“Politics have become a very reactive, knee-jerk, and controlled culture that doesn’t provide for any real public debate.”
- former Burnaby-Willingdon NDP MLA Joan Sawicki, Burnaby News-Leader, January 2, 2015
For fun, I've spent the last two hours looking at the biographies of B.C. NDP MLAs elected in 1991 and compared them with the biographies of those elected in 2020.
It was an attempt to find out if occupational histories of MLAs might help explain why this B.C. NDP caucus is so much more obedient than the one headed by former NDP premier Mike Harcourt. (I realize that former B.C. Green party leader Stuart Parker has already looked at the way nominations have changed to explain this phenomenon.)
In particular, I was curious to find out if there was some clue as to why every single NDP MLA is singing from the same song sheet when it comes to Health Minister Adrian Dix's oversight of the pandemic. Not one has publicly questioned why Dix thinks that scrapping a provincewide mask mandate does not constitute discrimination against families with immune-compromised members.
There are a couple of things I noticed when looking at these biographies.
There were more doctors, college and university instructors, and teachers in the NDP's 51-member caucus elected in 1991 in comparison with the NDP's 57-member caucus in 2020.
In 1991, physicians Tom Perry and Barb Copping were elected in Vancouver–Little Mountain and Port Moody–Burnaby Mountain, respectively. In 2020, no physicians were elected to the NDP caucus in Victoria, though the nursing profession is represented.
Perry and Copping did not seek reelection in 1996 after hardcore labour-union supporter Glen Clark became leader. I haven't been able to find any physicians elected to the NDP caucus since then.
In 1991, five former B.C. schoolteachers were elected on the NDP slate: Barry Jones, Joan Sawicki, Anita Hagen, Bill Barlee, and Helmut Giesbrecht.
The current NDP caucus has two former B.C. public school teachers: Jinny Sims and Anne Kang. Two others, Pam Alexis and Doug Routley, taught English as a second language in other countries.
There were three former college and university professors in the 1991 NDP caucus: Andrew Petter, Paul Ramsey, and Dale Lovick. This NDP caucus has two: Murray Rankin and Grace Lore.
Some professions are better represented in the NDP caucus today in comparison to 1991. There are three former engineers (George Chow, Bowinn Ma, and Katrine Conroy), compared to just one (Art Charbonneau) in 1991.
By my count, there are six current or former lawyers in the current NDP caucus: David Eby, Bob D'Eith, Bruce Ralston, Andrew Mercier, Niki Sharma, and Aman Singh. Back in 1991, there were five: Harcourt, Ujjal Dosanjh, Leonard Krog, Moe Sihota, and Bernie Simpson.
So there you have it: more engineers and more lawyers and fewer teachers, college and university professors, and, perhaps most importantly, doctors.
The leader of the B.C. Greens, Sonia Furstenau, is a former teacher and the daughter of a university professor. She also has a master's degree in history.
I imagine that Furstenau probably grew up in a home filled with books. Studying history is a wonderful way to learn about monumental mistakes by politicians in bygone eras.
So it's not a major leap for someone like her to immerse herself in research about the province's most pressing public-policy issue—the pandemic—and to question how the government is proceeding.
There are certainly several NDP MLAs with curious minds who likely also grew up in homes filled with books. One who springs to mind is Ralston, who has also studied history and is the son of a journalist and university history professor.
There are many others, I'm sure.
If John Horgan ever decides that Dix is done as health minister, let's hope that the premier turns to someone with an inquisitive mind as his successor.
That's because curiosity, an open mind, and open dialogue are essential in stemming the growing number of fatalities in B.C. from COVID-19.
There's no reason that politics must be the reactive, controlled, knee-jerk culture that it has become in B.C.—especially when it can have such damned deadly consequences for a growing number of B.C. families.