Lead­ers clash in PR de­bate

The Prince George Citizen - - Front Page - Rob SHAW

VIC­TO­RIA – A much-an­tic­i­pated de­bate be­tween B.C. Premier John Hor­gan and Lib­eral leader An­drew Wilkin­son de­volved into an ex­tended 30-minute tele­vised ar­gu­ment Thurs­day evening that po­lit­i­cal ex­perts say of­fered vot­ers lit­tle use­ful in­for­ma­tion.

“I’m glad it was only half an hour,” said Univer­sity of Fraser Val­ley po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Hamish Telford. “It was not ter­ri­bly in­for­ma­tive in terms of get­ting more de­tails on any kind of elec­toral sys­tem.

“There was just a lot of yelling over the top at each other which I think peo­ple will find ir­ri­tat­ing and frus­trat­ing.”

Hor­gan and Wilkin­son’s de­bate cen­tred mainly on unan­swered ques­tions about the three elec­toral sys­tems ver­sus the po­ten­tial for a new vot­ing sys­tem to en­gage dis­en­fran­chised Bri­tish Columbians.

“We’re talk­ing about chang­ing to some­thing that’s more in­clu­sive and rep­re­sen­ta­tive, or stick­ing with a sys­tem that will pro­duce ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ments with a mi­nor­ity of votes,” Hor­gan said.

Wilkin­son fo­cused much of his time on quizzing Hor­gan about spe­cific de­tails about the three pro­posed PR sys­tems. He de­manded Hor­gan tell the pub­lic how many MLAs would be elected un­der each model, as well as how many rid­ings would be merged and how many votes Bri­tish Columbians would have on their bal­lots.

Hor­gan strug­gled to ex­plain spe­cific de­tails, be­cause many of the finer points re­main un­de­cided un­til af­ter the ref­er­en­dum is com­plete and an all-party com­mit­tee of MLAs – as well as an elec­toral bound­ary com­mis­sion – de­cide upon the rid­ings and for­mats.

“Premier Hor­gan is ad­vo­cat­ing a change to three dif­fer­ent sys­tems, two of which have never been used any­where in the world,” said Wilkin­son.

“You don’t be­lieve we can be in­no­va­tive?” asked Hor­gan.

“This is not a card game where you can write the rules,” replied Wilkin­son.

“Peo­ple want to know be­fore they fill in that bal­lot how many MLAs will I have, how many votes will I have… tell us how it’s go­ing to work. You are mak­ing the sug­ges­tion to change the sys­tem, you have to ex­plain to peo­ple. And I haven’t heard you ex­plain one sin­gle fea­ture tonight.”

The mail-in ref­er­en­dum asks vot­ers whether they want to keep the cur­rent first-past-the-post elec­toral sys­tem, or change to one of three op­tions of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Bal­lots must be re­turned by Nov. 30. As of Thurs­day, Elec­tions B.C. re­ported 2.6 per cent of al­most 3.3 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers had re­turned bal­lots.

Wilkin­son ar­gued that the cur­rent sys­tem has been used for decades safely and is sim­ple to un­der­stand. Hor­gan re­jected that ar­gu­ment, say­ing the prov­ince should use this “unique op­por­tu­nity” to try some­thing new and be com­forted that a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum will be held two elec­tions later if the se­lec­tion is un­pop­u­lar.

“I don’t think we need to keep us­ing the tele­graph, lets get mod­ern, lets get hip,” said Hor­gan, who later in the de­bate also ac­cused Wilkin­son of not be­ing in touch with the youth vote by say­ing “if you were woke you would know prop prep is lit.”

The TV for­mat, while short, fea­tured sev­eral seg­ments in which the de­bate sim­ply de­volved into both men speak­ing over each other.

“I think at this point in the evening peo­ple are say­ing if I’m just go­ing to lis­ten to one guy yell over­top of the other guy I’m go­ing to watch Wheel of For­tune,” said Hor­gan.

Wilkin­son ap­pealed to the pub­lic to re­ject the “dog’s break­fast of ab­bre­vi­a­tions” of PR mod­els on the bal­lot.

“Mr. Hor­gan has come along and cherry-picked three dif­fer­ent sys­tems out of a pos­si­ble 16 or 17, he chose the three sys­tems, peo­ple are very con­fused by th­ese three op­tions and we’re ask­ing him tonight to ex­plain,” said Wilkin­son.

“I have more con­fi­dence in the peo­ple of Bri­tish Columbia clearly than you do Mr. Wilkin­son,” replied Hor­gan, who ac­cused Wilkin­son of push­ing fear.

“I be­lieve they will be able to work through this.”

Telford said he thought Hor­gan came across as pos­i­tive and op­ti­mistic, even if he did strug­gle to an­swer Wilkin­son’s spe­cific ques­tions.

“I think peo­ple who are hav­ing reser­va­tions of the sys­tems or the op­tions would be hop­ing for some clearer an­swers from John Hor­gan,” said Telford.

“But on the other hand when Wilkin­son is in­sin­u­at­ing this was all a Machi­avel­lian plot, well John Hor­gan didn’t look very Machi­avel­lian.”

CP PHOTO

Premier John Hor­gan and Lib­eral leader An­drew Wilkin­son fol­low­ing the Elec­toral Re­form De­bate at Global Tele­vi­sion in Burn­aby on Thurs­day.

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