Predictions for a new political era—Democratic trends for 2006

This is the 3rd bulletin in a 5 part seriesconcerning the challenges and opportunities expected to present themselves inBC over the coming year.

On January 24th we published our predictionson energy trends for 2006.

On January 26th we published our predictionson forestry trends for 2006

If you were a little disheartened by our predictions onenergy and forestry for 2006, cheer up. We predict that major democratic reforms are on the horizonin 2006.

Stephen Harper’s commitment to improving government accountability is byfar the best outcome of the Conservative’s federal  victory. Increased transparency in Ottawais an important step forward, but by itself will not level the playing field inpublic policy forums between moneyed interests and everyone else’s. Trueaccountability requires integrated reforms in accountability (governance),campaign finance and the system we use to elect our representatives.

So after throwing sticks for the I Ching, talking to ourneighborhood Shaman, having a Tarot read, and chatting with our well-placed, “onthe ground” informants in communities throughout BC, we would like to share the followinganalysis and predictions…

Campaign finance reform

The banning of all corporate and union donations is a bigstep forward.  Stephen Harper’s proposed Federal Accountability Act, intended to clean up the influence of money in Canadian politics, is the best thing aboutthe new Conservative minority government.

Like Nixon going to China, sometimes significant policy shifts come from unlikely sources. The fact that aConservative leader (viewed as close to corporate interest) has proposed campaignfinancing reforms, should not be underestimated.

The financing of the political process will get more mediaattention because of the Conservatives’ federal reforms. The high-profilefederal initiative will expose the inadequacy of the campaign finance rules in British Columbia.

It would be smart for the provincial NDP, Green and Liberalparties to take advantage of this heightened profile by voluntarily relinquishing all donations fromnon-voters.

My guess is whoever had the courage to seize the high ground would get international attention and give atremendous boost to the reinvigoration of democracy. The first major party toseize the initiative could shame the other parties into following suit. 

We anticipate the launching of a broad, high-profilecampaign on finance reform. The goal will be provincial legislation that bansall political donations from non-voters, including corporations, unions and 3rdparty organizations, and that caps donations from individuals at $1,000.

Limiting financial support for political parties and the political process,only to those that are eligible to vote, would dramatically change the currentbalance of power and promote a level, democratic playing field.

Discussion is under way among a number of groups, includingDogwood Initiative, to jump start campaign finance reform efforts in British Columbia. We are compiling a database of allnon-voters’ contributions since 1996, as well as all individual donors who havegiven more than $1,000. We are also seeking funding to put this database on ourwebsite. Do you know of anyone who wants to financially contribute to theseefforts? Please send them our way!

Electoral reform

Electoral reform will also get more attention in 2006. Thecurrent system allowed the Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc Qubcois to getmore seats then their percentage of votes warranted, while the NDP and Greensgot fewer seats then their supporters justified. But this cuts both ways. In BC,the Conservatives increased their percentage of the popular vote but lost fiveseats.

These election anomalies will prompt further demands forreforms at the federal level as well. The debate will inevitably intensify asclocks tick towards British Columbia’ssecond referendum on the Single-Transferable Vote proposal, set for November2008.

Lower voter turnout and popular dissatisfaction with theprospect of perhaps a third federal election looming in the next 18 months,should jump-start pressure for electoral change. In addition, the federal NDPhave made it clear that a commitment to electoral reform is the entry price foran alliance with them.

So 2006 should be the year that structural reforms to how wechoose our representatives finally hit the mainstream in federal politics. Also,once the debate on Senate reform heats up, it will be difficult for theConservative’s to keep the electoral genie in the bottle. Few Canadians, otherthan former Canadian Alliance/reform types, list Senate reform as a top issue.But if the the door is opened to Senate reform, Canadian’s will inevitably have to ask,”if we are contemplating electoral reforms, why don’t we address the reformsthat really matter-our archaic first past the post system?”

Finally, Stephen harpers commitment to reapportion seats in parliamentbased on the 5-year census, not the 10-year census as is currently done, islikely to increase British Columbia’sallotment of seats in parliament from 36 to 40. This is another positiveoutcome of Stephen Harper’s election promises.

Stay tuned for thelast two discussions on Community and First Nations in this five-part series.

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