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MLA REPORT: Addition of 6 more MLAs shows a house divided

Tradition calls for government and opposition to sit two sword lengths away from each other
Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands. (Black Press Media file photo)

By Adam Olsen

MLA for Saanich North and the Islands

Every two election cycles a commission is created to review electoral areas. The latest commission finished its review, and the legislature passed a law that created six new seats. Now we are spending $300,000 to add six new desks in the main chamber to accommodate them.

I am a member of the legislative management committee that is shoehorning six more desks into the chamber that is already full — full of desks. I’ve witnessed the discussion play out over the past few months.

The chamber is where the discussion, debates, and dialogue about the most important decisions in the province happen. The layout of the room influences the decision-making and quality of governance in our province.

Instead of taking time to have dialogue about the values and vision we share about our democracy, the discussion is harried, narrow, and limited, informed by expediency, and perpetuating the status quo.

The fragmented and divided political system elevates the power dynamics of competing interests and conflict, over good dialogue. This serves partisanship and sacrifices good governance.

Organizations are their relationships. Building trust requires time and proximity. So sitting with MLAs who have different opinions and ideas is valuable in increasing understanding, compassion, and empathy. Our fractured, divided organization is partly the result of MLAs only sitting with their team.

Traditionally, government and opposition sit on opposite sides of the chamber, two sword lengths away from each other. Conflict is designed in our political system, and our room reflects it. Even long after the last sword left the chamber.

How we respond to the lack of space for MLAs to comfortably govern the province is an indication of the maturity of our governance system. A lack of planning and thoughtful dialogue means we rely on processes that reinforce the status quo.

Our legislative chamber is designed for desks, not humans, and definitely not people with a range of accessibility needs. What if more than 10 people in a wheelchair ever get elected at the same time? We will scramble to accommodate it, but we certainly won’t plan for it.

For those of us who spend hours each day in the chamber on house duty maintaining quorum, the desks are necessary to be able to do our work. While hybrid desk/bench configurations were proposed, they were just as quickly cast aside.

We deserve a brave governing body that is not afraid of the much deeper conversation about our values and the outcomes we want.

The design of our chamber perpetuates conflict and division at a time when we desperately need collaboration and empathy. We need power politics to give way to mature governance.

The noble cause of preserving two-sword lengths separation because that is what our ancestors did, ignores the fact that our ancestors created a layout that worked for their time, when sword swinging was a real danger. I put my sword away a long time ago and can’t remember the last time I was challenged to a sword fight. Why can’t we be more like our ancestors? Why can’t we design a room layout that is conducive to producing the type of governance we need today and for our future?

Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.

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