Musing on Democracy

January 2013
By David Coon

I have been observing the daily sittings of the Legislative Assembly during Question Period and the tabling of bills so I would be well informed about the issues before our Legislature, and prepared to comment on them from the perspective of the Green Party.

After attending the Legislative Assembly during its fall sitting, I came away with the feeling that our democracy is in more trouble than any of us imagined. I got the sense the members are just going through the motions - performers in a production that lost its audience long ago.

Don't get me wrong. The people elected to serve in the Legislative Assembly are, for the most part, decent and caring people. It’s just that they are acting out parts in a pantomime orchestrated by their respective parties, rather than working to advance the common good. The hyper-partisanship that has infected politics means members read from scripts prepared for political purposes, automatically vote with their party for whatever it puts forward and automatically vote against anything put forward by the opposition, no matter its merits.

The Legislative Assembly has become a place where the government goes through the legal necessities to bring legislation forward, jump through the procedural hoops and then return to their offices. Rather than being governed by the Legislative Assembly, we are governed by the Premier and his cabinet. It's no wonder that so little work takes place in the committees of the Legislature.

During question period, questions are asked to make the other side look bad and response are provided that usually don't answer the question, though the new Health Minister, Hugh Flemming is an exception. Amendments to bills are made and resolutions put forward by the Official Opposition are automatically voted down by the government, not on their merits, but simply because they came from the opposition.  

Backbenchers pretty much have nothing to do since they are told how to vote every time. Why stay up to date on the bills before the House, when you are either going to automatically vote for or against them depending on which side you sit? The backbenchers do have the opportunity to speak at the beginning of each day, but they mostly waste too much time recognizing the birthdays, anniversaries, deaths and activities of their political supporters back home.

Premier Alward commissioned political scientist Don Desserud to recommend how to improve the situation. He even established a committee of MLAs to review Desserud's Proposals for Legislative Reform in New Brunswick, but sadly it has never met, though he assures me it will get to work someday.

Among the six principles of our Party is a commitment to pursue participatory democracy. It has become clear to me, this is something we must pursue with vigour from outside the Legislature and from within, when we elect Green MLAs in the 2014 election.