We often see people spitting out the word “partisan” as a pejorative. Some feel that political parties in and of themselves are what is wrong with policy making today. There may be a glimmer of truth to that but lets face it, political parties and partisan politics are simply never going away and it is not necessarily a bad thing.
With floor crossings, whipped votes and hyperpartisan exchanges between supporters whether in legislatures or on twitter it is not hard to see how some people can become sour and cynical on the entire system. Still, that does not justify turning one’s back on the entire process or trying to tear it down.
Let’s look into a simplistic dream world where we imagine that political parties have been banned and only independents represent people in legislatures and chambers throughout the country. Many people have called for such things but then many people still think Elvis is alive too. Our provincial legislature would be populated with 83 independent members who have managed to win votes in their local constituencies and I imagine a premier was elected through some weeks of battle in the legislature seeking some form of consensus. In other words, we would have absolute chaos.
Getting to that selection of a premier, just how messy do you think that would get? We can’t have a leaderless legislature. This dream chamber would be dysfunctional enough as it is. Being without a formal leader and representative would only make things worse.
Now with a legislature populated by 83 ambitious souls, I think we can safely say that at least a dozen of them would like to wear the crown and would be madly lobbying and working to gain support from other MLAs. As consensus is found to be nearly impossible to attain, groups of MLAs being to form alliances and choose common candidates to support. Jockeying and positioning continues as deals are cut for cabinet and weaker candidates for Premier fall by the wayside. We get down to four or five groups who bond and begin to sit together in the legislature. Eventually, one group manages to pull of a majority and their person is selected as Premier. Meanwhile, three other collections of MLAs have gathered themselves to act in opposition to the dominant political alliance.
We have just observed the evolution of political parties and how quickly it would happen were we to try and get away from them. Even if the Premier was chosen directly through a vote of the electorate (republican system), the evolution described above would still happen as a gridlocked legislature battles to try and produce passable policies.
What would be worse in this imaginary post-partisan world would be that these parties would be informal and uncontrolled. Without the controls and scrutiny that our current system provides, these informal parties would be wide open to corrupted lobbying and fundraising. The goals of these groups would be hidden as there would be no member based system to keep the representatives transparent and policy directions would vary widely. Voter confusion would be rampant as it is discovered that the general outlooks of MLAs are difficult to determine at election time and apathy would grow as members turn out to be pursuing different goals than anticipated.
Committees would be completely haywire and policy development would be in shambles. Political parties bring developed policy to the game before they are even elected. A gang of independents even when their informal alliances are formed will not have a visible or comprehensive policy direction or set. Studies will not have been properly performed and policies would never have been exposed to the general scrutiny of a membership as they are in a partisan system.
The electorate needs to see a goal and a clear direction in their representatives and parties provide that. The Alberta Party tried to play the oxymoron of being some kind of “post-partisan party” and they generated a policy model based on a consensus model much like that done at the “occupy” squatter camps. This idealistic approach led to a pile of directionless motherhood policies and other policies that were simply too broad and odd to be embraced by the public at large.
The Alberta Party has been in it’s current form for a couple years now and their revolutionary post-partisan concept has been roundly rejected by the voting public as the party can barely break 2% in the polls. While perhaps well meaning, this group of idealists has pretty much wasted their time. Voters need and want parties.
Political parties provide a degree of order in our messy but democratic system. People who want to see more productive politics in Canada should be embracing partisan politics more strongly rather than rejecting it. Quit whining about the parties and work to change them. Join one or even form one. It will have far more impact than simply complaining. Party involvement allows you to participate in policy formulation and the selection of representatives. Rest assured if you refuse to participate, others will continue to form policy on your behalf and they will be much more effective in pursuing their goals.
An organized group working together such as a political party will essentially blow all independents out of the water on every front. Parties can effectively fundraise and campaign. Parties can share collective experience and wisdom. Parties can bring forth targeted policy concepts and market them to large numbers of voters. Parties can also provide a social aspect and participation in them can actually be fun at times too.
Our system is far from perfect. Things have evolved to where they are over the decades for very good reasons.
People have two choices in our system. You can reject party politics and be left behind or you can get involved and have a real voice. Small or large, parties are much more effective in pursuing change than individuals will ever be.
A person does not need to stick doggedly to one party for life nor do they need to follow a party line at all times. When push comes to shove at election time though, a person needs to make a partisan choice (as I said, that can be done between elections too).
I am partisan. I am proud of that as it indicates that I am engaged and that I am trying to do my part for positive change.
Partisan is not a dirty word, apathy is.