Un­ques­tion­ing party obe­di­ence and politi­cized grants are hold­ing us back

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - Tom Ur­ba­niak Tom Ur­ba­niak, PhD, is a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Cape Bre­ton Uni­ver­sity. He wel­comes the ex­change of ideas and can be reached at tom_ur­ba­ .

An out­moded, old-time po­lit­i­cal cul­ture is hold­ing back Cape Bre­ton and Nova Sco­tia.

This col­umn is not about Dave Wil­ton or any one party. It’s not even about this par­tic­u­lar pro­vin­cial elec­tion. It’s about an out­moded, old-time po­lit­i­cal cul­ture that is hold­ing back Cape Bre­ton and Nova Sco­tia.

It’s a hum­ble plea to all par­ties and all can­di­dates: We need to do better.

But I men­tion Wil­ton be­cause of his awk­wardly worded cam­paign ad­ver­tise­ment in last Satur­day’s Cape Bre­ton Post. Un­in­ten­tion­ally, he man­aged to present in a nut­shell the prob­lem with our pol­i­tics.

Wil­ton writes: “Over the past four years, the Lib­eral govern­ment has had to make some tough de­ci­sions, some of which I had to be part of.”

The im­pli­ca­tion here: He must put his party be­fore his own judg­ment. He had no op­tion and he “had to” go along with the un­spec­i­fied de­ci­sions, which he con­cedes aroused the “con­cern” of his con­stituents. Fi­nally, he aligned with the party leader’s view: “At the end of the day, I do be­lieve these de­ci­sions will ben­e­fit all of Nova Sco­tia, and es­pe­cially Cape Bre­ton Cen­tre.”

Wil­ton goes on to in­sist that he and his of­fice “have also suc­ceeded in se­cur­ing grants for many or­ga­ni­za­tions and teams, and we are see­ing some great things hap­pen­ing!”

The im­pli­ca­tion: With an MLA of an­other cal­i­bre or an­other party, the peo­ple of the area would have been ig­nored by the pro­vin­cial govern­ment. The grant ap­pli­ca­tions might not have been ap­proved or even taken se­ri­ously.

Wil­ton takes credit for two new zam­bo­nis, for $4,000 to the New Water­ford Dog Park and for $10,000 to the Do­min­ion Le­gion, among other govern­ment con­tri­bu­tions, not to men­tion “over $1.2 mil­lion in so­cial hous­ing ren­o­va­tions.”

The ad, which is seven para­graphs long, does not get into strate­gic poli­cies that will sta­bi­lize the com­mu­ni­ties of Cape Bre­ton Cen­tre. These com­mu­ni­ties were par­tic­u­larly hard hit by the clo­sure of the coal mines. The ad is not re­ally about pol­icy, prin­ci­ples of govern­ment, leg­is­la­tion, ac­tivism or re­form, although Wil­ton does em­pha­size his “love and pas­sion for our com­mu­nity.”

The ad high­lights the mem­ber’s party loy­alty and, well, small-scale pa­tron­age in the form of “se­cur­ing grants.” But the ben­e­fit­ing lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions are not into par­ti­san pol­i­tics and worked hard on their own fund-rais­ing. Vol­un­teers also put con­sid­er­able time into the grant ap­pli­ca­tions, all while do­ing good work for the com­mu­nity.

The ad has echoes of 19th­cen­tury pol­i­tics pushed into the 21st cen­tury. An MLA should not be ex­pected to func­tion as a lo­cal duke, pow­er­less to ac­tu­ally make pol­icy in the cap­i­tal city and pow­er­less to change the re­gion’s and prov­ince’s over­all di­rec­tion, but ea­ger to put his name on in­di­vid­ual ben­e­fits dis­trib­uted in the district.

As for the party dis­ci­pline, I re­al­ize that it’s part of our sys­tem, a log­i­cal out­come of our Bri­tish-style par­lia­men­tary struc­ture. A govern­ment could fall if it loses a vote in the House on a mat­ter of con­fi­dence. Party dis­ci­pline can some­times even get pro­gres­sive poli­cies passed. His­tor­i­cally, ad­vances in health and so­cial pol­icy were made pos­si­ble by par­ties stick­ing to­gether in the face of lob­by­ing by pow­er­ful in­ter­ests.

But Wil­ton “had to” sup­port the govern­ment? In the House of As­sem­bly, votes on bills are taken by roll call. Wil­ton’s vote is not counted un­til the Speaker and Clerk get an in­di­ca­tion from him, not from his leader, whether he is in favour, op­posed or ab­stain­ing.

And if enough gov­ern­ing party mem­bers per­sist in dis­sent, a govern­ment mea­sure would likely be with­drawn or amended be­fore the em­bar­rass­ment of a de­feat on the floor of the House.

MLAs do have op­tions. If an MLA is afraid of be­ing passed over for a pro­mo­tion or perk, it is not the same as hav­ing no choice.

In up­com­ing all-can­di­dates de­bates, let’s quiz our can­di­dates on how they will mod­ern­ize our pol­i­tics so that com­mu­ni­ties aren’t re­warded or pun­ished for how they voted. In what cir­cum­stances might they stand up to their party leader and es­chew un­ques­tion­ing obe­di­ence? How will they stand up for Cape Bre­ton? Will they ac­tu­ally read and an­a­lyze the laws they are asked to ap­prove? Will they pro­pose laws of their own, and if so which ones?

I’m not the only cit­i­zen who is tired of old-style pol­i­tics and tired of watch­ing our com­mu­ni­ties de­cay.

Please, let’s do better.

MLAs do have op­tions. If an MLA is afraid of be­ing passed over for a pro­mo­tion or perk, it is not the same as hav­ing no choice.

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