Voting for an independent is vote for stronger democracy

The warm-up to the May provincial election is underway. It is not too soon to consider how we will cast our ballots. We can do the same old thing, choosing one "promising" party or another, or signal our long-standing desire for constituency representation by voting for independent candidates, and an end to party rule, where we can.

Our existing system is, for all the rhetoric claiming otherwise, fundamentally undemocratic. In it we are "forced" to delegate our political rights and responsibilities to one or other party engaged in continuous corrupting adversarial politics as they struggle for office.

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With government playing a large and, inevitably, an expanding role in our lives, it is essential we have more control of it. Each vote for an independent candidate will move us a step closer to a legislature dominated by "independent" MLAs who are responsible to their voters rather than to a party leader.

A different system of representation that features independent-of-party MLAs free to deliberate with constituents would put the responsibility for public policy where it belongs - with us. Of course, for this system to function properly that deliberation would have to be properly organized.

A start has already been made in transferring power from political elites to informed citizens. Three of our most thoughtful MLAs, people unwilling to play "follow the leader" (Vicki Huntington, Bob Simpson and John van Dongen) have already thrown off party shackles to better represent their constituents. Now they need reinforcements in the form of more independent MLAs and properly organized elected local assemblies to work with them.

Many MLAs, party and non-party, already meet regularly with interested citizens. But these meetings have no clout. People attending cannot claim to represent other citizens. Further, they have no time or special access to information that would enable them to deliberate in depth with their MLA on an equal footing. These problems can be overcome easily and the door opened to a significant democratization of the system of representation.

In B.C., we have already experienced a form of deliberative democracy with the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform and, earlier, the short-lived Community Resource Boards. In addition, we have adopted recall and referenda legislation.

These show the direction in which we want to move. Now is the time to do something more fundamental: i.e., to start replacing party conflict in the legislature with informed debate on public issues by "free" MLAs pursuing the public interest as defined by us, not by party.

We will not be wasting our vote or letting the "wrong" party get into office if we vote for good independent candidates in the next provincial election. Rather, we will be doing something extremely meaningful with our vote.

We will be "saying" that we want to rid B.C. of an exciting but dysfunctional political system, to bequeath to our children and future generations a system that reflects our democratic values and supports truly representative governments.

Vaughan Lyon is a professor emeritus in political science from Trent University. He is the author of a recent book, Power Shift: from Political Elites to Informed Citizens. In the book he presents a full model of constituency representation to replace representation by parties.

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