to renew governance in Newfoundland and Labrador,” was spearheaded by Editors
Alex Marland, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, and Lisa
Moore, Assistant Professor in the Department of English. It is a “collection of
short and snappy, non-partisan opinion pieces authored by a cross-section of
opinion leaders, academics, creative writers and other citizens.”
feels fortunate to have made the latter category. As the editors suggest, the
collection “brings together a wide variety of voices to speak to the matter of
‘fixing’ democratic governance in Newfoundland and Labrador…” Imagine that
readers of the Uncle Gnarley Blog might have a view on a subject such as that!
To celebrate the digital release
of the book, starting today it is available as an Open Access text at www.hss.mun.ca/iserbooks/title/114 or at https://goo.gl/hpCWfy. Also
released are short videos of six authors
talking about their contributions. They will be posted online by ISER Books
over the next week, appearing on Memorial
University’s YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/MemorialUVideos/videos) and shared by ISER Books on
their Facebook and Twitter feeds. An information post is also available at: ISERbooks/news.
the governance of our institutions, but it might be a recipe worth adding to
the “mix”. If it stimulates discussion right here, that would do just fine too.
As always, leave the fisticuffs to the House of Assembly.
POLITICAL PARTIES AN ESSENTIAL LINK TO BETTER GOVERNANCE PROCESSES
frequent preoccupation of democratic politics, including in this province. One
approach is to enhance the role of elected members. On the surface this seems a
sensible option, except that our elected politicians as a group, governing or
in opposition, are already under-qualified. The problem needs remedy. This
article proposes a modified district nomination system, one more broadly
focused on securing the right mix of Members of the House of Assembly (MHAs)
and skill sets.
challenged by MHAs’ inability to assess public policies and to engage in
governance and oversight roles. A “more sophisticated and professional
approach”1 will both screen candidates and advance gender balance — a goal
of modern society that is substantially unfulfilled. There is ample evidence to
justify such a reform.
impermanent governance system has evolved in both the legislative and executive
branches. During the Smallwood era no institutional framework grew to permit
detailed legislative review by dedicated parliamentarians. Similarly, economic,
resource, and social programs underwent no structured involvement at the
executive level until they reached the cabinet table.
possibly as a reaction to that time, all-member committees appeared in both
branches in the early 1970s. In the legislature, the system was functionally
weak and remains that way. Within the executive branch, policy and planning
committees became a distinct and important source of review and analysis by
ministers. It also enabled a collective style of leadership — likely because it
had the backing of successive premiers of different political stripes, a
formalized structure, and strong bureaucratic support. By the early 2000s even
this governance mechanism began to fray. What seemed an essential model, albeit
with tenuous roots, proved not to be embedded at all. The reasons for this
breakdown are clearer than any precise remedy. One is that collective
leadership threatens to diminish the power of the premier. Then, too, ours is a
society that favours strong and charismatic leadership. A collective style of
government is not a demand of democratic outcomes. Parliamentarians are not
valued as policy wonks or as legislators. Proof is the limited use of the
legislature except to vote supply and to amend statutes. More pervasive is the
view that they are procurers of a share of the fiscal “pie.”
politicians should be viewed as people possessing good judgment, capable of
evaluating public needs and mediating policy conflicts. When public policy is
thought to be the creation only of the premier or of bureaucrats, essential
connections to an important skill set and to benchmarks of performance are
critical mass and diminish the effectiveness of legislative committees. The
reduction in the number of electoral districts from 52 to 40 since 1975 threatens
to exacerbate this problem. One might suggest grossly uneven electoral results
make more talent available to the executive branch. A numerical advantage alone
offers no such assurance.
better. Yet it seems foolish that we should expect, from a relatively small
legislature, the diversity of talent and intellectual heft afforded by a large
one — unless we have a better plan. The portal to the House of Assembly is
through the political party system. Parties consistently promise to supply
politicians who inspire good government and good governance processes. But it
is an empty gesture, notwithstanding an earnest commitment to serve, if their
ideas remain concepts and parties fail to match political exigencies with
essential human resources and political leadership.
process assumes that political parties will establish criteria for what
constitutes “qualification” and that they will form resourced and ethical
committees to conduct the screening process. Active recruitment should be
followed by candidate interviews and possibly other means of assessment.
Screening implies some potential candidates will be disallowed. The most
optimistic outcome is that the enlarged process will result in both gender and
skills balance across each party’s slate. One might reasonably expect a
well-balanced slate to serve as a counterweight to authoritarian leadership.
much as it is an enhancement to the current party nomination system — one that
some believe favours not the best, but the best-funded candidates and those
advantaged by name recognition. Its success can be judged by how well the goals
of skill and gender balance are met.
will incite worries over favouritism and elitism. Indeed, large democracies,
like those of Great Britain2 and Australia,3, which have used pre-selection
systems for decades, are encouraging their parties to adopt more inclusive
practices. Still, pre-selection remains an integral part of their political
with relatively small populations, like ours, need to innovate. The status quo
is not working. It is costing us more than we realize. Governance systems have
implications both fiscally and for our quality of life. Parties don’t need to
mirror each other’s pre-selection practices. But they do need to understand
that their raison d’être is inseparable from the institutions they serve.
Parliament of Australia, Papers on Parliament No. 27, Mar. 1996, at:
Scarrow, “Candidate Selection for the 2015 Election: A Comparative
Perspective,” 11 Jan. 2015, at:
Rhys Williams and Akash Paum, “Party People: How Do — and How Should — British
Political Parties Select Their Parliamentary Candidates?” Institute for
Government (2011), at:
Council of New South Wales, “Information about the Law in New South Wales”