Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Building public consensus behind closed doors

May I suggest reading Paul Willcocks' April 29 Times Colonist column: Moving past the politics of blind division.

Paul says too many British Columbians choose not to talk about public policy; they pick one partisan side and fall mindlessly into place as unquestioning team supporters, relying on posturing instead of objective policy analysis. The Times Colonist writer bemoans the loss of intelligence and experience when people remove themselves from conversations about policy.  He says that society benefits if complex issues are openly discussed with both positives and negatives duly considered.

He's right, at least about society suffering when complex decisions do not receive full and open discussion. However, if those complex decisions are made behind closed doors, how can anyone, even the brightest non-partisan thinkers, contribute intelligence and experience?

Think about about major provincial policies that remade the provincial tax system. Liberals limited taxes on high income earners and corporations, reduced resource royalties and gave huge exploration credits to 'encourage' explorations already complete. To replace the lost revenues, they looked to user fees, tolls, HST, carbon tax, transit taxes, gambling profits, excessive auto insurance premiums, electricity prices, etc. Regressive taxes replaced progressive taxes.

Do you recall a public debate about changing the ways government is financed?  Remember the back and forth of dialogue as Gordon Campbell sought to establish a consensus among citizens about tax policy? I can't recall it either. Because, it didn't happen.

BC Liberal imposition of HST is an excellent example. Campbell and Hansen chose to have no public discussion, in fact they purposely misled citizens, saying the issue was not on the table. Soon after the election was complete, the new tax was revealed. Liberal Party grass roots members had no say. Backbench MLAs had no say. Electors had no say. A massive change in tax policy was initiated, one that during the four year election cycle shifts perhaps $10 billion from consumers to business.  All was decided by unknown people operating behind closed doors.

And, where was the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of privately owned power installations on public lands, installations financed by long term purchase commitments from BC Hydro that put even penny dreadful stock companies in the running for guaranteed profits. ("No cash and tens of million in deficit? No problem when you are a friend of ours.")

Other major public policy changes have been enacted without  opportunity for the public to explore them in advance.  Commentators are perfectly correct to say that citizens should build a consensus about each important public issue. But, that is impossible with our present party system when leaders dictate policy and members are told what they are permitted to think and say.

Liberal soldiers are held on a tight leash. No member of this party talked about HST during the election but every Liberal MLA voted to impose the tax. They will pay a price. They went a bridge too far. Paul Willcocks blogs about the HST turning into a political disaster.
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3 comments:

  1. You are correct about this. Since 1980, there has never been any public conversation about 'rail' transit in the region and there are three camps: the SkyTrain/light-metro camp; the LRT camp; and the bus/cyclist camp.

    There has been no intelligent debate allowed and always the solution is: "You are going to get SkyTrain whether you like it or not."

    Yet Vancouver remains the only city in the world wedded to the SkyTrain/light-metro philosophy and only seven such systems have been built.

    No debate has been allowed and those who do not support SkyTrain and or light-metro are treated as demons.

    What is even more interesting is that at least three overseas academic papers have been written on how Vancouver has done it wrong.

    The result is that we have spent a lot of money (over $8 billion) on three metro lines that really haven't provided a good transportation alternative, yet we plan for more with the Evergreen Line and the Broadway subway.

    Trouble is, we can't afford this and 'rail' transit construction proceeds at a snails pace.

    Again, no honest debate is allowed. Questions should be asked and truthful answers must be given and they are not.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You introduce a good point. In this adversarial political system, a person who does not agree completely is considered an enemy. The debating style is to demonize every other opinion. How crazy is that?

    The same conditions exist elsewhere. This provincial government cannot carry on a dialogue with any employee group, they have to destroy the others. They follow the pattern with paramedics, with teachers, wild fish advocates, public power advocates, labor groups, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Norm, you obviously didn't get the memo and are under the impression that we still live in a democracy. Don't ya know, we don't have to think about such dry subjects like policy - that's for our superiors like Big Rich Coleman, the white haired prevaricator and the man who can sneer and whine at the same time, Colin Hansen.

    Of course one could write to our representatives, or even our great leder (sic), at least, as I point out over at the House today, Gordo may at least acknowledge receipt of your message, if only to tell you that it was "deleted unread!"

    ReplyDelete

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