Unknown to practically everybody, including voters in Ontario, where 18 candidates are trying their luck in Thursday’s provincial election, is the Consensus Ontario party.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before some enterprising soul would turn a jaundiced eye northward in search of political inspiration. And why not? The guy most likely to win the election justified banning golf during Covid last year because he figured people would drink too much beer between holes. Such is the state of politics in our nation’s largest province.
So really, it was only a matter of time before someone would dust off consensus government and present it as salvation to an electorate exhausted by a political party system promising nothing but more of the same.
There’s a Consensus Canada as well. It all seems to be the brainchild of one fellow, Brad Harness. I have no idea what he knows about the Northwest Territories or Nunavut, or whether he’s ever been here. But he has taken the muskox as their mascot, because…
“In the North, muskox act by consensus — bums in towards the centre of the defensive circle — to look out for one another. We felt that a fitting icon for our new political party,” Consensus Canada’s website’s mission statement reads.
Something tells me they didn’t catch the NWT’s last budget vote, but I digress.
And it’s a touch ironic that in presenting themselves as non-party politics they’re calling themselves a political party. It’s like an old Seinfeld joke. “Let’s start a political party, except with us there won’t be a party. That will impress the plebes.”
I’m not sure what I’d say if we were ever to meet up and discuss. There are, no doubt, political systems across the country that leave something to be desired. Our experience with Covid-19 and politicians spinning themselves backwards trying to explain ever-evolving edicts these past two years has only amplified the disconnect.
Nothing stands out more than last year’s federal election – the most important “in our lifetimes,” the prime minister said – which, of course, produced a result few particularly liked and left the nation more divided than ever.
It often seems we’ve been left with nothing more than competing hashtags. Party leaders don’t say or do anything unless it’s politically advantageous to do so and their MPs don’t say anything at all.
No wonder there’s so much apathy towards party politics in this country.
Not sure how to break it to Mr. Harness and his party-less party-kin though. Consensus government, unfortunately, is not the answer.
If Ontarians were to wake up election day with a sudden hankering for consensus government and then fill the Ontario legislature with Consensus Ontario MPPs, they would be immediately confronted with the same problem we Northerners face when we elect our MLAs.
That is, they all immediately become parties unto themselves after safely clearing the polls and then slam the door behind them after walking into caucus chambers to pick the premier and cabinet. That’s not to say there are not good MLAs in our system but the system is not particularly good at advancing democracy, if that’s what Consensus Ontario/Canada is trying to sell.
Our system makes it very difficult to advance a voter-driven agenda and to coalesce behind a leader who is accountable to voters. We elect individuals MLAs, who, without party affiliation, can make promises but are rarely in a position to deliver on them, who then vote for a premier and cabinet AFTER the election.
Consensus Ontario claims that this is a good thing. I suppose it is if you want more horse trading and MLAs undercutting one another behind closed doors, but I don’t see how consensus is any better at carrying out the will of voters.
The lack of party solidarity also makes our system very difficult to change.
I’ll note Nicole Latour, the territory’s previous chief electoral officer who was suspended before the end of her term last year, made 61 recommendations in her report following the 2019 territorial election, one of them recommending that residents should be able to vote directly for the premier in subsequent elections.
MLAs wouldn’t even talk about it when the Legislative Assembly’s Standing Committee on Rules and Procedures met to discuss her report in 2020.
Consensus government is certainly good for MLAs looking out “for one another,” as Consensus Canada’s muskox mascot suggests. Unfortunately, consensus is no better at looking out for citizens than party politics is.
Oh well. From the Northwest Territories, good luck in tomorrow’s election, you consensus crusaders!