estimation the last bastion that we the Constituants have is Recall in the Fall.
If that fails, we are doomed.
Gary L.

Anonymous said...


The province was informed of 'issues' two days before the dam in Oliver failed - three days after the dam failed Campbell states that environmental studies take too long and should be shortened.

There is nobody to save the BC Liberals from themselves... Who will save us from them?

Anonymous said...

monkey see monkey do....they sure didn't care about the people of Nelson when they shut down the ICU and cut the surgeons