April 09, 2013 - 6:42 AM
I have been extremely fortunate in my seventeen years as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia to serve in a variety of different but important capacities. My role as an MLA began first as an opposition critic, later a Government Minister with two different Ministries and my final two terms serving as the Speaker of the Legislature. During that time frame I also experienced on two different occasions changes to the electoral boundaries that ultimately resulted in my representing new and different communities then from where I was first elected to serve. On reflection this experience has been greatly valuable in providing a better understanding on how Provincial Government works and the unique and diverse challenges that exist in different regions of the southern interior of British Columbia.
In each different position I served as an MLA there were many important lessons to be learned and as is often the case in public office, most of those lessons came with a political price attached to them. Of all the different roles over the years my time spent as the Speaker will be by far the most memorable for me, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. One of the most important considerations for any Speaker in any Parliament or Legislature is to be non partisan at all times. When I was first elected as Speaker I wondered how one could be "non-partisan" at all times and more so in communicating with citizens within the riding and in my weekly reports where it is not uncommon to respond to political criticism from the Opposition.
However I soon discovered that in order to "respond" to Opposition comments and criticisms it was very much possible to do so without in any way levelling a personal attack or using insults of any kind. In fact today I take solace in not having once engaged in a personal attack or ever maligning members of the opposition for the past eight years. I should also note that at no time did I receive a comment from a citizen indicating they preferred a more aggressive or partisan tone. From my perspective and experience many citizens have better appreciated partisan politics being left out of the discussion.
The other challenge I encountered as Speaker is that as a strictly non partisan role, I could not speak directly on behalf of government. At first this also presented a challenge, however I soon became aware that one can explain the facts and benefits of a particular program or policy of government without encouraging citizens to support it, or in other words, without my cheerleading in support. Providing factual information and the reasoning for a project or program without adding a personal political bias allows citizens to decide for themselves on the merits of any Governmental decision and if they desire to support it or oppose it without political encouragement to do so from their MLA. I have in turn discovered that this approach generates less negative reaction from citizens of all stripes and if anything encourages more meaningful and constructive feedback.
In summary what I enjoyed most about my time spent as the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly is the fact that it is a non partisan position and while at first I thought of this as a limitation in communicating with local constituents in my view this was one of the great assets of the position. I feel the need to convey these thoughts as soon the writ period will descend upon British Columbia and what I often refer to as the "silly season" will begin. I believe we should take note that the debate and discussion of differing political views can be a more constructive and less partisan one. As the weeks leading up until the next election will go quickly I hope that all citizens take a moment to think about the issues that are most important to you and find ways to communicate them civilly and constructively to others. Working together we can all raise the level of debate in British Columbia.
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