Politics as usual came to an end on September 27. It is now incumbent upon us the electorate, to become equally involved with the decisions, policies and laws that our government is about to embark on our behalf.
If we don’t, we risk sliding away from the opportunity to be a significant part of tomorrow’s New Brunswick.
The Provincial election had the highest voter turnout since 1999 – 71%. Taken as a sign of momentum for greater public engagement, the people of the province have an opportunity. The door just opened for greater access and influence to policy makers and their policies on the future of our province.
So, what is really different?
In some ways it boils down to a belief, and a trust. The belief is we make our best decisions when we make them together. The trust is the political process will be faithful to its commitments. Combine these two things and we have a chance to succeed –both individually and as a community/province.
We are not talking about the number of seats won by either party. We are talking about the process, and that the political process has “opened up”.
The new Progressive Conservative government committed to 32 undertakings on establishing “good government” principles within the next 6 to 12 months. Commitments to engage more with the public on many levels, to include public input on decision-making in a very real way, and to have MLAs be more accessible and accountable to constituents.
Well, now is the time to put it all into practice. But it will take all of us.
Good government needs a healthy relationship between the citizens, MLA’s and political parties.
Citizens have a responsibility to learn about important issues and to speak and act on what they care about.
MLAs have a responsibility between their constituents and their Party. They are accountable to their constituents while communicating their Party’s vision and strategy for leadership.
Political Parties have a responsibility to be open, transparent and accountable while implementing their mandate and platform.
The dynamics of this three-level relationship is democracy in action. All three involve the basic characteristics of a healthy relationship: honesty, integrity and passion.
A new government provides us with an opportunity. Higher voter turn-out and 32 stated commitments to engage the public create the climate for a more engaged political process.
Premier Alward often spoke of his “contract with the people” and that “he wants to give the Government back to the people of the province”.
We, the general public, have some work to do but we also have simple but important questions to serve as our guides: Is this decision good for the community? Does it foster a balance between competing needs? Does it keep us safe?
The role of government is to protect and empower people. These questions help focus the government’s role and responsibility.
These used to be “the” political questions even if they initiated no easy answer. We must learn once again to ask them.
This is our opportunity.
The issues we now face in our province are complex and overwhelming. This may sound odd, but our government needs us now more than ever. We need to feel a combined sense of purpose and pride in our future.
In the past we have been relegated to learning the conclusions but we weren’t brought into the process.
We cannot simply sit back and wait. The Alward Government has made its commitment, now we must fulfill our responsibility as citizens.
In the movie “V for Vendetta”, the character V says, “A people should not be afraid of it government, the government should be afraid of its people.”
Appropriate for November perhaps, and Guy Fawkes Day, but I suggest we modify this to today’s needs, “A people should not let its government make all the decisions, the government and people should make decisions together.”
Tom Mann is the Executive Director of New Brunswick Union, and a coordinator with the Democracy for New Brunswick Coalition.