BC’s uncomfortable political reality

I noticed this at Bob Mackin’s website and my thoughts match his. So, it is easier to steal Bob’s words than crank out ones of my own that couldn’t be better:

On April 28, Sean Holman screens his new documentary “Whipped: The Secret World of Party Discipline” at 7 p.m. in the Vancouver Public Library’s Alice MacKay Room. Suggested donation is $5.

I saw the premiere at the University of B.C. on April 26 and it is a shocking look at how B.C. is governed. It is a must-see that will cause you to question the state of our democracy (or lack thereof).

It was great to see Holman back in B.C., rousing the rabble like he does so well. This province’s loss is Alberta’s gain. The former Public Eye Online proprietor is an assistant professor of journalism at Mount Royal College in Calgary.

Bob also has details of DOA’s Joe Keithley performing a solo acoustic gig tonight for NDP supporters and again May 3. Check Bob’s website for details, using the link above.

I was also at the UBC screening Thursday. Even though I’ve been a political observer in this province for a very long time, Sean’s video described defects in our parliamentary system worse than imagined. It is astounding that a man now employed in Calgary is the one to say what needs to be said while the dinosaurs of the Legislative Press Gallery just go along, to get along.

I now understand why the sitting government maintains an extravagant pension plan for backbench MLAs; it is not to attract better candidates, it is to ensure the quiet complicity of loyal enablers. All they have to do is sit quietly, pound their desks at the right moments and vote as instructed by leadership. If they don’t do those things…

Whipped is a program every concerned citizen should see. Nothing much will change in the Legislature until we make fundamental alterations of our voting system. Understanding the faults of governance is vital to beginning any meaningful improvement.

Thank you Sean Holman for completing your work. Now, it is time for citizens to begin ours.

Categories: Accountability

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19 replies »

  1. 'Whipped' Trailer: New Doc Explores Secret World of Party Discipline

    Damien Gillis of the Common Sense Canadian wrote:

    “Sean Holman is premiering his new 40-min documentary Whipped in Vancouver and Victoria this week. I worked with Sean as the cinematographer for the project, so I'm not in a position to review the film. But I will say, humbly, that he's done a bang-up job securing unprecedented access to key political figures and coaxing out some truly astonishing confessions about the way our political system really works.

    “Whipped poses some important questions, like why BC has the lowest record of independent votes in the Legislature of pretty much any jurisdiction in the Western world; like how we got to this place where MLAs elected to represent their constituents are invariably far more concerned about sticking to the party line; and what solutions could help bring real democracy back to Victoria.

    “According to Holman, 'For the first time ever, British Columbians will hear what really happens behind the closed doors of the provincial politics – and why some MLAs think it’s wrong…'”


  2. I don't believe distribution arrangements have been disclosed but a few screenings were arranged this week in Vancouver and Victoria. I'll try to find information about future exhibition plans.

    Thursday at UBC, there was a panel of experts on stage and a few former MLAs in the audience. It's difficult to mount those events.


  3. See you there @ VPL. Those interested in wider distribution of this important documentary are encouraged to do a little 'crowd fund raising' to help make it happen.


  4. Finally the veil is being pulled from the process of party discipline, within our “so called” democracy. Admittedly, while not a perfect and balanced system of governance, this “troubling and divisive” control of our elected representatives, by a party system usually controlled by non elected insiders and shadowy backroom figures, is being shown, for what it is.

    The whole issue of lobbying and hidden agenda's can now be explored in light of the “control of voting” within the party structure. Independent scrutiny from an elected member, is silenced and the individual shunned, or “punished by expulsion or non inclusion, if he or she does not tow the “party line”.

    This is “not” democracy, it is simply, a form of dominance and “control” of elected officials. We the public have no real “say” in the matter.

    Kudo's to Sean Holman for opening a door, a very important door, and shedding light onto a subject that has infuriated many of the electorate for years. Control of elected representatives should not be condoned in a modern democracy. We the electorate, elect them to speak for us, not be manipulated by a shadowy group of backroom “party hacks”.


  5. Changing the voting system is a remote possibility; here in BC, pro-rep was defeated twice at referenda, twice as decisively the second time–enough said. Even more remote is constitutional change, which would be required to abrogate the Charter Right to freely associate and assemble as a political party or any other advocacy group of legal intent. The “party system” everybody talks down confuses how parties manage themselves (which is their own legitimate business) with how the sovereign ensures legislation can pass by a majority vote in parliament. In the latter case, the sovereign is concerned with the number, not the partisan affiliation, of parliamentary votes; the confusion arises because the group of Members that commits to voting as a majority block is most often a single party (which of course it doesn't necessarily need to be–a coalition of parties will do as well). Further, a party might kick a Member out its caucus for voting against the party line but it can't kick a Member out of parliament; in short, Members represent their constituents as far as the Constitution, the sovereign and the Speaker are concerned, not a political party. There is no party system mentioned in the Constitution. I haven't seen Holman's doc but I suspect it reveals how what is properly party business (and each party has its own policy about discipline which it may apply as cavalierly as its members will tolerate) is affected at cost to the public, that is, rewards for obedience take the form of public-funded pensions, or punishment for disobedience that might pass over talent for real public service. I can't wait to see the doc.

    But I'm getting sick of all this whips-destroy-democracy stuff, too maudlin by half. Who doesn't understand that when you vote for a party candidate, you're voting for that party's platform? If you want a representative that will “speak his mind” without fear of punishment from the party, don't vote for a party. Every ballot every voter has marked probably listed one or more Independents, who don't have party whips. This is exactly how Val Roddick was elected: no party's platform addressed her constituents' concerns. How effective her lone parliamentary vote is in that regard is debatable but she is free to speak her mind nonetheless. If that's what's important, vote Independent.
    Otherwise recognize parties, whips and all, as associations of people who have obviously formed a consensus view and a plan to achieve it, a worthy task in itself that relieves us from the cost of repeated elections to arrive at the same consensus. It's an efficiency that might dilute passionate oration and debate but one which gets legislation done. To get better party's is up to us, not “the system”. I can see it now: the Whip-less Party right there on the ballot.


  6. Let me add: the problems with party discipline is mostly habitual, not systemic; Instead of protesting the “party system”, an ambiguous and often misappropriated term, we should protest bad parliamentary “party habits”.


  7. Thanks Scotty. Again, a well reasoned and well argued contribution.

    Clearly, there is not an easy answer. Individuals have spent years considering improvements to the existing systems but those changes are not obvious. Holman describes elements of British Parliament operations that seem superior but he was more interested in demonstrating the difference than in recommending a solution for BC.

    I haven't done a review of Canadian provincial parliaments but I have the impression that BC has one of the worst when it comes to limiting the powers of individual members. Might be worthwhile to search the literature for any comparative studies. I'll put that in the pending box.


  8. Getting a bunch of parliamentarians, 85 MLA's in BC and 308 MP's in Ottawa, to agree to anything would be like herding cats.
    Unfortunately it is the power of numbers that rule anything. If anyone reading this has sat in on any kind of meeting, it seems almost everyone has a different opinion on any given topic.
    In the US, if the President, House or Senate leaders want to get votes for any particular agenda they usually end up buying each vote. If a certain Senate or House member needs a project done in his constituency or wants support for a particular piece of legislation, it lets make a deal time if you want my vote.
    In Canada it seems to be shut up and sit down or else. We elect a dictator every 4 or 5 years.
    We need electoral reform but what to replace it with. The Pro-Rep would have been a good start.
    The BC referendum on electoral reform would have been passed the first time if the people in the Kamloops area hadn't caved to the fear mongering from a bunch of xsocreds and neocons along with the bought local media that were foaming at the mouth that we might have a more equitable system.



  9. As long as there are parties there will be party discipline; it matters not what electoral system is used to elect those parties. As long as a government, no matter if it's composed of one party or a coalition, can fall by losing a confidence vote, there will be party whips. Electoral reform does not address party discipline.

    There is no democratic system where laws are passed by minority but there are parliamentary systems, like the American Congress, where governments don't fall if a bill fails to pass. If for some reason we'd prefer changing our Westminster system, presumably to avoid confidence votes in order to get rid of those dastardly whips, it would take a Constitutional Amendment…so it better be a pretty good reason–Amendments are almost impossible to achieve.

    What we need is parliamentary procedure reform, party habit reform and electorate education.


  10. I think you mean Viki Huntington, in Delta South. Val Roddick was a Liberal MLA who did absolutely nothing in her tenure, except take credit for others hard work.

    I have no great hopes for the NDP, as they are mostly puppets of the old guard and will make every mistake they did in the 90's. One has only to look at Vision Vancouver, to see how the NDP will rule.

    At best, the NDP will be a one term wonder, as their blunders will once again send them to the opposition.


  11. Great post Scotty. Anyone else see the hypocrisy of the Green Party over their stance on this? They claim they won't whip their vote, yet they have a platform like every other Party. They all campaign on the same talking points which suggests that they are all aligned from the higher messaging given to them by the Party brass, Elizabeth May. I'm waiting for the Greens to disassemble to all run as independents and put their money where their mouth is.


  12. Thanks for the correction, Evil. Wish I could cheer you up about the NDP but you're stuck in that 90s-disaster myth. I expect Dix's government will be a good one; there are no real reasons why it won't and, thanks to the BC Liberals, at least a hundred why it will.


  13. It is called the Broadway SkyTrain subway, if Dix can resist Harcourt and Meggs, i may rethink my position, but from my sources, it is almost a done deal.

    In the 90's a lot of people (a lot more than on would think) worked hard on the Broadway-Lougheed transit project, only to be torpedoed by McPhail, Stewart and other NDP insiders. What we got was the Millennium Line, which did absolutely nothing in alleviating congestion in the region. Think 2001 and a 2 seat rump in opposition.

    The Evergreen line is the bastard child of the Millennium Line and again will do little to alleviate congestion.

    According to Metro Vancouver the mode share for car drivers have remained at 57% for the past 19 years, despite well over $8 billion have been spent on three metro lines!!

    Vancouver's Broadway subway will bankrupt the region and may split the region into two parts North?south of the Fraser River. If this happens, it will be disastrous for the NDP and fertile ground for a Socred like “free enterprise” coalition.


  14. There's no greater whip than Harper, acting through his agent, Gordon O'Connor. There is no more fanatical control freak than our present PM. And I thought Chretien was bad!?


  15. That's why they need a majority before they start using the backroom boy's, wouldn't fly if they had a minority or they'd ask to suspend the house if the going got to hot twice.


  16. I can't wait for the day when my Party doesn't present my position. After all that whipping ends and I can leave it to chance.


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