Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why don't we get to see the debate?

I've said it here before. I really enjoy a good debate. And frankly, I've been wrong (many times) and a good healthy debate has convinced me to change the way I see many issues. I also think that open, honest debate is healthy for democracy and healthy for our society.

I wish the Alberta PC caucus saw it that way.

In recent memory there were two occasions where the PC caucus has pointed to the rigorous debate that has gone on behind their closed doors to justify their stance. First, it was Bill 44, where apparently the PC caucus debated the issue for months. Now, it is used to justify the ousting of Guy Boutilier. Ed Stelmach is being very clear with his MLAs and Albertans - the public arena is no place for debate on issues that matter to Albertans.

If politicians could just swallow their pride a little bit and accept the risk of being wrong once in a while - and if voters and media could accept that being on the losing end of a public debate does not make a bad politician - then we would have some really healthy public debate about what's in the best interest of Albertans. It seems to me that that is what democracy should be about.

At this point, I suspect you may be calling me naive or idealistic. And you may be right. Sure, I understand that the party leader needs to ensure that the members of his party are behind him, especially in our parliamentary system. It is incredibly important in minority parliaments and thus we have this long established traditions of party whips and caucus solidarity. My thesis however, is that this practice does not allow for the best policy to emerge and it shouldn't governance be about developing the best policy possible.

Think of it this way. If the honest debate over which building projects had to be delayed was held in a public place (a house or an assembly, if you will) intended for debates over the issues of the day, then Boutilier would be able to go back to his constituents and say "I tried, but some tough decisions had to be made." They would be witness to his attempts and he wouldn't have to call out the premier in the media. Perhaps the Fort McMurray seniors complex wouldn't be built, but at least we could point to the discussion as evidence that the issue was appropriately considered.

Of course, people would also feel less cynical or alienated about politics and maybe they would feel more empowered to vote and become involved in the process.

But then, if people saw the real reasons why our legislature makes the decisions it does they might actually turn out to vote. And if people actually turned out to vote, the Conservatives might not win the next election.

I guess Stelmach has it figured out after all.

1 comment:

Jill said...

While I agree that public debate is all for the good, (and am a dirty, dirty liberal myself) I can see why Stelmach doesn't want to do PC caucus meetings in public. Nobody wants to watch their elected government in-fight, and if you saw what the NDP had to say in the House about Bill 44, you know things can get nasty between politicians. That's not any less true even if they all belong to the same party. There are some strong personalities in the PC section of the room, and I have no doubt there are some heated arguments among them that almost rival the hostility Brian Mason is always channeling. (Not that he isn't usually perfectly justified in his outrage, because he is.) So from a "keeping public confidence" standpoint, for any party, it's just a bad idea.

Also, I have to say, how many people would really watch or care? I think we're so used to Conservative rule in this province we just ignore what's going on over there and pat ourselves on the back for being so awesome. Sigh.

For now, public caucus debate goes under my "in a perfect world" column.

- Jill