18 October 2015
Greens practise a different kind of politics
October 17, 2015. 12:59 am
Vancouver Park Board Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon says Green party politicians like him will vote the same on values issues but are not whipped to vote a certain way by party leaders like with other parties. (Jenelle Schneider/PNG FILES)
There has been a lot of chatter in social media of late about “whipping” and “whipped votes.” A vote that is whipped is one where the elected members are told how to vote by their party. They don’t have the opportunity to vote their conscience or to vote how their constituents might want them to. They must vote how they are told to.
At Vancouver Park Board meetings, many may be surprised that sometimes the two Green commissioners vote in different ways. Both Michael Wiebe and I share common values — Green party values — one of which is that no vote is whipped. We don’t need whipped votes on core values; we naturally will vote together. We will vote together on environmental issues, on issues of sustainability, social justice, respect for diversity and participatory democracy.
But sometimes we may differ in our interpretation of public sentiment or rules and regulations. I think Michael would agree with me that in that independence is one of the key principles that brought each of us to the Green Party.
Michael and I come to the meetings of the park board to listen, discuss and then make a decision. Sometimes, his decision surprises me, as I’m sure sometimes mine surprises him.
We listen to what the public and staff have to say. We listen and participate in the debate around the table. Then we make our decisions. While we might discuss issues before a meeting, our decisions are not made in advance by backroom party operatives, party leaders or anyone else. These decisions are made by us and we are responsible for them.
This independence surprises partisans in other parties. They don’t understand that we are not beholden to the party on issues other than values. Michael and I differed on the budget this year, as well as on the installation of a public art piece in Hastings Park and on the creation of a Vancouver Parks Foundation.
Michael and I share fundamental common values, but that doesn’t mean that we have identical outlooks. Each of us brings our knowledge, background and experience to our decision-making.
Being in a minority on the board, sometimes we will vote with another party and sometimes against. Interestingly, though, more than 80 per cent of all votes at the board are unanimous.
Interim B.C. Green Leader Adam Olsen put it another way. In a blog post from last year he wrote: “Deeply entrenched partisans on both sides of the fence watch Green votes closely, and depending on the decision, they pounce on us, calling us closet Liberals or closet NDPers. We are not either: Greens are Greens. We are only responsible for the quality of our decisions to the electorate. Therefore, we don’t defend those decisions in a ‘left versus right’ context as the debate has been framed in the past.”
This independence of voting is shared by all Greens, including provincial MLA Andrew Weaver and federal MPs Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer, who have also been known to vote differently from each other from time to time.
Wouldn’t it be great if all elected members could make decisions that were in the public interest? Wouldn’t it be great if all politicians truly listened? Wouldn’t it be great if there were no more whipped votes?
Greens do things a bit differently. The other parties don’t like that and so you will hear much criticism about the way we vote. Greens think that politics needs to be done in a different way. A way that is better for democracy and better for all citizens. That’s why I’m a Green and proud to be one.