On Thursday, Feb. 6, we attended a public forum entitled “Navigating Party Discipline” at Memorial University’s Bruneau Centre.
The event was sponsored by the Royal Society of Canada and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Memorial University. Alex Marland, political science professor at Memorial, was the chief planner for this successful session, bringing together two former ministers in the Trudeau government, Jody Wilson Raybould and Jane Philpott.
Also participating were former federal MP Ryan Cleary and provincial MHA Paul Lane.
Each panelist highlighted the difficulties of navigating party politics at the federal and provincial levels.
The discussions stressed the importance of electing officials who are not afraid to speak up, speak out against their parties on matters of principle and public policy. In recent years, it seems that members of political parties are often marginalized and ostracized if they do not play the “follow-the-leader” game.
All the panelists demonstrated that there are political and personal costs if individual members dare to speak “truth to power.” Marland’s research and writings, including a new book “Whipped: Party Discipline in Canada,” (September 2020) examine the pressures in our political system to tow the party line.
For us, the forum at MUN demonstrated the dangerous strategy of silencing voices of dissent.
We are presently in this province attempting to mitigate the financial albatross that is Muskrat Falls. Elected politicians at the time of planning and sanctioning of that project lacked the fortitude to brave party discipline and question the decisions of their political leaders and the elites at Nalcor.
As a province, we followed like trained seals, never thoroughly vetting the true costs or analyzing our real electricity needs or examining viable alternatives to this boondoggle.
Although the session at Memorial did not deal specifically with provincial issues, it did speak to the role of all citizens in a democracy.
Ryan Cleary used a thought-provoking phrase at the session – “What am I afraid to say?”
Our elected officials, our directors at crown corporations, you and I as private citizens, must stop being afraid to question and “call things out.”
If we have learned anything from the Muskrat Falls debacle, we should never again allow political leaders and crown corporation CEO’S to impose an ill-conceived energy vision and a financially devastating public policy by hook or by crook on a sleep-walking, silent citizenry.
We must never be afraid to ask the tough questions and then take a stand.
Democracy from Greek times has always been a movement of an energized public to make elected officials and corporate elites accountable and responsible. Thank you to all those who planned for and participated in the “Navigating Party Discipline” forum and for reinforcing that truth.
PS Dr. Jane Philpott was recently appointed Dean of Queen’s University Faculty of Health Sciences. What a wise decision. What a role model for students.
Robert and Donna Dawe,