Friday, December 1, 2017

Electoral reform debate marks time in final week for Fall session of Legislature

This was the last week for the Fall session for the Legislature
and prior to the suspension of work for MLA's yesterday,
Skeena MLA Ellis Ross revisited the themes of electoral reform

The MLA's bade their farewell to the Fall session on Thursday, a milestone moment for the government of John Horgan, who has steered the NDP agenda through the summer months and delivered some of their planned legislation into the fall.

The final week appear to have provided for few speaking opportunities for North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice at the Legislature, however the MLA found to the east of Prince Rupert had a productive week in Victoria.

As Skeena's Ellis Ross weighed in on two themes, the first making inquiries on issues related to steel duties and the impact that those duties could have on any LNG development projects in the province.

The larger presentation to the House however, returned to the core essence of democracy, with the Skeena MLA engaging once again in the discussions related to the government's electoral reform act.

Proposed legislation from the NDP government which will see British Columbians cast their vote in November of 2018 to decide if we will stick with the current first past the post system, or make a change to proportional representation, though the actual format for that potential new system has yet to be fully explains.

Mr. Ross had already made a fairly expansive overview of the situation a few weeks ago, which we chronicled here and on Monday afternoon, the Skeena MLA was back to the topic in the chamber, this time speaking in favour of a proposed Liberal amendment to seek extra time for consultation to better understand the the government's proposal for proportional representation and to allow for feedback from the public on the topic.

A good portion of his response to the topic, followed the lead of other Liberals to take note of the combined forces in motion from the Green and NDP parties to move the project forward, calling on some of the political commentary from journalists to highlight some of the troubling aspects of the way the process is being handled

For his part, some of the key elements for Mr. Ross's commentary involved some of the consequences that he believes could affect rural riding's in particular, should the shift to proportional representative gain approval.

Those should make for some debate not only in Skeena, but in other rural riding's such as the North Coast and whether one is in favour of the proposed change, or a strong proponent of the status quo; the themes introduced by Ross could be something to start a conversation.

The observations include a short overview of how the MLA sees the political map in BC at the moment and how he believes that rather than bridge the gap between rural and urban communities, the change to the alternative to the first past the post system will only exacerbate those divisions.

"I find it curious why the NDP and the Green Party are in such a rush to change the rules, because any changes will have consequences. As an MLA that represents a northern and rural constituency, I'm concerned by proportional representation, because the outcome of the last election revealed a deep divide between urban and rural British Columbia. Yet if you look at British Columbia as a whole, you'll see that we need each other. We need all British Columbians in all ridings to pull together, if not for ourselves and our future, then for our kids and our grandchildren's future.

A quick look at the electoral map of British Columbia illustrates how a few NDP MLAs were elected in rural parts of the province. There are only a few NDP seats and absolutely no Green representatives. In fact, the NDP and Green Party coalition is comprised primarily by urban seats located in the Lower Mainland and the southern part of southern Vancouver Island.

Proportional representation only would intensify this divide between urban and rural British Columbia, because nearly three million of the province's population of 4.6 million live in the Lower Mainland. That means Metro Vancouver would always determine the outcome of any provincial election. Northern voices and rural voices, like my constituents, would be silenced by a purely urban mindset."

He also explored further some of the impact on First Nations communities and the smaller cities, towns and villages that are scattered around the rural areas of the province and called on his experience with the Haisla Nation to highlight some of those concerns.

First Nations would suffer more, at a time when First Nations are finally becoming part of the conversation — finally becoming part of the decision-making and being included in the economy. As the chief councillor of the Haisla First Nation for many years, I have seen how misguided beliefs and interest groups have robbed our region of the opportunity to help ourselves. If you have witnessed, like I have and many other First Nations leaders, the cycle of poverty and seen the harm inflicted by substance abuse in remote communities, then you would think twice about adopting a system that would only alienate First Nations even more. 

Under proportional representation, voters will no longer cast a ballot for a local representative. They will only vote for political parties. At a time when the public is already disillusioned by partisan politics, we now have a government in Victoria that wants to govern by more partisanship. 

Without a local voice from the north, people in my riding of Skeena will have to bow down to an urban majority. Skeena represents 23,500 square kilometres of rural and northern British Columbia. The Skeena riding is larger than Israel and bigger than Slovenia. We have a population of only 32,000 people in the whole of Skeena. We are an electoral district that features many small and remote communities spread out over a large land mass. 

Under proportional representation, none of these communities would have an elected official to call their own. And MLAs would only be accountable to political parties. In fact, in my riding, I know my community very well because I was born and raised in Skeena. I understand Kitamaat Village, the Kitimat townsite, the four Nisga'a villages that make up the Nisga'a treaty, Kitsumkalum, Kitselas, Terrace…. I know the issues. 

I'm finding it very difficult to address all of their wishes and needs. I can't imagine trying to address the needs and interests of an area ten times the area that I'm currently representing, trying to represent 30 communities. Thirty communities in B.C. represent a number of different issues, and there is no way that I can even begin to imagine that I could represent Haida's interests or Atlin or Burns Lake.

The full commentary  runs approximately twenty five minute and provides a forum for the Skeena MLA to share much of his past experience at the local level of government, as well as from the perspective as to how some First Nation officials may be viewing the changes being considered by the politicians in Victoria.

You can review the transcript of his comments from the Legislature Hansard for Monday here, it starts at the just before 16:55 mark.

His commentary on the theme has also been posted to the MLA's Facebook page, you can view it below:

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice spoke to the issue earlier this month, offering her support for the government's proposal

The NDP/Green proposal is getting some significant attention, as it should, through the province's media options, you can review many of the contributions to the theme from our Victoria Viewpoints archives on our political portal Darcy McGee.

For more items related to the work of Mr. Ellis from Victoria see our Legislature archive page here.

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