Agriculture Minister Lana Popham at her office in Victoria, Sept. 1, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Lana Popham column: Minority governments hold strong track record in Canada

Lana Popham to host free panel on minority government, Sept. 20, 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Arbutus room at Saanich Commonwealth Place

This is different than what we are used to.

For the past 65 years, we have had a majority government. That meant one party had a majority of all the elected representatives (or “seats”) in the legislature and could therefore create laws as they liked, even if the minority in the legislature opposed them.

What we have right now in B.C. is very different. MLAs elected under the B.C. NDP party have a minority of seats in the legislature but we have been able to form government because we have the support of the Green Party. Together the Green Party and the B.C. NDP have a majority of seats in the legislature and can therefore “command the confidence of the House.”

But if at any time the Greens join the B.C. Liberals to vote against the B.C. NDP government on a ‘vote of confidence’, then our government would “fall” and another election would be necessary. That is why the B.C. Liberal Opposition is arguing that a minority government is “unstable.” They also argue without a majority it will not be able to govern effectively.

I am much more optimistic.

And I’m far from the only one. For example, Professor Clercy, an expert in Canadian politics at the University of Western Ontario, argued recently that minority governments in Canada are in fact stable and able to produce good legislation. She references the 1985-1987 Liberal/NDP minority government in Ontario. It led a stable government for years that racked up legislative accomplishments such as strengthening landlord/tenant laws, improving the human rights code and reforming government services.

Even more notably, at the Federal level, it was a minority government that brought in one of our country’s most cherished pieces of legislation: universal health care.

A Liberal minority government with NDP support in Ottawa brought in Medicare. And for that matter the Canada Pension Plan and the Canada Assistance Plan as well.

In my opinion one of the biggest drawbacks of a majority government is that it can do what it wants, regardless of how the opposition votes. In a minority situation the government needs to compromise and work collaboratively across party lines in order to create new laws. There is no “dictatorship of the majority.”

Debate in the house will not just be about people talking (or yelling) past each other while the majority party pushes through what it wants regardless of what is said. Instead, there will be a genuine exchange of ideas as it takes a majority of votes to pass any new law. I’m hopeful the best ideas will come out ahead, regardless of the party of the person who puts them forward.

I am excited at this prospect and will do my very best to make it successful.

Another interesting aspect of our current minority government is that it gives us a window into what might happen with proportional representation. The legislature will be debating changes to our election system this year and giving voters a chance to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to it in a referendum next year. If this minority government is successful over the next year it will be a good sign that B.C. is ready for proportional representation.

In order to keep this discussion going I have organized a panel discussion on the topic next week. I’m calling it “Minority Government: How it Works and Why it Matters,” and it is free and open to the public. The panel will take place on Sept. 20, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Arbutus room at Saanich Commonwealth Place, 4636 Elk Lake Dr.

We have three knowledgeable panelists. The first is Nanaimo MLA and Lawyer Leonard Krog. Krog is four-term Legislator and the Chair of the B.C. NDP Government Caucus. Also on the panel are Dr. Michael Prince and Dr. Jamie Lawson. Both are professors of Political Science at UVic experts in Canadian governance.

This promises to be an informative and educational evening. I look forward to seeing you there.

– Lana Popham is B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture and MLA for Saanich South