The Death of Governing Whiplash
Imagine legislators working together for long-lasting priorities
By Pat Carl
The other day, I stopped by the grocery store to buy a few things. I took a chance and stood in the express line which also sells lottery tickets. Sometimes the line can move really quickly, but, at other times, because of the lottery tickets, the line can slow down to a crawl.
In this particular case, an older woman, older than me anyway, was cashing in her lottery tickets. The clerk handed her a couple of tens and then five twenties. Although the woman was a winner, I wondered how much she had lost over the years compared to how much she had won.
My father also played the lotteries. I quizzed my mother about that, since she was very tight-fisted in her spending habits, and she said, “Your father is a bit foolish about money. It’s a good thing I’m not.”
I’m like my mother when it comes to the uses of my money, especially my tax dollars. On the one hand, I believe the federal and provincial governments should be spending money to support social programs like housing initiatives and public education, or spending sufficient dollars to keep Canada’s military well fitted with updated equipment and its people well-trained, or spending adequate dollars to maintain infrastructure and to support technological and industrial innovation.
On the other hand, I am a fiscal conservative. I firmly believe that if I can balance my cheque book, make smart investments, and save wisely instead of spending unnecessarily, then so can governments, both federal and provincial.
I know what you’re going to say: It ain’t as simple as that, Pat.
To my way of thinking though, the main reason it ain’t that simple is because, in Canada, we have two dominant federal parties – the Conservatives and the Liberals – each with different legislative priorities and different spending policies. Sadly, neither of these parties, when in the majority, has a strong incentive to work with the opposition in creating policies with an eye to spending tax dollars with care.
Every so often, Canadians get tired of the legislative priorities and spending policies of one party and throw those guys and gals out of office and replace them with the guys and gals of the other dominant party who often have vastly different legislative priorities and spending policies.
What this type of governance leads to are changes so significant as to make all of us suffer from legislative whiplash which is damned expensive.
And guess who shoulders the burden of that expense? That’s right – the Canadian taxpayer.
Now this governance whiplash doesn’t just happen federally. It also happens provincially. Think of how voters in Ontario recently had enough of Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals and decided to spank them thoroughly and send them to their political room for a time out. In doing so, the voters installed Doug Ford and the Progressive (really?) Conservatives in their place.
Get ready, Ontarians, for a severe case of governing whiplash as the PCs and Ford dismantle many of the legislative priorities and spending policies of the Liberals and replace them with their own legislative priorities and spending policies.
Not only does this put the skids on some legislative initiatives that are halfway through development in Ontario, but it’s going to cost lots of taxpayer dollars to do so. All the work and taxpayer dollars put into developing programs while the Liberals were in the majority are essentially wasted.
Let’s not just point the finger at Ontario. BC is not without sin.
For example, the renovation of Metro Vancouver’s Massey Tunnel, long in the Liberal development pipeline during Christy Clark’s reign in Victoria, is now going through an additional review process under John Horgan’s NDP to the tune of an additional 1 million taxpayer dollars. Legislative priority lurch accompanied by expensive tax dollar spending.
But does it have to be this way? Must provinces and territories as well as the federal government change legislative policies and spending priorities so dramatically and so expensively every election cycle?
I don’t think so.
Imagine, if you will, elected officials from one party cooperating with the elected officials of another party in order to develop long-lasting legislative priorities that stand the test of time.
And then imagine, if you will, how many taxpayer dollars are wisely spent if legislative priorities are developed based on the best ideas from all parties.
Wait! We actually don’t have to imagine that. In Canada, minority governments, which needed to form coalitions with other parties in order to govern, came up with quite a number of legislative policies developed with taxpayer dollars wisely spent.
Think Universal Medicare, the Royal Military College, the Canada Pension Plan, Unemployment Insurance, and our own Supreme Court of Canada. These are social reforms and institutions that define us as Canadians and have garnered Canada great respect internationally.
Want to ensure the death of governing whiplash in BC? Want to ensure your tax dollars are wisely spent based on policies cooperatively conceived and developed in our Legislative Assembly?
Then vote for electoral reform. Vote for proportional representation in this fall’s BC referendum.
Pat Carl is a member of Fair Vote Comox Valley and contributes to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org