No par­ties = no elites

Some­thing ap­proach­ing real democ­racy is re­sult of non-par­ti­san leg­is­la­tures

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY DAVID BUL­GER David M. Bul­ger of Cornwall is Ad­junct Pro­fes­sor (re­tired), UPEI

There are three ju­ris­dic­tions in North Amer­ica in which po­lit­i­cal par­ties do not par­tic­i­pate in elec­tions or gov­ern­ment, one in the U.S. and two in Canada.

The leg­is­la­ture of the State of Ne­braska - which is unique among Amer­i­can states in that it is “uni­cam­eral” - is non-par­ti­san. Pri­mary non-par­ti­san elec­tions are held and the two top vote-get­ters then run-off against one another in the gen­eral elec­tion. There is, of course, no prob­lem with es­tab­lish­ing the ex­ec­u­tive since, as in all U.S. States, the gover­nor is elected sep­a­rately. This leg­is­la­ture has been func­tion­ing quite well for over one-hun­dred years with­out party in­volve­ment.

But it will be ob­jected that our sys­tem is not the same. In our sys­tem, the ex­ec­u­tive is “em­bed­ded” in the leg­is­la­ture, and the prin­ci­pal min­is­ter - the real equiv­a­lent of the U.S. gover­nor - is de­ter­mined by the num­ber of seats won by a po­lit­i­cal party. The leader of that party is, by cus­tom or po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tion, the prime min­is­ter.

How­ever two Cana­dian ju­ris­dic­tions have shown clearly that this does not have to be the case. The North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, and Nu­navut - carved out of the NWT - have non-par­ti­san leg­is­la­tures. Peo­ple stand for elec­tion on the ba­sis of what each per­son in­tends to ac­com­plish on be­half of his or her con­stituents. (This is not nec­es­sar­ily strange. Those who run for mu­nic­i­pal of­fice in Canada present them­selves in ex­actly the same way).

When the leg­is­la­ture meets, mem­bers put their names for­ward for the post of gov­ern­ment leader. The per­son who garn­ers the most votes be­comes the gov­ern­ment leader and, from among the other mem­bers, forms a cab­i­net.

The gov­ern­ment is al­ways ef­fec­tively a mi­nor­ity one, since there is no party al­le­giance it can rely on among the back­benchers. Con­se­quently, it has to work hard and ef­fec­tively to get a con­sen­sus. And it is char­ac­ter­is­tic of these leg­is­la­tures, like the first na­tions cul­tures from which many of the mem­bers come, that con­sen­sus is highly re­garded, and it is ex­pected that the gov­ern­ment will foster con­sen­sus.

Thus, there is no “loyal op­po­si­tion” in the sense of a gov­ern­ment-in-wait­ing. The mem­bers at large might be con­sid­ered an “op­po­si­tion”, but given the em­pha­sis on con­sen­sus, “op­po­si­tion” is at best an al­most empty for­mal term.

Con­se­quently, there are no trained seals, clap­ping their flip­pers. And the po­ten­tial for schoolyard be­hav­iour, which char­ac­ter­izes our Par­lia­ment and houses of assem­bly - and which is based on the “team” con­cept of party - is sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced.

Ques­tion Pe­riod can ac­tu­ally in­volve real ques­tions, not speeches mas­querad­ing as ques­tions. And since there is no “team”, there will be no cheer­lead­ers bray­ing.

This much is cer­tain. The op­po­si­tion, when it oc­curs, will be real, not part of a game de­signed to dis­credit a par­tic­u­lar party in power so that it can be re­placed by another party. No par­ties, so no party plat­forms to be ad­hered to. But even more im­por­tant, where there are no par­ties, there are no party elites. The Iron Law of Oli­garchy can­not hold.

And some­thing ap­proach­ing real democ­racy is the re­sult.

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