Give power to the people

Resident wants the public more involved in decision-making

Soon, British Columbians will be facing important issues such as the Northern Gateway pipeline, fracking, the Clean Water Act and land use. Christy Clark and her majority government will decide what they plan to do about it.

We, the citizens, will have no choice but to accept their decision. B.C.’s non-binding Referendum Act, put in place by the NDP and labeled as unworkable by former Liberal opposition leader Gordon Campbell, will make it practically impossible to launch a referendum against any Clark government decisions.

In B.C., there can only be one referendum proponent, an individual and registered voter, and not an organization, whereas there can be any number of opponents, consisting of organizations and individuals, creating a bias in favour of opponents in terms of fundraising and networking potential. The proponent and his or her canvassers must work hard to collect the signatures of at least 10 per cent in each of B.C.`s 85 ridings. If only one falls short by even one per cent, all is for nought. Opponents, however, need only to concentrate their efforts in two or three ridings to make sure that at least one fails. In California and Washington State, the signatures of only four per cent of the voters statewide, who voted in the last gubernatorial election, are needed to launch a binding referendum. B.C. could apply the same rule, requiring the signatures of four per cent of the voters who voted in the last provincial election. Due to B.C.’s geography, most signatures would be collected in southern areas, but all British Columbians would be asked to vote on the proposal.

In B.C., canvassers must be registered voters, government approved and registered, a time-consuming and expensive process. In California and Washington State, anyone can display, distribute and circulate referendum petition forms.

When it comes to a vote, the above states require a simple majority of those who take part in the vote, whereas in B.C. a majority of all registered voters is required. If 50 per cent of the registered voters turned out to vote and 100 per cent of them voted in favour, the referendum would not pass. It would fail by one vote. To top it all off in B.C., under existing rules, a positive result of a referendum goes back to debate in the legislature, which still has the power to trash the vote, thus turning the referendum into an expensive poll and B.C. into a pseudo democracy. Voter participation in B.C. provincial elections since 1928 has averaged 67.26 per cent, but only at 52 per cent in the last election. By comparison, it is interesting to note Premier Christy Clark herself was elected by only 23.8 per cent of registered voters in her riding. This begs the question: Why do we British Columbians need more than 50 per cent of B.C.’s registered voters to vote to overturn any of her decisions?

In California and Washington State, legislative change is the law and automatic in case of a positive referendum result. I can cite the case of Switzerland, where for the last 150 years or so, the signatures of only one per cent of registered voters are required to force a binding referendum, and only two per cent for the proposal of a new law (initiative). I lived in Switzerland for a number of years and while there, I observed that the very existence of the Swiss referendum law — enabling the citizens to have a final say on any issue at any time – created a far more harmonious relationship between the electorate and the elected. It appears not to be an us-against-them, but an us-and-us relationship, working together toward a common goal, but also assuming a common responsibility for the outcome. People’s referenda also help suppress corporate influence in law-making and corruption. Unfortunately, during an election campaign in B.C., the parties will tell us one thing, only to do a 180-degree turn once elected with a majority, because they know that the electorate cannot effect immediate changes to government decisions.

Our government must change the Referendum Act. Let us all turn the existing pseudo democracy in B.C. into a real democracy where citizens have the right to challenge the government on any issue by means of binding referenda or binding initiatives. Call your MLA.


Casey Berlanda