Political Waves in an Ocean of Ideas

Politics in Western democracies is most noticeable just before, during and immediately after public elections.  But whether we love politics, hate them or refuse to acknowledge them, politics are everywhere.  They manifest in the office, on the job site, at the grocery store, and even at home.

Political views are personal but when several people share similar political views, they may get together and form a political tribe, which we call a political party. Tribes are groups that share beliefs, rituals and aspirations that as political parties, they promote in the hope of winning a majority of public support that translates to power.

Industry has tribes. MCABC is a tribe as are the many organizations that make up the construction industry in BC, Canada and around the world. MCABC has its own internal politics and form of governance, but it occasionally expresses its tribal beliefs on municipal, provincial and federal issues. For instance, MCABC has been leading the charge over recent years to convince the provincial government to adopt prompt payment legislation, to speed up the cash flow to trade contractors who share the experience of delayed payment for completed work.

However, in the nearly 30 years that I’ve been with MCABC, the association has been selective in its choices of political causes to support. MCABC has openly supported those issues that protect or advocate the interests of the trade or mechanical sector of the construction industry. These issues included apprenticeship training; best practices such as a code of commissioning practice; plumbing code amendments; government procurement practices; contractor licensing; balanced employment legislation; and as previously mentioned, prompt payment legislation.

MCABC has rarely spoken out on contentious public issues but MCABC’s board of directors recently sent a letter to Premier John Horgan supporting the completion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, with the justification that significant mechanical contracting work relies on the oil and gas industry. This brings me to a question about the role of trade associations to take a position regarding the BC government’s initiative on proportional representation (PR). What our political ‘outside voice’ typically speaks is for or against an action of governments that either enhance or impede our sector’s opportunities to grow and prosper.

Some construction associations have taken a stand and I presume in doing so they have looked into their tribal beliefs to determine that their position defends their interests. Would MCABC be inclined to do the same? Is there something in the debate around this issue which will occupy the news from now until the November referendum date that obliges mechanical contractors to state a position for or against it?

Changing a provincial voting system is larger than advocating the interests of a single industry sector.  It seems that there is a certain arrogance about an organization that claims to speak on behalf of its entire membership on an issue that could impact individuals far beyond the limited interests of a given trade group.

So other than advocacy, what options do we have?  How about educate rather than pontificate?  To that end, perhaps MCABC could host a kind of forum to discuss what’s on the table? We could provide information about what proportional representation is.  We could discuss pros and cons, where it came from, and why democratic governments around the world either embrace or shun this system. Please let us know if MCABC has a role in this discussion.

If you’re not interested in learning more about proportional representation through MCABC, perhaps our appropriate response is to take no position on the issue. To take a position on the issue – having done nothing to educate ourselves, members and followers – may be worse than taking no position at all.

But whether we study the proposal through MCABC or on an individual basis, we should educate ourselves. If politics is an ocean of ideas, proportional representation could be a tsunami approaching.

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