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BC Election: To Whip or Not to Whip votes PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Posted by Joan Russow
Tuesday, 07 May 2013 07:40

ByJoan Russow Global compliance Research Project

One of the reasons citizens become cynical about Party politics is when political parties espouse principles, craft policies and run on a platform, and then allow MPs to vote freely and ignore the commitments.

I attended the Victoria screening of Sean Holman’s film, “Whipped the Secret World of Party Discipline. Judging from the enthusiastic response of the audience for the film, I think that this issue is getting a lot of traction during the provincial election in BC. The film profiled former Liberal, Socred and NDP MLAs, who after, overtly disagreeing with the leader/Party, either resigned or were whipped.

In the film, no distinction is explicitly made between the submitting to the demands of the leader/party and the reneging on party commitments.

The film addressed the issue of control by the leader of the Party and Party discipline and ignored the importance of adhering to the principles, policies and platform, which, for me, is the essence of a political Party.

It is incumbent upon each candidate in an election to know the party principles, policy and platform. When a candidate runs in the election there is the assumption that the candidate supports the Party commitments. When a candidate is elected there is also an assumption that when there is a vote that the elected MLA will vote according to these commitments. The public would, however, probably accept cases where new evidence has emerged that would compel MLAs to vote against the party commitments


After the screening I had reservations about the non-conditional support for free votes and absolute opposition to whipping the vote. One of the reasons I had reservations was because of my experience as a former leader of the Green Party of Canada.

For example, one of the founding principles of the Green Party internationally was non-violence. I had to deal with what I understood to be a complete violation of this principle when a shadow cabinet member, in 1998, supported the no fly zone and bombing of Iraq, Would this not be a time to point out that a fundamental principle had been violated and to whip the vote?

Another example was when the German Greens as part of a coalition government, supported the NATO bombing of Kosovo. At this time, The German Greens whipped the elected Green Party members and ignored the fundamental principle of non-violence. In this case the whipping was wrong because the whipping caused the party to violate a fundamental principle of the Party. For me this was a time to criticize the German Greens and point out the violation of the principle and ignore the notion of international Green Party solidarity. Other international Green Party leaders supported the German Greens’position because the coalition government would have fallen if the German Greens had voted against the invasion. I eventually stepped down as leader and then left the Party.


Following the film there was a panel comprised of a former Liberal MLA cabinet minister George Abbott, a former Canadian Alliance/Conservative Candidate, Bruce Halisor and Sean Holman, the Film Maker. I asked whether the panel, did not believe that MLAs should be whipped when there is a matter of fundamental principle. I used the example that I had to face when I was the federal Leader of the Green Party of Canada. Bruce Hallisor’s response received extensive applause, when he stated `but before long everything becomes a matter of principle and then `whipped.


In the current BC election, the Green Party made the following commitment;

“Institute a system of free votes in the legislature including the budget The BC Greens will not “whip” party members.” (BC Green Party Platform)

What are possible implications of this commitment? One implication is that any elected Green MLA is essentially not bound by the principles, policies or platform of the Green Party. So when one votes for a green candidate, there is no guarantee that the candidate will necessarily support the Green party principles, policies or platform. He or she could vote with the Liberals or any other Party.

For Example, What will happen when the Leader of the Green Party has made a statement, on behalf of the Green Party, on a key election issue and the Deputy leader has already taken an opposite position. An issue in the current election has been the issue of BC Hydro’s requiring so called “smart” meters.

In 2011,Jane Sterk , the leader of The Green Party of B.C., was reported to have made the following statement on behalf of the Green Party of BC: “The smart meter program is another example of unsupportable assumptions based on industry lobbying rather than best practices,”

Andrew Weaver, the Deputy leader in another article in 2011, stated “Smart meters will improve service. They will create opportunities for consumers to conserve electricity, introduce smart appliances and monitor their energy use.” http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/andrew-weaver/bc-clean-energy-policy_b_1034296.html

When there is a vote, on ``smart meters`` in the legislature, and both are elected will one vote against and the other for. Will those who voted for the Green Party because they are concerned about smart meters and remember that Jane Sterk made a commitment for the party, be disillusioned when Andrew Weaver, who may be the only Green elected, and votes in favour.

Another difficult issue is the Liberal’s institution of the Pacific carbon Trust along with the involvement of the Nature Conservancy, which was severely criticized not only by the Auditor General of BC but also in a recent article, by Naomi Kline http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/03/giants-green-world-profit-planets-destruction

Andrew Weaver in April 2, 2013 , was reported as stating ”that they support the concept of Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) despite the criticism by the Auditor General, and will be purchasing PCT offset credits for their own carbon neutral campaigns. The candidates want to see public sector offset revenues fund public sector projects, to begin the gradual transitioning from fossil fuels to a low carbon economy.”http://www.andrewjweaver.ca/south_island_green_candidates_support_a_new_path_to_carbon_neutrality Will citizens vote for the Green Party because they think that Andrew Weaver, as a member of the IPCC must be right about the Pacific Trust because they believe he is an expert.Andrew Weaver even sent out robot calls, for the Liberals, in the last bC elections http://www.gorilla-radio.com/index.php?id=606


In the current election, the NDP said that they would comply with the Cohen report but did not come out explicitly calling for banning fish farms, However new scientific information has been revealed in the newly released film“Salmon Confidential” that would justify elected members to vote for the banning of fish farms. In this case, it would be appropriate for the party to change its position and call for banning salmon fish farms and institute a fair and just transition for members of communities affected by the ban.


The Canadian Alliance used to say that its members, who go to Ottawa, vote for what their constituents want; what I think they meant was not what the whole constituency wanted but on what their narrow constituents- i.e. the members in the constituency that were members of the Canadian Alliance. There is no obligation to carry out a survey of what all the members of the actual constituency or riding would want. And often with the first past the post, the winning candidate could have received less that 50% of the vote.

There was a case in Canadian politics where an independent, Chuck Cadman, held the balance of power and he said that he would vote according to what the members of his riding wanted and he did a survey to find out. Only when there is a survey of the members of the Constituency or riding would an elected member be able to say that he or she was voting for what his or her constituency wants. . Then when the candidate is running in the election, he or she should be clear that he will deviate from the principles¸ policies and platform of the Party when there is a conflict between the Party and the view of the constituents; otherwise perhaps he or she should run as an independent

In fact if a party affirms, as the Green Party has, that there will be free votes and the members will never be whipped then can anyone in the Green Party clearly affirm that Greens once elected will abide by the principles, act on policy or implement the platform.

Last Updated on Friday, 10 May 2013 06:54

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