Whips and chains

The provincial New Democrat's decision to temporarily suspend MLA Michael Sather from caucus is raising larger concerns about the state of democracy in British Columbia. In an email to Public Eye, former cabinet minister Tom Perry said, "I think the NDP harms itself and its credibility with voters by insiting on uniformity. This is one reason why the Eastern European regimes failed. After all, they started out with largely good intentions."

"I think the legislature ought to have meaningful insight of important and irreversible legislation," he continued. "If (legislators) don't exercise (their right to vote), why do we need a legislature at all? Why not just use a presidential/arch-ruler system, where we vote every four years for a very limited choice and do what we are told? The approach that "father knows best (where) we are not allowed to ask questions other than, 'When do we get some more candy?' demeans the legislature, the electors who select it and guarantees that we get decisions and policies that are less good than they might be if scrutinized more carefully."

That being said, Dr. Perry says he doesn't "fault (New Democrat leader) Carole James" for the situation "nor am I critical of her overall leadership. I'm not impressed with her advisers on this issue, as the suspension by the leader of one MLA does not strike me as consistent with the style she announced in 2003 or 2005. I fault the caucus for going along with an archaic and bullying approach to differences of opinion."

17 Comments

Why don’t we all just finally own up to it. Carole James is a nice lady; yes. But a leader ? No. Not even close. The fact that she is so easily manipulated into awkward situations by either her advisers or her caucus is getting to be a tired excuse; and one costing the NDP dearly in the polls. I am not meaning to come down on Carole James, but the fact is the NDP caucus does have some people who are far more up to the task. I suspect even they know this hence all the obvious internal dissention

"I fault the caucus for going along with an archaic and bullying approach to differences of opinion."

101% right. The entire Tsawwassen Treaty story line, from unannounced decision, to after the fact announcement, and now the Sather expulsion and the inexplicable party line vote on an issue where a free vote would normally be indicated, all have the earmarks of Caucus group-think/non-think. For example, I am reliably informed that the decision to support the Treaty and to make it a whipped vote were taken by Caucus on the same day in the early Spring. Along with the decision not to announce this decision for several months, hoping desperately that the TFN voters would overturn the agreement and get the party off the hook. These were all Caucus decisions, not Carole James's ideas.

In the BC NDP, it's traditionally the Leader's job to explain whatever unexplainable actions the Caucus takes, since the Leader is not the Leader at all, but simply the principal spokesperson.

There must be caucus solidarity or else why would I vote for a party? If everyone can do whatever they want they should be independents.

You can't say you are member of a party and then not abide the rules of caucus. The leader and caucus members can decide whether they want a united front or let people vote as they may on specific issues. If a decision by caucus is to have a united front then that is what should be done.

I disagree with the caucus on this issue but support the leader on party discipline.

Can I ask chuck 1 whether or not you think this issue should have been a free vote? I don't understand what your position is.

This debacle shows that the NDP needs to dump Carole James. The truth is, the leader is in charge. Or should be. Carole's supporters have got it wrong by blaming everything on caucus and it only highlights her extreme weaknesses as leader. Time to go.

The B.C. government has approved the treaty and promised to put it before the legislature to ratify it and and give it constitutional protection.

The honour of the Crown is at stake, as is the cause of righting more than a hundred years of living on and exploiting a land base that in the most part was never ceded to Europeans as required under our own laws. We are distinct within Canada for that shame.

What Mr. Dejong is saying about a free vote on the government side is political puff and foolery and he knows it. He is hoping the government can do the right thing, at the same time as having some fun with Carole James.

It is almost inconceivable that the government got to this point without knowing with certainty that it has the votes to pass it, or that it would have done so with any suspicion that its own caucus won't deliver enough votes for passage. For the Premier and Cabinet to have done what they have, with any doubt in their minds whether government votes will take the treaty over the top, would be dishonourable, potentially unlawful, and would set back BC's most important social and economic project yet again.

We live, in this country (IMHO) in one of the best, if not the best, functioning democracies in the world. Yet people who seem blind to, or ignorant of, the history, strength and irreplaceable contributions of our institutions and conventions - and yes, that includes the party whip - offer that we should graft on appendages that don't even work well in their own jurisdictions (enough with the term limits, referenda, recall, elected judiciary, Malta-style Prop.Rep., and, god's teeth, "free votes" on treaties ...??!!)

Glen Clark gave his caucus plenty of debate when it came to ratifying the Nisga'a treaty, but only one choice as to their vote if they wanted to remain in caucus. Carole is absolutely right to do the same. Funny, I haven't heard the Premier talking up a free vote and I expect, having had his fun, we will hear less of it from Mr. Dejong. As for Tom Perry, he should put on his lab coat and hope that those who were witneses to them are content enough to forget his own particular contributions to public life in this province.

The honour of the Crown is at stake, ...

Heaney, I hear this stock phrase repeated often by supporters of this Treaty. Perhaps you can explain what it really means. How is the Crown's integrity called into question if the Legislature or Parliament rejects a Treaty which the appointed employees of the Executive Council have negotiated?

I can agree with you that the political implications for the treaty process could be problematic if the Legislature rejected a Treaty which the Tsawwassen have now accepted. That's not a question of honour or integrity, but of practical politics. Opponents of the Treaty process, like Chief Stuart Phillip, would have a field day with such a development.

Still, with a billion dollars spent and an entire generation of lawyers and consultants and bureaucrats having bought their cars and homes working on this project, I have to wonder if even a development such as a rejection of the Tsawwassen Treaty in the Legislature would be sufficient to fully derail this process. What it would do is teach all the negotiators a valuable lesson, that there is a need for seriousness and for attention to core values. If the honour of the Crown or of the TFN leadership is in question, its not because this deal might fail, but because it might pass, and thereby become a testament to negotiations that are far too clever by half.

Given your undoubtedly extensive knowledge of the Tsawwassen situation, Heaney, you will no doubt be aware that the Tsawwassen won a nearly $50 million court judgement against Delta port for the impact that previous port developments had in eliminating the excellent crab fishery the Band once enjoyed. Deltaport, instead of paying up, made an offer with respect to lease payments on the ALR lands the Band will be getting with this Treaty. With the provincial and federal Crown happy to use these lands to get a private developer off the hook for damages already incurred, perhaps you can explain how the term "honour of the Crown" applies in this case?

"We live, in this country (IMHO) in one of the best, if not the best, functioning democracies in the world. Yet people who seem blind to, or ignorant of, the history, strength and irreplaceable contributions of our institutions and conventions - and yes, that includes the party whip - offer that we should graft on appendages that don't even work well in their own jurisdictions (enough with the term limits, referenda, recall, elected judiciary, Malta-style Prop.Rep., and, god's teeth, "free votes" on treaties ...??!!)"

Is this an attempt at humour? Should we read it aloud with a tape of Land of Hope and Glory playing in the background?

Budd. Funny. That's Elgar, is it? What was born in Westminster 800 years ago was by no means the end of history, but, until the revolution comes, I invite you to point to something working better today. That treaty negotiation as self-perpetuating industry, you gonna copyright that? Reminds me a bit of Martyn Brown circa 1999 and even he's moved on considerably. For the relation of "appointed executive to legislature" Google: responsible government in Canada. For honour of the Crown see: SCC in Haida or Taku River Tlingit.

Heaney,

Enough of leading with the chin, Carole is getting banged up out there, throw in the towel.

This treaty has got nothing to do with the honor of the Crown, all that can be hoped for it is doesn't tarnish it beyond repute.

Whipping this vote was surely intended to whip up internal hysteria and external demise. What other outcome could there possibly have been?

The suspension of whats his name was just the loft ball for Campbell to knock out of the park.

Time to pull the pitcher, change the coach, go under new management, create a new ballfield in a better stadium and practice up for 2013.....

Go team Go.....

It might be time we really looked at how much weight should be given to party solidarity in votes like this as well as non confidence votes in minority governments.
An elected member voting his or her mind regardless of what their leader says should be encouraged.
As much as most Canadians bad talk the American system, the fact this can happen in the States without much amazement says to me it might be a part of their system we might want to import to Canada.

"Reminds me a bit of Martyn Brown circa 1999 and even he's moved on considerably. For the relation of "appointed executive to legislature" Google: responsible government in Canada. For honour of the Crown see: SCC in Haida or Taku River Tlingit." If you don't think the question is clear enough, think of how things might work, or fail to work if you want to put it that way, in the case of a minority government?

As you well know, Heaney, Martyn Brown was the architect, along with Geoff Plant, of Gordon Campbell's campaign against the Nisga'a Treaty, which I supported. I don't have anything in common with Brown, as I think you know.

I googled "responsible government in Canada" as you suggested and the top two articles, from Canadiana and Wiki, made no mention of party discipline or party line voting that I could see. Again, I think you know that.

As for googling these other items in relation to "honour of the crown", why don't you provide the link you have in mind? I will settle for repeating my question above, which you did not even try to answer: "How is the Crown's integrity called into question if the Legislature or Parliament rejects a Treaty which the appointed employees of the Executive Council have negotiated?"


Budd, I have a professional obligation to try to avoid controversy and I apologize for and withdraw anything I've written that might have struck you as personal or intemperate. I will attempt to answer your question and respond to your posts the best I can and then say no more.

One, I don't understand your reference to the "appointed" employees of Executive Council ?!

Are you saying a treaty is less legitimate for not being negotiated directly by elected officials? The Premier and Ministers of the Crown, elected members who derive their executive power solely (let's ignore vestiges of Crown prerogative) from their ability to "whip" a majority of votes in the popularily-elected legislature (as opposed to deriving power from being appointed by the monarch - a welcome trend we've called responsible government and I think started in pre-Confederation Nova Scotia in the mid to late 1840's; I don't Wiki, so I don't know if it's mentioned there): set the BC negotiators' mandate, supervise virtually every aspect of the negotiation, approve the AIP, approve the Final Agreement, commit to the First Nation and to Canada to ratify what the three parties negotiate. In all this they are accountable to the legislature and to the public.

Two, the honour of the Crown does not demand that treaties be made at all costs or that any particular treaty be made or any particular First Nation demand be acceded to. (I again encourage you to read the Haida and Taku River Tlingit decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada or to Google: "honour of the Crown" or "fiduciary duty of the Crown to aboriginal peoples," I'm certain there's more there than Wiki or Canadiana to be found) However, once Canada and BC have made a Final Agreement on a treaty that will enjoy constitutional protection under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, and they have agreed to ratify it, they must do everything in their power to do so. They bear a fiduciary duty to the FN in question for plain dealing and for fulfilling their word. There is no comparable constitutional duty imposed on a tribal council to get ratification from its members - probably because non-FNs are the ones trying to, at this late date, legalize what we've been doing with land they once occupied. Again, if it was proven that the Premier and Minister promised to ratify Tsaw. with any doubts in their minds that, through their good offices, they could ensure their caucus would vote for it in sufficient numbers, and it scuppered in the legislature, the Premier and Minister would have potentially exposed the taxpayers to a signifciant amount of court-imposed financial damages.

Three, I was a big supporter of Nisga'a too, and was part of a hardwon hearts and minds battle against, among others, the current chief of staff in his then-incarnation as head of an anti-treaty group. Rhetoric against lawyers and chiefs getting rich off the process (true and deserved criticism, but like many truths, not necessarily the point) and for free votes (his and publisher David Black's third and fourth favourite refrains, I think, after "put the Nisga'a treaty to a referendum" or "only give them municipal government") are pretty resonant of those times.

Four, I don't know about you as a fellow Nisga'a Treaty supporter, but for me, the treaty had real flaws. Some more serious than others. I supported it as the product of the Nisga'a' relentless fight of a hundred years, a deal that was negotiated very hard and was very tough to arrive at, and a step I thought would be critical to helping end a hundred years of shame and a state of questioned Crown title over BC's public lands that Price Waterhouse said was suppressing investment in BC to a tune of a billion dollars. I don't think a negotiated agreement can, by deinifition, be perfect or meet all the needs of all parties. But, anyone who can look at the details of the TFN treaty today and say they know better than the three governments who hammered it out, or that their judgement is there'll be little problem simply going back to the table for more hard work, may remind me too much of the most mealy-mouthed of the 1999 Nisga'a opponents, but, then again, may be a better judge than I.

My earlier comment somehow got scrambled, with the result that the question about minority government came at the top, not the bottom where it should have been.

I find it hard to believe that the Executive Council can be held liable for the actions of backbenchers, or that they can be presumed, even in a majority government situation, to be able to deliver these people as if they were pawns or chattel, though to some of our more Victorian and colonial parliamentary theoreticians that is exactly what "responsible government" really means in practice, iron-clad, top-down, on-demand control of a majority of MPs or MLAs by the Govt of the day.

Even if there is some obligation on the part of the Govt of the day and its appointed negotiators to take steps to ensure that what they agree to will likely pass Parliament or the Legislature, you still haven't explained how the "honour of the Crown" is at stake when an Opposition member votes in the negative, especially one who made his adamant opposition to any arbitrary ALR exclusions known well in advance.


Budd, I thought I was finished: The honour of the Crown has nothing to do with what Mr. Sather may or may not do.

My point is in respect of i) Mr. Dejong and his umm disingenuous claim of how his caucus will be untethered and ii) those who point at his words and say Ms. James must therefore follow suit or is otherwise objectionally iron-clad, top-down, or Victorian.

Mr. Dejong knows as a lawyer that he must do that within his power as a minister and senior caucus member to ensure the passage of the treaty. What he says as a politician has no bearing what Ms. James and her caucus must do.

It is more a matter of the honour of the NDP caucus that they unify and take a stand for minority rights and for healing our deepest social wound. There are some instances where what are really only instruments of democratic power (appealing on the face of them, but far from universally supported) like referenda or free votes are so clearly trumped by the imperative to do the right thing. I strongly believe this is one of them. I believe the 1999 government caucus saw its duty similarly. And did it. I'm done.

"Mr. Dejong knows as a lawyer that he must do that within his power as a minister and senior caucus member to ensure the passage of the treaty."

Exactly what are you suggesting De Jong has a duty to do with respect to Liberal backbencher MacKay, who has said he may vote against the Tsawwassent Treaty? What do you have in mind? What techniques of persuasion is de Jong expected to use in order to sway MacKay and to protect the Crown's honour, in your opinion?

I did read a couple of the google links and they make it crystal clear that the concept of the Crown's honour has to do with the manner in which the Government regulates land and resources that may be subject to claim, and the duty it has to consult in good faith with Native groups on land and resource utilization. It has absolutely nothing to do with hardballing backbenchers, Government or Opposition, under any set of circumstances whatsoever.

hmmmm, much of this commentary seems to be debating arcane points.

So let's cut to the chase:

1. Bill Tieleman said it best a couple of weeks ago: taking land out of the ALR to settle treaties is wrong. That doesn't mean being anti-treaty, unless you're one of the Liberals spinning this issue. The NDP have a clear record of supporting aboriginal peoples.

2. The NDP screwed up on this issue. By supporting the Tsawwassen treaty, ALR land will be up for grabs all over the province. Great.

3. Carol James is the leader of the NDP. She wears this.

4. what a cheap shot against Tom Perry, Mr. Heaney. Of course the NDP are often hardest on their own (creating lasting animosity and pushing supportive voters away) and dialogue is not encouraged.

"1. Bill Tieleman said it best a couple of weeks ago: taking land out of the ALR to settle treaties is wrong. That doesn't mean being anti-treaty, unless you're one of the Liberals spinning this issue. The NDP have a clear record of supporting aboriginal peoples."

Bill is right, in principle. Being against this particular treaty does not mean being against all possible treaties or the treaty process. And if it were up to me, I would vote against this treaty too.

But Bill Tileman tends to overlook a very important argument on the other side. What is the practical political impact in the Native community should the white Legislature defeat a treaty that the Indian nation in question had agreed to? I think the treaty process could survive such a collision, but there is no doubt that treaty process bashers like Chief Stuart Phillip would have a field day with such a development.

"2. The NDP screwed up on this issue. By supporting the Tsawwassen treaty, ALR land will be up for grabs all over the province. Great."

The NDP did indeed loose ground politically on this issue, largely by boxing itself into the corner of a party line vote. Whose idea was that? Which individual MLA is willing to stand up in public and say, "It was my idea not to have a free vote on the TFN Treaty?" Or was it not an MLA at all, some hired staff person?

The notion that ALR land around the province will now be up for grabs is a bit of a stretch. How many other cases are there where you have land that is owned by either the Federal or Provincial Govt and is zoned agricultural, is in the ALR? Outside of a few old Dominion Experimental Farms, there can't be many parcels that fall into both those categories.

"3. Carol James is the leader of the NDP. She wears this."

Absolutely misleading. The BC NDP has always followed a weak leadership model in which the backbench MLAs run the party and the leader gets the opportunity to try to explain their decisionis. It's a system of accountability without authority and the good old MLA boys like it just fine the way it is. This has been clear with the reluctance of the party to clearly state that Gateway is going ahead, but with design and contracting changes. Finally, that seems to be clearing up, but very late in the day.

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