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Monday, November 28, 2011

Crossing the Floor: Postscript

Last week I shared my thoughts on Bridget Pastoor's floor-crossing from the Official Opposition to the government benches. Since then I've considered the issue a little more, and it occurs to me that there's another aspect of the whole affair that bothers me even more than the issues I outlined before: the question of playing fair.

After the last election, the collective opposition was reduced to just eleven MLAs: nine Alberta Liberals and two New Democrats. Since then resignations, by-elections and floor-crossings have changed the balance of power slightly; there are now eight Liberals, two New Democrats, four Wildrose Alliance members and one Alberta Party member. That still leaves the government with a huge numerical advantage; they could lose twenty seats and still hold on to their majority.

And yet despite this huge advantage (earned, in our first-past-the-post system, by securing barely more than fifty percent of the vote in the last election), the government still feels it necessary to woo opposition MLAs to their side.

This strikes me as dirty pool. The government doesn't need Bridget Pastoor to carry out its business, yet they cajoled her into crossing the floor anyway, for no other purpose than political gain and to hurt the opposition. It makes you wonder how far they'd go to destroy their political enemies.

Each MLA a caucus loses costs that caucus tens of thousands of dollars in funding - funding that's used to represent Albertans, to hold the ruling party accountable. A tiny opposition can do little to challenge the government if they don't have enough money to do their job.

The Progressive Conservative government clearly considers the Liberals enough of a threat that they feel like they have to use every trick in the book to keep the Official Opposition down. It's like they can't stand the idea of losing, that they'll do anything it takes to stay in power.

From one point of view, I suppose that's understandable. No one likes to lose. Losing means you and your friends lose your job and you have to go and find something else to do. It also means that maybe the province won't be run exactly the way you wanted for a few years.

But is that really the worst thing in the world? Are the Tories so afraid of losing that they don't see the benefits of changing governments every once in a while? Are they that selfish? Do they really find other political points of view so repellent that they recoil in horror at the thought of someone else taking power for a measly four years? Heck, I can't stand Stephen Harper but I don't think the federal Liberals were entitled to stay in power forever, either. If we're lucky, change will bring renewal eventually.

No one likes to lose, but if I were working for government I think I'd have enough humility and enough of a sense of fairness to say, "Hey. Let's play fair. We're strong enough to win without resorting to petty tricks. We have the best ideas, we're the best managers. We're not afraid of the opposition. And if the voters kick us out, well, we'll be back in four years stronger than ever."

Wouldn't the province - the country - be healthier if we acknowledged that winning all the time doesn't exactly build character? Sometimes we need to lose. Sometimes losing leads to greater wisdom and compassion. Losing builds empathy and helps us identify our weaknesses.

When a party becomes so afraid of losing that they're willing to play dirty, maybe it's time to get out of the game - so that the game itself can continue to prosper.


Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

I wish more people in politics had your convictions and idealism, even if they weren't able to act on them all the time.

"What Jeff Beast" said...

I don't think the current electoral system supports idealism very well. It costs a fortune to run an election, and the big money comes from corporate support. Even the suits won't commit to a candidate unless they think that person will win. It's politics as investment. Usually idealism and corporations are at opposite sides of the spectrum. That's not to say that it's impossible to be a politician and an idealist, just that it's rare in our current system.

I think Dr. Swann was a pretty good example of someone who came into politics with strong ideals, plus he was able to make a decent showing in terms of the financials of his campaign. However, the costs were just too great for him, so he bowed out. As hard as he worked and fund-raised, though, he was still out-matched by his rivals almost all of the way. Dr. Swann did not enjoy very much corporate support from what I could see.