On Whipping Votes and Making Deals

by Charlene Boyce, Green Party of Nova Scotia Co-President

The recent New Brunswick election results engendered a lot of interest in the more obscure aspects of parliamentary procedure. What happens when the winner is really not evident?

This election has gone a long way toward showing the serious drawbacks of first-past-the-post in a splintered electorate. We may not be accustomed to minority governments, but once we have  three or more active parties, they become not just a possibility, but an expectation.

The “Big Two” (for now!!), the Liberals and Conservatives found themselves in a practically-tied face-off due to the precedent of favour that the incumbent government enjoys. This left newcomers The People’s Alliance and David Coon’s Green Party with the enviable position of being courted for support. Interestingly, the way the numbers broke out, even with a deal and an ‘alliance government’, a clear majority is not so clear.

Many news anchors were talking to David Coon, asking whether the Greens would ‘prop up’ the Liberals.

Now, those of us familiar with Green politics know that we don’t whip votes. That is a thing we are known for. Our MLAs, MPs and other elected representatives are expected to vote with their conscience. Since we rely heavily on facilitated discussion and consensus building, we often find ourselves agreeing with our esteemed leaders, but not always.

So how does a party leader guarantee support to another government if she or he cannot whip votes?  This is a question I asked of my party executive, some of whom have a lot more experience than I do.

The answer is, the same way all decisions are made. The elected New Brunswick Greens would meet and discuss and decide as a collective whether they would enter into any kind of agreement, and what kind of agreement, if any, that would be.

The New Brunswick Liberals therefore needed to negotiate not just with David Coon, a more known entity to them, as he has been an MLA for several years; but also with Megan Mitton and Kevin Arseneau, brand new MLAs.

It is situations like this that make politics my favourite spectator sport.

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