Lead­ers in way too deep to of­fer ra­tio­nal in­sight

The Daily Courier - - LETTERS -

Premier John Hor­gan and Op­po­si­tion Leader Andrew Wilkin­son al­ter­nately ac­cused each other of be­ing afraid of change or hid­ing de­tails about what it in­volves dur­ing a tele­vised de­bate Thurs­day night about the ref­er­en­dum on B.C.'s elec­toral sys­tem.

The mail-in bal­lot ques­tions, now in the hands of 3.3 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers, are about whether to change the vot­ing sys­tem to one of three pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion mod­els. The is­sue sparked nu­mer­ous clashes be­tween the two lead­ers. Hor­gan urged peo­ple to vote for change, say­ing it would trans­form the leg­is­la­ture into a co-op­er­a­tive, in­clu­sive (big­ger) fo­rum and open up pol­i­tics to a new group — the frus­trated who now feel their votes are wasted.

Wilkin­son, who de­manded de­tails from Hor­gan about the changes, said the whole process is flawed and peo­ple are be­ing left in the dark about how it will op­er­ate.

He urged a “no” vote. He said po­lit­i­cal par­ties should have been kept “100 miles away” from the process, but in­stead it’s be­ing run by the govern­ment and 23 de­tails will be de­cided by an NDP-ma­jor­ity com­mit­tee if the ref­er­en­dum passes. “He [Hor­gan] is the one who gets to fill in all the blanks.”

Wilkin­son en­dorsed the idea of an in­de­pen­dent cit­i­zens assem­bly, like the one that stud­ied elec­toral re­form in 2003, if vot­ers opt for the sta­tus quo.

Hor­gan said Wilkin­son, who de­fended the vot­ing method now in use, is stuck on a sys­tem that worked in the 1800s and isn’t ready to move into the 21st cen­tury. “Let’s get mod­ern, let’s get hip.”

Asked if pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion would in­crease the cost of govern­ment, Hor­gan said: “There will be more mem­bers in the leg­is­la­ture and that will mean there’s more di­ver­sity, as well. That means more in­clu­sion.”

The MLA count, now 87, could in­crease to 95 de­pend­ing on which of the three sys­tems is se­lected by vot­ers.

Wilkin­son said pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion would lead to an in­crease in smaller par­ties, re­gion­ally or eth­ni­cally based, which would cre­ate un­sta­ble mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ments and bring about more fre­quent elec­tions.

In his clos­ing state­ment, Hor­gan echoed the late fed­eral NDP leader Jack Lay­ton and asked peo­ple to put fear to one side and look to hope.

Both lead­ers ar­rived at the de­bate car­ry­ing so much per­sonal bag­gage it got in the way of any ob­jec­tive con­sid­er­a­tion of the ad­van­tages and draw­backs of chang­ing the vot­ing sys­tem.

The lead­ers are so in­vested in the im­pli­ca­tions for their par­ties there's no room for anal­y­sis of what it would mean for the province.

Hor­gan needs the ref­er­en­dum to pass for two ma­jor short-and long-term rea­sons. The more im­me­di­ate one is that his govern­ment could quite likely col­lapse if peo­ple opt for no change.

The three Green MLAs have grit­ted their teeth at times and hung to­gether with the NDP mi­nor­ity to see the ref­er­en­dum through. But all bets would be off af­ter a “no” vote. With dreams of an au­to­matic dozen-mem­ber cau­cus un­der a pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tem dashed, they could eas­ily void the agree­ment, prob­a­bly be­cause of the NDP’s sup­port for build­ing a liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas plant.

Over the longer term, the NDP’s lack­lus­tre elec­tion record — three wins, 13 losses over al­most 60 years — would com­pel any leader to want to change the rules. They’ve tried al­most ev­ery­thing, but can only rarely over­come cen­tre-right coali­tions un­der the cur­rent sys­tem.

Wilkin­son’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture is just as much on the line. Pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion is a big threat to the lib­eral-con­ser­va­tive coali­tion that the B.C. Lib­er­als have kept to­gether for 27 years.

It’s tai­lored to the ad­van­tage of fringe par­ties, so any con­ser­va­tive-minded group that gets a foothold in the house would have a run­ning start at claw­ing away the B.C. Lib­er­als’ right flank.

Plus, why would B.C. Lib­er­als want to change the rules to a game they’ve won five times in a row, in­clud­ing (tech­ni­cally) the last time? So any­one look­ing Thurs­day night for im­par­tial, dis­pas­sion­ate anal­y­sis of what the ref­er­en­dum means to B.C. was tuned to the wrong chan­nel.

Les Leyne cov­ers the leg­is­la­ture for the Vic­to­ria Times Colonist. Email: lleyne@times­colonist.com.

LES LEYNE In­side B.C.

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