How about a little advice from away?

Russell Wangersky
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Soon, we’ll be heading into the fall House of Assembly debate over Muskrat Falls — and, if recent history is any judge, it will probably have more than its fair share of contempt, disdain, pettiness, insults and maybe even downright hatred. Then, as Finance Minister Tom Marshall so brutally put it on VOCM back in April, “The opposition will get its say, then the government will get its way. That’s how democracy works.”

Just part of our political tradition.

But does it really need to be that way? And does that kind of confrontation really deliver the best possible results for the province’s citizens?

Martyn Brown used to be chief of staff for British Columbia’s now-departed premier, Gordon Campbell. He has held senior political positions for a host or premiers and a bevy of different political parties, so you could argue he knows the inside of political nastiness in provincial governments better than most people.

But what’s really interesting about Brown and the politics of hate is that he says it doesn’t work very well for people that the governments always claims to be looking out for — their constituents.

The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason had a look at Brown’s new book, “Towards a New Government in British Columbia” last weekend — and what struck Mason is not the way that Brown’s book looks at his experiences, but more at how attack-or-die politics is actually doing damage to governments’ ability to make good, informed choices.

Brown writes, “we need to vote positively, without being cowed by ideology, by the politics of fear or by the age-old myths that are manipulated for partisan advantage. … We need to place less emphasis on who forms the government and greater emphasis on the purpose of power, on the ends we hope to achieve, and on the way that power is exercised on our behalf.”

Presumably, here as anywhere, candidates are elected because they have something to offer.

But how is an opposition member supposed to offer anything, when they are treated as the enemy, and their concerns are endlessly derided as worthless or stupid?

Brown says partisan battles, “perpetuate a ‘politics-as-war’ mindset that frustrates constructive post-election relationships that could help to improve informed decision making.”

The villain in the piece? “It is petty, partisan politics and a lack of political will to change,” Brown writes. “We need to change that. We need to develop a more contemporary political culture that is less

ideological, less polarized, more assertive, more collaborative and more attuned to the drivers of social change that are forcing and limiting governments’ political choices.”

Amen to that. Fairly frequently, you hear that government committees in this province — limited almost exclusively to an annual review of government estimates — have a far more collegial atmosphere. The opposition members ask questions without theatrics or finger-pointing, and the ministers (or their senior public servants) answer those same questions matter-of-factly, and, dare I say it, even politely.

Judging from the buildup and tone of recent comments from politicians about Muskrat Falls, can we expect collegial or combative in the upcoming House debate?

Unfortunately, what’s coming will be a long way from Brown’s “less ideological, less polarized, more assertive (and) more collaborative” government.

It will be the politics of hate and disdain — in other words, business as usual.

And the chance of having any new and open-minded examination of the real issue at hand?

It’s common sense, really. Think of it this way: you’ve been publicly at war with your sister for 15 years — would you openly take her advice on how to raise your kids?

The opposition may or may not get its say. The government will certainly get its way.

But will we, as the electorate, be any better off for it? Or will we have a wasted opportunity to do something differently?


Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Globe and Mail

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, British Columbia

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Recent comments

  • Cold Future
    August 29, 2012 - 11:25

    It is sad to say that so many untruths have to be put out by our government members to send this GFY to Quebec because they could not be bullied by useless court challenges which marked the failure of a departing leader to deliver on a lower churchill project. Not being able to sucessfully deal with Quebec is a major failure of the PC governrnents. The fallout is a very expensive development delivered at least 20 years before power would have to transmitted through Quebec or around it. The wasted excessive cost ( at least $5 billion ) which will become the extra burden to domestic ratepayers could be well spent on other needs such as crumbling roads, infrastructure and healthcare, etc. On top of all of that the Holyrood oil burner which could continue to produce cheap energy well into the future will likely be scrapped in the process.

  • Pierre Neary
    August 28, 2012 - 17:08

    "attack-or-die politics". Brings to mind Former Premier Williams.

    August 28, 2012 - 15:59

    John Smith, you say we need the power , end of story. This is a myth , and therefore should be the the start of the story. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on how to get more power from new generation sources, when in fact we have plenty of power for about two decades from our existing hydro by using efficient heating. And Russell, I'm waiting for the power of your pen, which is still silent on this! I'd like to do an item for publication by the Telegram on this subject. This is a real choice that is getting no analysis. Too few engineers are addressing it, so if the opposition parties are not aware of its application potential here, there will be no debate on it's merrits. And it's being ignored by the government and Nalcor. ENERGY EFFECIENCY , RUSSELL. WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THAT?

  • Too Funny
    August 28, 2012 - 11:02

    "you hear that government committees in this province ... have a far more collegial atmosphere." That's because there's no opportunity for them to put on a show for their constituents. We want our representatives to fight for us but then we complain when they actually do fight.

  • W McLean
    August 28, 2012 - 10:18

    John Smith, the fact that there'd been an election just a few short months ago never stopped the Tories from criticizing or questioning the former government in 2000 or 1997, did it? What is it about your crew and your inability to take any questioning or critical thought?

  • John Smith
    August 28, 2012 - 07:36

    It seems as though people have forgotten that we just had an election a few short months ago. Did the government hide the fact that they think Muskrat falls is the best answer to our coming energy needs? I don't think so. I'm very sure that the majority of people who voted in that vast PC majority knew all about the plans for Muskrat.They didn't vote in the NDP, or the Liberals...they voted in the Muskrat Falls PCs...remember?So, in a democracy, those who are voted into power make the decisions. Right? I voted PC...i certainly don't want the NDP and the LIberals making choices for me...the PCs are bad enough.Muskrat Falls is a good development, and it has no bearing on political parties, or politics. We need the power, and the dam at muskrat makes the best long term sense...end of story.