Editorial: In hopes of a minority government

Trent Ernst, Editor

Current polls show that, if the election were held today, the BC NDP would form a minority government, winning 39 seats.

There are 56 seats remaining. The Liberals would form the opposition, with 27 seats, with the green party winning an astounding 16 seats and the Conservative party getting 13.

If the Liberals and the conservatives were to combine forces, they could outvote the NDP, with 40 votes to the NDP’s 39. If the Green Party were to combine forces with the Liberals, they would create a voting block that would mean the NDP would have to work with the Conservatives to outvote.

Of course, this is all freaky election math, and the numbers we see on paper don’t necessarily translate into bums on seats, but it is looking for all the world like we are heading into a minority government, and I for one couldn’t be happier.

Canada hasn’t had much luck with minorities, but that’s because we haven’t had much experience, and the old ways of operating just don’t apply. Canadian politicians don’t understand how to compromise, because there’s never been a need to.

Minority governments are viewed by politicians as times to plot, to strategies, to maneuver into a position of power for the next election, when they should be looked at as a time where the real work of government happens. Where discussion and dialogue between different ideologies isn’t just political rhetoric, ultimately meaningless because, when push comes to shove, 50 percent plus one wins, every time. Instead, it could be a time where politicians and the public can engage in real, meaningful discussion and figure out how to move forward together.

It wouldn’t, surprisingly, be the first time. In the mid-1960s, there were three federal minority governments in a row. While our collective cultural memory can hardly remember who was in power ten years ago, it was a time where an awful lot of things that we now take as being fundamental to who we are as Canadians got done.

From 1963 to 1968, the Liberals held a minority government under Lester B. Pearson. They worked with the NDP under Tommy Douglas, and in those few years, Canada saw the birth of universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Canadian flag, royal commissions on the status of women and on bilingualism and biculturalism, the Auto Pact and what was arguably the world’s first “race-free” immigration system, which eliminated criteria based on race or ethnicity in favour of a points system.

So much for the myth of ineffective minority government in Canada.

The reason it worked was that both Pearson and Douglas recognized that everyone would benefit by working together. By compromising.

Of course, that was fifty years ago, and the world has changed. The political landscape of Canada has become more partisan. Despite our best efforts to not be America, we keep slipping into two party mentality. The burgeoning BC Conservative party isn’t representing a portion of the population, it is merely splitting the vote.

But this is Canada, and we’re not supposed to break down on a purely left/right political dichotomy, and to structure our political parties along the two party American way is to deny that which makes us uniquely Canadian. We are a people known for being peace-keepers, negotiators, conciliators and yes, even compromisers. That’s not a bad word, you know. To be able to work out our differences in a way that benefits everyone? That’s a good thing.

I was one of the nearly 58 percent of the population that voted in favour of a single transferable vote during the last round of election reforms, and one of the main reasons was that it would encourage minority governments, encourage a political system where people would have to sit down and talk, rather than stand back and yell.

Yes, it would mean that we as a province, as a country, would have to learn how to do politics different, but that’s okay, because I think most people would agree that politics, as they stand right now, is a broken system.

Look at Europe, where minority governments have lead to political parties not just standing up on their sides of the fence and shouting at each other, but where different groups sit down and hash out a solution that works for everyone.

What a novel solution. Rather than one side forcing down its policies, then losing the next election and having the other side come in and force their policies on the public, there are a plurality of viewpoints, and people from all sides sitting down and talking like reasonable, responsible adults.