Sce­nar­ios that spell un­cer­tainty

Times Colonist - - Islander - DERMOD TRAVIS

Hav­ing sur­vived two ref­er­en­dums in Que­bec — the 1992 Char­lot­te­town Ac­cord and the 1995 ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence — I be­lieve I might have a few ex­pe­ri­ences to share and some kindly ad­vice to of­fer.

On the first front, ref­er­en­dum cam­paigns are rarely fun af­fairs, which flows to the sec­ond part, time to dial it down. We all have to live to­gether af­ter the vote, and if com­ments on so­cial me­dia are any in­di­ca­tion, a few friend­ships have likely been dam­aged be­yond re­pair al­ready.

Some read­ers might re­call the words of for­mer Que­bec premier Jac­ques Parizeau on ref­er­en­dum night in 1995: “We are beaten, it is true, but by what, ba­si­cally? By money and eth­nic votes.”

Many might think it was the “money and eth­nic votes” that was the most of­fen­sive part to his claim, but Parizeau said it in French and, for many Que­be­cers, the more of­fen­sive word he used was “nous.”

Nous has a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance in this par­tic­u­lar con­text — Parizeau was draw­ing a dis­tinct ra­cial line.

For­tu­nately, he had the good grace to re­sign the next day.

So on that ad­vice front, don’t add to divi­sion, when divi­sion is the last thing B.C. needs.

Speak­ing of which, the use of goos­es­tep­ping Nazis in a No-side video was re­pug­nant and if the U.S.-based Poli­tiFact could squeeze it in be­tween fact-check­ing U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s hourly claims, it would likely earn a “mostly false” rat­ing un­der that group’s Truth-oMeter.

Ex­trem­ists can get elected un­der ei­ther sys­tem, first-past-the-post or pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and have done so, even in Canada.

Parizeau was called a Nazi by some, and some saw the Parti Québé­cois as a party of ex­trem­ists that shouldn’t even be al­lowed to run can­di­dates, yet it won five elec­tions un­der FPTP and came within 55,000 votes of win­ning the 1995 ref­er­en­dum.

There’s a photo cap­tion in a 1978 Toronto Star ar­ti­cle that reads: “I am a bigot, said Leonard Jones and his Toronto au­di­ence roared its ap­proval.”

Jones? For­mer mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Monc­ton, N.B.

The Yes side should con­sider adding some tint to its paint­ing pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion as a panacea to all our ills. How­ever, not quite as much tint as the Van­cou­ver Sun’s Rob Shaw sug­gested in a tweet a few days ago.

Shaw tweeted: “Here’s an idea Pro-PR peo­ple: Have the courage to plainly ac­knowl­edge both the weak­nesses AND strengths of FPTP. It ac­tu­ally makes you more cred­i­ble when ar­gu­ing PR’s pos­i­tive traits (which are many).”

Shaw was re­act­ing to what he called “an­other thinly dis­guised pro­pa­ganda video,” which don’t seem to be in short sup­ply this time out.

I wouldn’t go as far as Shaw did. There is a beauty-con­test as­pect to a ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, and the keep­ing-it-hon­est part falls more on the me­dia and po­lit­i­cal ob­servers to do.

I can as­sure Shaw, how­ever, that Parizeau never once had a good word to say about fed­er­al­ism dur­ing the 1995 ref­er­en­dum.

Sup­port­ers of the two sides can point to thought­ful and well-rea­soned ar­gu­ments for both sys­tems and cred­i­ble in­di­vid­u­als es­pous­ing them.

For­mer Pre­ston Man­ning ad­viser Rick An­der­son, for­mer Con­ser­va­tive party sen­a­tor Hugh Se­gal and Na­tional Post colum­nist An­drew Coyne spring to mind as pro­po­nents for PR.

For­mer B.C. Lib­eral Party leader Gor­don Gib­son, for­mer B.C. fi­nance min­is­ter Kevin Fal­con and the ed­i­tor-in-chief of Busi­ness in Van­cou­ver, Kirk La­pointe, come to mind as ad­vo­cates for the No side, al­though Gib­son’s op­po­si­tion goes more to process.

It’s why some­thing Premier John Hor­gan said sticks out. At a re­cent pro-PR rally in Vic­to­ria, Hor­gan said that un­der PR “you can vote for your val­ues, your val­ues will be re­flected in the leg­is­la­ture. What could be bet­ter than that?”

At the end of the day, that might also be a mea­sur­ing stick for un­de­cided vot­ers.

Per­haps vot­ers should con­sider the val­ues that the re­spec­tive lead­ers on both side have es­poused in the past.

Which spokes­peo­ple best rep­re­sented your val­ues in 1995, 2009 or 2013?

The B.C. Lib­eral party has a catchy slo­gan: “one and done.” In essence, telling vot­ers to vote No to the first ques­tion and ig­nore the sec­ond.

It’s con­ceiv­able that it could have an im­pact on the turnout for both and could leave the prov­ince in some un­charted wa­ters.

What hap­pens if the Yes side wins ques­tion one with a turnout of say 60 per cent, but the turnout for ques­tion two falls be­low 50 per cent?

Can you spell court chal­lenge? Dermod Travis is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of In­tegri­tyBC.

Ju­dith Gui­chon, B.C. lieu­tenant-gover­nor at the time, in­spects the Hon­our Guard as she ar­rives for the throne speech at the leg­is­la­ture on Sept. 8, 2017.

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