Provincial Conservatives have referendum concerns

Interim party leader Scott Anderson of Vernon reacts to Wednesday’s referendum report

Scott Anderson

The BC Conservative Party supports the right of all British Columbians to decide how their MLAs are elected but is concerned that the 50+1 threshold is too low to properly gauge the intentions of British Columbians.

Attorney General David Eby released a report Wednesday detailing the results of citizen engagement on electoral reform, which informed his 18 recommendations to the cabinet for how the fall 2018 referendum should be structured.

The attorney general’s recommendations to cabinet cover all aspects of the fall 2018 referendum, which will decide whether B.C. keeps its current First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system or moves to a system of proportional representation (PR).

The report recommends that the referendum ballot include two questions:

1. Which should British Columbia use for elections to the Legislative Assembly (Vote for only one.):

* The current First Past the Post voting system

* A proportional representation voting system

2. If British Columbia adopts a proportional representation voting system, which of the following voting systems do you prefer? (Vote for the voting systems you wish to support by ranking them in order of preference. You may choose to support one, two or all three of the systems.):

* Dual Member Proportional (DMP)

* Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)

* Rural-Urban PR

If a majority of responses to the first question vote to adopt a proportional representation voting system, then responses to the second question would determine which system is implemented in British Columbia.

“The government should not make a fundamental change to the way British Columbians elect their provincial representatives without a strong and clear mandate to do so,” said interim Conservative leader, Vernon councillor Scott Anderson. “A simple majority of only those people who vote is simply not enough.”

Anderson is also concerned that the NDP is working the system to its own advantage.

“Unfortunately in our political system changes of this sort tend to be dominated by the governing party of the day, and engineered to their advantage,” said Anderson. “We saw it happen with the federal Liberals, who cancelled electoral reform when it started to look like their preferred model wasn’t going to be chosen, and I am concerned that the same thing is happening here.”

Anderson cited Eby’s claims that some “design details” will follow only after the vote.

In 2005, two supermajority thresholds were required: 1) at least 60 per cent of the valid votes cast in support of the proposal, and a simple majority in favour in at least 60 per cent of all electoral districts.

“The Conservatives believe the process in 2005 was designed to capture the true intentions of BC voters,” said Anderson. “We don’t believe the NDP-Green criteria does.”

Eby said the ballot he’s recommending to Cabinet offers voters a clear question of whether they want to keep the current First Past the Post voting system or move to a proportional representation voting system.

“As an additional safeguard, if the result of the 2018 referendum is the adoption of a proportional representation voting system, I’ve recommended that a confirmation referendum be held with the same threshold after two provincial general elections to determine whether to keep that voting system or go back to the First Past the Post voting system,” said Eby.

“The final decision about our democratic system will be made by British Columbians.”

Anderson dismisses the BC Liberal attack on proportional representation as a lot of empty grandstanding.

“The last Liberal throne speech advocated for a referendum on electoral reform, and all Liberal MLAs supported the idea, while the NDP-Greens opposed the throne speech,” said Anderson. “Now the roles have reversed, with the NDP-Greens supporting a referendum and the Liberals caterwauling about it. Where was the Liberal angst then? Why did [Liberal leader Andrew] Wilkinson support essentially the same process then but now believes the sky will fall because of it?”

Anderson identified three misstatements in Wilkinson’s press interview:

1. False claim that no one was consulted (all BC’ers had the opportunity to submit suggestions online);

2. False claim that no one has ever heard of these options (MMP, in particular, is well established in other Westminster parliamentary systems); and

3. False claim that the three PR options don’t allow for regional representation (in fact if BC voters decide to move forward with any one of the PR options, every region will continue to be represented in the BC Legislature).

“No reporter questioned Wilkinson on why he and all other Liberal MLAs voted for the clone speech last year that would include a referendum on electoral reform if he’s so very concerned about it now,” said Anderson. “And now he’s committing to use taxpayers’ dollars to travel around the province to fight this referendum. I know it’s a Liberal trait to throw taxpayers’ money around uselessly, as with the $4.5 billion the federal Liberals threw at a pipeline that could have been paid for by the private sector had Trudeau shown a little leadership, but using taxpayers’ money to fight something today that they supported yesterday really takes the cake.”

Wilkinson did not respond to a Morning Star request for comment on Anderson’s position.

Anderson said the Conservatives believe in living by its promises.

“We will support a referendum that is clear, objective and incorporates a popular and regional supermajority, and if it achieves those criteria we’ll respect its results,” said Anderson.

Fair Vote Vernon, meanwhile, welcomed Eby’s announcement of the questions for the referendum on proportional representation being held this fall.

“We’re pleased to have clear questions for the citizens of BC. Now we can get to work on reaching as many voters as possible in our community over the next five months,” said Sue Young, chair of the Vernon and Area Fair Vote chapter.

The record response to the consultation – 91,000 – shows that BC voters care deeply about this issue, and the government responded with questions and regulations that reflect what they heard from citizens.

“The referendum question is clear – this is a question of fairness to all voters. It’s a choice between the old system that works for lobbyists and insiders, and a modern system that works for voters,” said Young.

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