Coalition in the Public Interest

It’s May 2017, the Canadian province of British Columbia has voted and we have spoken clearly: we have no idea what we want our government to do. The right-wing BC Liberals have 43 seats, the left’s NDP have 41 and the Greens have 3 seats meaning no party has achieved the threshold of 44 seats needed to form a majority government. The popular vote is even closer, with 40.4%, 40.3% and 16.8% respectively. We have thrown our hands up in the air and asked the politicians to sort it out, and Andrew Weaver, leader of the BC Greens is king-maker. Amidst talk of no-confidence votes and coalitions that deliver at most a five seat majority, I cannot be the only one to see a very obvious solution to our current predicament. It’s time for our politicians to set aside their “anyone but the other guy” attitude and show that they can act in the public interest. If we, and the politicians who represent us, can park our egos for a little while we can grasp an unprecedented opportunity here – the chance to build a coalition with the support of 80% of the population.

In essence, everybody wants the same things in life and from their government. They want to feel respected, autonomous and able to meet their own needs. The fundamental differences arise only in terms of people’s views on how best to achieve these goals. Those on the right focus on the belief that we can trust people to make good decisions for themselves and consequently that government should step back and allow them to do that. Those on the left are concerned that we don’t all have access to the same opportunities and believe government can play a vital role in helping people to achieve their potential. If we allow ourselves to disengage from our long-held beliefs and instead adopt a mantra of “do what works” it is clear that identifying the best way to achieve a particular outcome is an empirical, not an ideological, question. We should be tied to no ideology other than a firm commitment to deliver government policy that is effective in achieving its stated aims.

We should be asking our politicians to focus on issues not on values. We should be asking them to focus only on the real-world outcomes they want to achieve – more kids graduating from high school or reduced rates of chronic disease – and invite them to be brave enough to allow the evidence to determine the best way to achieve their goals. We need to recognize the value of working with people that we previously thought of as adversaries and understand that in any partnership we must first acknowledge that there are some issues on which we ourselves are in the wrong. We need to recognize the strength of reevaluating our position when presented with new evidence and we need to congratulate not condemn those who are brave enough to change their minds.

I can already hear the accusations of naivety. I have always believed that you know that you’re doing something right when you’re accused of being naïve because you are willing to voice an opinion that others hold but do not dare speak. Is it naïve to think that our representatives are daring enough to be world leaders in cultivating a more mature approach to politics? Perhaps. Or is it naïve of politicians to think that British Columbians are willing to tolerate their political posturing as our hard-earned tax dollars drain away in fallen governments and expensive re-elections? I hope so.

In the President Trump, post-truth era, wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could proudly look to our politicians to lead the way in creating government that truly works in the public interest? With such a balanced election result the province is asking the BC Liberals and the NDP to bravely explore the centre ground, to set aside partisan differences and to work for British Columbians. The question is: will they rise to the challenge?