Who Owns Your Vote

Good Sunday Morning,

voting.jpgVoting is the sacred bedrock of our democracy. Our vote is power, it's justice, it's freedom. It's our opportunity to build a better world. Yes, that's a cliche. But it's true. Voting is the most powerful tool we have to decide how we govern ourselves and what the rules are that keep our civil society civil. 

It's a right we have sent our young men and women in uniform to die for. It's a privilege that has been afforded to us by those who stood up for what was right and what was fair. It's a responsibility to future generations who will inherit the consequences of the decisions we make today. Perhaps that's why it pains me so when campaigns turn nasty.

I experienced it while being the canvassing coordinator for Elizabeth's re-election campaign. Signs being defaced and stolen, misinformation being spread at the doorstep, misleading phone calls, and lies on social media. The mainstay of nasty campaigns is of course the attack ad. That public mudslinging that turns so many voters off altogether.

But what probably undermines the political process most is the browbeating of political strategists telling people that they have to turn their back on what they deeply believe and vote strategically to defeat a villain. Andrew Coyne said it best in his clip on what's wrong with our electoral system. "How often have you been told that you can't vote for the party you prefer but must vote for a party you don't like to prevent a party you detest from gaining power." This strategy is perilous and relies on assumptions that just don't stand up to scrutiny.

"First and foremost, it is not the case that the Greens only encroach on NDP turf," writes Vaughn Palmer in the Vancouver Sun. "Weaver got himself into the legislature by defeating B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong in Oak Bay, the seat she’d held through four previous terms. Saanich North had elected B.C. Liberals through five elections and 22 years before Green candidate Olsen launched his bid in 2013. His presence helped precipitate a 2,400-vote drop in NDP support from the previous election. The Liberals slumped even more, by some 2,800 votes." (Elizabeth started this trend by unseating a conservative cabinet minister in 2011.)

And yet pollsters told us just after the 2015 federal election that half of our vote evaporated in the last week because people were frightened into voting strategically. In Elizabeth's words, it was a heartbreaker. Trudeau could have been a pretty good prime minister if he had only been given a minority. Instead, strategic voting gave him a false majority "and that kind of went to his head". We all know what happened next. Same old story. Promises broken, credibility lost, voters disillusioned. Committing to real change and electoral reform was easy while in third place but actually following through when there was no immediate political advantage required resisting the lobbyists and putting fair representation and integrity ahead of grasping the leavers of power.

If the political process is to work for the people then we need to make sure our representatives are working for us and not their corporate or union donors. Better than bad isn't good enough. We need to reward integrity. Politicians need to earn our trust. Nowhere in Canada has that trust been more eroded than here in British Columbia, the wild west of Canadian politics. For the second time this year, the New York Times reminded it's readers just how corrupted we've become.

woodfibre_buyout.JPG"Lobbyists and other power brokers are routinely buying their way into British Columbia’s political inner circles by donating generously to the party in power several times a year, a practice industry insiders consider the cost of doing business in a province with an entrenched pay-to-play culture." This Globe and Mail piece makes startling links between Wood Fibre and the Liberal Party. "During the period he (Mr. Giraud) and Ms. Ngo were giving the governing party money, their employer’s LNG plant proposal was undergoing environmental assessments, which passed. It also negotiated a controversial subsidy on electricity rates from the province and other tax breaks."

The article goes on to state that: "Another frequent donor who represents foreign interests is Larry Yen, a consultant and lawyer, primarily for Chinese clients, who gave 13 times since 2013 – in payments totaling more than $100,000. His clients have included China Keli Electric Co. Ltd., a supplier of high-tech electric equipment owned by a Chinese parent company expanding into Canada. It was reviewed by the B.C. Securities Commission in 2014 for failing to disclose enough specifics about its operations.

One lobbyist said there is “no limit” to the calls and emails from the Liberals – and also from the New Democrats – asking for money, and it feels “extortionist.” A consultant called it “like a shakedown,” particularly near election time. Still, another said B.C.’s system “corrupts in a very deep and profound way.”

With this kind of backroom access to power it's little wonder that a subsidiary of Petronas, the Malaysian state-owned petro giant courted by the B.C. government, has built at least 16 unauthorized dams in northern B.C. to trap hundreds of millions of gallons of water used in its controversial fracking operations. The 16 dams are among “dozens” that have been built by Petronas and other companies without proper authorizations. It might also explain why the NDP is hedging its bets on LNG, sounding very much like the Liberals: “The BC NDP supports LNG if it’s done right.”

RIGHT NOW, THERE’S nothing stopping lobbyists from serving as paid party campaign staff or war room strategists, then turning around and lobbying the premier or other MLAs, who arguably owe their jobs to them. Nor is it illegal to have international unions provide key campaign staff. Yes the NDP has promised to eliminate corporate and union donations but only the Greens have acted unilaterally and quite literally put their money where their mouth is. If that means we act as a spoiler to the perpetual game of influence peddling, then Greens really are good for democracy.

oh_no_not_again.jpgIt actually does matter on which side your bread is buttered. It matters who pays the piper. But just like Charlie Brown, we fall for the promises, sold to us in ads paid for by funds raised from special interest groups, again and again. As long as it's all about winning and power, and we continue to reward corrupt political parties with our votes to give them a majority of seats, what incentive do they have to put the interests of the citizens ahead of the interests of the donors that financed their attack ads?

In the past some leaders have insinuated, if not outright asked, that the voting public needs to "make me do the right thing." Hard to do when we hand over complete control to a party that whips its members to vote in lockstep. But electing Greens in the House of Commons and Legislatures across this country will do just that. Greens have demonstrated that with every seat they have won. Greens are committed to be the voice of the people and put their constituents first.

Apparently, Angus Reid, a well-respected pollster and sociologist, when asked this week what he thought the top election issue in B.C. was, said ‘trust.’ It seems to me that in today's fast moving world that should be the only issue. Can we trust the person we elect to represent us to do just that? To put our needs as a community ahead of their needs to preserve party solidarity or payback the influence peddlers that hold the purse strings?

It's something worth thinking about as go to the polls on Tuesday and place our vote in their care.

Have a great Sunday,

This weekly missive is authored by Thomas Teuwen, our SGI EDA coordinator. Opinions expressed are his own. We welcome your comments and feedback. If you were sent here by a friend and would like to subscribe to our weekly email simply click here. You can also go to the archives section of our SGI website to read back issues.

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