Lead­ers clash on elec­toral re­form

The Daily Courier - - NEWS - By The Cana­dian Press

BURN­ABY — Bri­tish Columbia’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers clashed in a de­bate on elec­toral re­form on Thurs­day, with Premier John Hor­gan cast­ing pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion as mod­ern and even “hip,” while Op­po­si­tion Leader An­drew Wilkin­son in­sisted the sys­tem was too con­fus­ing.

The politi­cians often talked over one an­other dur­ing the heated tele­vised dis­cus­sion on the prov­ince’s vot­ing ref­er­en­dum, with Hor­gan push­ing a switch to pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion and Wilkin­son de­fend­ing the cur­rent first-past-the-post process.

Vot­ers who mark their ref­er­en­dum bal­lots in favour of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion must rank three pos­si­ble sys­tems, and Wilkin­son ac­cused Hor­gan of re­fus­ing to an­swer ques­tions and be­ing dis­hon­est with vot­ers about how the sys­tems would work.

“You won’t tell peo­ple how many votes they have. You won’t tell peo­ple how many MLAs they have,” he said.

“Peo­ple are get­ting con­fused by this bal­lot, which is why the turnout is now 2.5 per cent, be­cause peo­ple are not sure what to do with this dog’s break­fast,” Wilkin­son said.

Hor­gan re­sponded that the three sys­tems are straight­for­ward, and that de­bate hosts CBC and Global en­cap­su­lated them well ear­lier in the broad­cast. He said he trusts B.C. res­i­dents will do their re­search be­fore vot­ing in the ref­er­en­dum.

“I have more con­fi­dence in the peo­ple of Bri­tish Columbia, clearly, than you do,” Hor­gan said.

The premier added that fear of change ap­peared to be mo­ti­vat­ing Wilkin­son and op­po­nents of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The sys­tem is used suc­cess­fully in coun­tries around the world, while first past the post in Canada con­sis­tently pro­duces win­ners out of pop­u­lar-vote losers, he said.

“Let’s get mod­ern. Let’s get hip,” Hor­gan said.

Later, Hor­gan adopted mil­len­nial lingo to make his pitch, telling Wilkin­son, “If you were woke, you’d know pro-rep was lit.”

The de­bate was fre­quently chaotic. Hor­gan quipped at one point that if it was just go­ing to be two men yelling over one an­other, then peo­ple were likely to change the chan­nel to Wheel of For­tune.

Wilkin­son pushed back against Hor­gan’s sug­ges­tion that the cur­rent sys­tem only works for the BC Lib­er­als, which won the 2001 elec­tion and the next three elec­tions.

“Let’s talk about how par­lia­men­tary sys­tems have worked ro­bustly across Canada and the English-speak­ing world for hun­dreds of years,” Wilkin­son said.

“At the rid­ing level in the cur­rent sys­tem, if you like your MLA, you hire them. If you don’t, you fire them. That’s very clear and you know who they are.”

Wilkin­son said he was con­cerned that Hor­gan’s govern­ment had se­lected three op­tions for pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, two of which have never been used be­fore, out of more than a dozen pos­si­bil­i­ties.

The Op­po­si­tion leader said a cit­i­zens’ as­sem­bly should have been formed to cre­ate the bal­lot ques­tion.

The three op­tions on the bal­lot are some­what com­pli­cated, but all would mean that vot­ers still choose at least one lo­cal MLA while the leg­is­la­ture’s makeup more ac­cu­rately re­flects the pop­u­lar vote.

Bal­lots can be re­turned by mail or dropped off at sev­eral lo­ca­tions around the prov­ince, but must be re­ceived by Nov. 30, with re­sults ex­pected some­time in De­cem­ber.

A ma­jor­ity of 50 per cent plus one is needed to change the sys­tem.

The New Democrats made elec­toral re­form an elec­tion prom­ise in 2017, and hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum was a key part of their agree­ment with the Greens to take power in the leg­is­la­ture.

Green Leader An­drew Weaver did not par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate.

The ref­er­en­dum is B.C.’s third such ques­tion on elec­toral re­form, with pre­vi­ous votes in 2005 and 2009 that both ended in de­feat. Hor­gan has said that he be­lieves the third vote will be the prov­ince’s last.



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