Cam­paign fi­nanc­ing, elec­toral re­form fod­der for op­po­si­tion

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

Prince Ge­orge Lib­eral MLA Shirley Bond was gra­cious enough last week to credit Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ca­role James for re­tain­ing some of the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment’s ideas in her bud­get up­date. The 50 per cent cut in MSP pre­mi­ums, re­mov­ing the sales tax on elec­tric­ity for busi­nesses, and a tax credit for vol­un­teer firefighters and res­cuers all sur­vived the change of gov­ern­ment.

But there’s no ques­tion the heat is on when it comes to de­bat­ing just about ev­ery­thing else.

Bond her­self fol­lowed up the ap­pre­ci­a­tion with the usual warn­ings about the im­pend­ing eco­nomic col­lapse the NDP is go­ing to trig­ger.

The prob­lem for the Lib­er­als is that macroe­co­nomic the­o­ries about fis­cal pru­dence and dwelling on the var­i­ous fi­nan­cial in­di­ca­tors bore peo­ple to tears. The stan­dard free-en­ter­prise warn­ings about NDP bum­bling are stale.

The NDP hasn’t been in power in 16 years. Its new gov­ern­ment is only three months old. There’s noth­ing much so far to base the dooms­day pre­dic­tions on, other than dim mem­o­ries from the 1990s.

Even Bond con­fessed there’s a prob­lem with this line of Lib­eral at­tack.

“One of the things that I have learned over my time in this house and as now a fifth-term MLA is that when you talk about a triple-A credit rat­ing, most peo­ple’s eyes glaze over.”

There’s another line of at­tack for the rookie Op­po­si­tion crew else­where in the NDP agenda. It’s on the twin pil­lars of the NDPGreen al­liance – cam­paign-fi­nance re­form and chang­ing the vot­ing sys­tem.

Two big ar­gu­ments loom. The first is on the NDP’s bait-andswitch move on cam­paign fi­nance, in which it banned big money as promised, but with zero no­tice subbed in tax­pay­ers’ money to sub­si­dize par­ties big enough to qual­ify.

The sec­ond will be over the ref­er­en­dum on pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion that is be­ing rushed to vot­ers next year, en­tirely on the gov­ern­ment’s terms with no in­de­pen­dent view. (The only nod to the need for some im­par­tial­ity is the news that the at­tor­ney gen­eral has benched him­self from the up­com­ing ar­gu­ments.)

The Lib­er­als and NDP will spend weeks clash­ing about both moves, but it’s the Greens at this point who look like the big win­ners.

Both mea­sures were con­di­tions of the Greens sup­port­ing the NDP on con­fi­dence mo­tions. And both of them con­fer huge ad­van­tages to the three-per­son cau­cus, which also scored party sta­tus last week by law.

The cam­paign-fi­nance law not only gives the Greens a guar­an­teed source of in­come, it sub­tracts mil­lions of dol­lars from their op­po­nents’ trea­suries.

It also makes it tougher for smaller up­starts to get a foothold.

There were 15 par­ties in the May elec­tion. The B.C. Con­ser­va­tives, for ex­am­ple, would have to quadru­ple their vote be­fore meet­ing the thresh­old for pub­lic fi­nanc­ing.

And mov­ing to pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, if the mail-in ref­er­en­dum en­dorses what­ever is pre­sented as an op­tion, is noth­ing short of the an­swer to the Greens’ prayers.

The con­cept is to make the seat count in the leg­is­la­ture more re­flec­tive of the raw break­down of the pop­u­lar vote.

The Greens’ 17 per cent share of the vote in May got them three seats. Pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion could the­o­ret­i­cally in­crease that to 15 seats.

Ad­vo­cates stress how much fairer such sys­tems are, but there’s a huge self-in­ter­est at play, as well.

It’s why the Greens ini­tially wanted to slam it into place with­out even a vote.

It was the NDP that in­sisted on a ref­er­en­dum.

The leg­is­la­ture is still in the open­ing rounds of the cam­paign­fi­nance ar­gu­ment, and the Op­po­si­tion is try­ing to build a case against it.

Out­side the leg­is­la­ture, it’s an is­sue in the Lib­eral lead­er­ship race, as well. Fig­ur­ing out which NDP ideas to land on the hard­est is one of the pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of the eight can­di­dates.

For a party that ig­nored the topic for years un­til it be­came an em­bar­rass­ment, it’s quite a switch to see them reach­ing for the high ground.

The Lib­er­als haven’t turned their at­ten­tion to the vot­ing change yet. But the re­form is likely to in­clude a dra­matic cut in the num­ber of rid­ings, and the pre­vi­ously pro­tected ru­ral rid­ings in the north are the ob­vi­ous tar­gets.

Lib­er­als hold al­most all of them and in­tend to fight for them.

Greens aren’t the only ones with self-in­ter­est in play.

LES LEYNE

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