On the other hand, a minority government in which leadership would genuinely have to consider other points of view could bring about meaningful change. For that to happen, enough Liberal or Conservative habitual voters would have to jump ship with a protest vote for an alternative candidate. Since 17 of the 40 constituencies offer only one alternative to the Liberals and Conservatives, that protest vote might mean swallowing hard and voting for a candidate not in line with one’s political values. That’s the nature of strategic voting.
You might argue that a protest vote is unfair to those MHAs that have served their constituency well. That’s true. But the reality, sadly, is that voting according to the merits of individual candidates will do nothing to change the power dynamics in this province. That’s because, contrary to the way democracy is supposed to work, individual MHAs are allowed very little impact on actual decision making within our two dominant parties. Their role increasingly seems to be that of obedient cheerleaders to bills, budgets and policies developed behind closed doors elsewhere.
Disobedience is punished. Independent MHA Paul Lane found that out when he was booted out of the Liberal Party for protesting that dreadful first Liberal government budget proposal – the one that called for the closure of rural libraries and the imposition of a $300 levy on citizens making $25,000 a year. Those who call the shots in the party were not inclined to tolerate principled dissent.
But who actually does call the shots in NL politics? In testimony after testimony at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry we’ve learned that cabinet ministers and premiers had only minimal control and understanding of what was going on under their watch. They simply believed and did what they were told by Nalcor executives and the clique of corporate advisors who advised them in closed door meetings.
I’m not saying that business interests shouldn’t have access to our political parties. I’m saying they have excessive influence and that that is unlikely to change as long as NL politics are dominated by two parties heavily funded by the corporate sector. We desperately need more parties in the House of Assembly. The emergence of NL Alliance is a healthy step.
The challenge right now is to persuade people to vote for the underdogs, whatever their political colour. Unfortunately it’s not that simple. In 16 constituencies voters can only choose between a Liberal and Conservative candidate. There, the protest vote will have to be a destroyed ballot. It may not change the outcome in the constituency but it sends a clear message and it shows a lot more democratic responsibility than staying home.
Therein lies another problem. Forty-five percent of eligible voters did not vote in the last provincial election. Change isn’t going to happen if only 55% of us vote.
There are key elections in which a big voter turnout is needed. Today's is one.