|Skeena Liberal MLA Ellis Ross spent his final day of the fall session
raising further concerns over the nature of the Electoral reform referendum
With the clock ticking down towards the end of the fall session at the British Columbia Legislature on Tuesday, Skeena MLA Ellis Ross chose the topic of the current electoral reform referendum process as his parting shot before the holiday season takes MLA's back to the home constituencies.
Speaking in both the morning and afternoon sessions of the final day for Legislators, Ross raised a number of concerns that he still has with the way the NDP government has introduced the electoral reform plans and how the mail in balloting of the vote itself has been conducted.
The concept of proportional representation and the issues that it raises for the MLA framed the early portion of his presentation to the Legislature, with Mr. Ross tying any positive result for the Proponents of proportional representation to current arrangement of governance between the NDP and Green Parties.
Proportional representation is more about compiling a power base in this Legislature to gain a certain amount of seats so you can gain power, so you can form government. It's done not in this Legislature. It's not open and transparent. It's done in a back room, in exchange for single-interest parties to get recognized — all this in the name of power and authority. Now, when we're talking about how proportional representation stalls or falls in other places around the world, the government dismisses this as fearmongering, even though all the major news outlets all around the world report on this and show and expose how unstable these governments are under proportional representation.
We're fortunate here in B.C. that our current system of first-past-the-post, regardless of what's being said about politics or politicians for that matter…. We're extremely lucky that first-past-the-post, our current system, has provided such a stable government for many, many decades. The rare case of instability mainly comes from a minority government, where you have to negotiate a confidence and supply agreement, much like we see in the House today. It's a tough job to maintain a confidence and supply agreement. We're seeing it already. Our current government is always balancing the needs of British Columbians while trying to keep the Green Party members happy and in line at the same time.
The government, so far, has done a good job, because they haven't been voted out by the Green Party in a confidence vote, but the assumption is that all bets are off if proportional representation is not successful. That is not governing; that is politicking. If this is truly the case, where is the responsibility to represent the interests of B.C. for all British Columbians if we're just looking out for our party's survival in the Legislature? That's got nothing to do with British Columbians.
The Skeena MLA also reviewed some of his concerns when it comes to what would be a follow up referendum, should the current version deliver a positive outcome for the proportional representation option. With Mr. Ross, suggesting that the move was one of desperation by the governing NDP and nothing more than a political stunt.
The amendment is mainly about holding another referendum in the future just in case proportional representation passes. That was how it was explained to us, but this motion came at a time when the government felt they were losing the current vote. The polls were showing that it was dead even. Some polls even showed that the first-past-the-post was actually edging them out. So this really had nothing to do with the process itself. It had nothing to do with the flaws. It was just a political statement, to encourage people that if you did vote for proportional representation and it did get passed, there's always a back door to get back to our current system, which is first-past-the-post.
Now, everyone that I've talked to, especially on this side of the House, knew and still knows today that this was just a stunt. It was just a stunt in an effort to sway voters and to get more voters convinced to vote for proportional representation.
Why it's a stunt is because everybody in this place knows — not many people know outside of this place, outside of the House — you can't bind future governments to decisions made today, especially political statements. It's just another empty promise when we're talking about the referendum. Another broken promise like whether or not the ballot would have a simple yes-or-no question.
We didn't see that. That's the biggest reason why we get so many people coming into our offices in our constituencies asking about how to vote and whether or not they get voided or whether or not they're voting for proportional representation if they vote on question No. 2.
Picking up his themes for the afternoon session, the format of the referendum vote also made for some observations from Mr. Ross who outlined a number of his concerns as part of the discussion.
The ballot is complicated. Many residents in my constituency are coming to me asking me for explanations and just wanting more information in terms of what to expect. There are members on both sides of this House that don't truly understand the full nature of what will happen or, even under the current process, what's happening with a referendum on proportional referendum.
Now, we know that there was a promise made for a simple yes-or-no question for the ballot, and that didn't come through. We were also expecting, and all British Columbians were promised, an all-party committee to consult with British Columbians. We know this didn't happen. Instead, what happened was an on-line survey that British Columbians didn't participate in, let alone hear about.
So, basically, if you know your way around the Internet and are a political junkie and care about Legislature business, then you are most likely to participate. Unfortunately, nobody in my community participated because none of the people that I represent in my own community actually are political junkies or care what happens in this Legislature and don't know their way around the Internet.
Another theme that has caught the attention of the Skeena MLA is the threshold of the vote and what amount of voter participation will make for a valid endorsement of any change to the electoral system.
The term "threshold" has been thrown around quite a bit. And for those many people watching at home — watching us right now, hello — just to explain to you what "threshold" means in this context…. When the past government held a referendum on proportional representation, they included a term called "thresholds."
They understood this because they understood what it meant to be changing the fundamentals of our democracy. So it was said in the past that there was a 60 percent threshold needed for the mandate to change our electoral system. So 60 percent…. Not many people understood this. In today's context, if we applied 60 percent threshold, that would mean 52 out of the 87 ridings in B.C. would've had to vote yes for a mandate to change our electoral system. That meant that 52 ridings out of the 87 ridings in B.C. had to understand and, more importantly, had to want a system like proportional representation. But this is not what happened in this current referendum.
There is no threshold in this current referendum. The government said that even if 5 percent of the electorate — not the ridings — voted, then the results would be binding. This is an unbelievable position to take considering the amount of information that has to be absorbed by the average citizen and isn't available to the average citizen. Combine that with a mail-in ballot process instead of in-person voting, where the rules are clear already, whether it be a provincial or municipal election. Substituting an on-line survey for actual meaningful consultation with voters is just another mechanism to ensure a yes vote.
You can review the full presentation from the Skeena MLA through the House Video Archive for both Tuesday morning and afternoon.
Mr. Ross's early talking points can be found starting at the 11:30 AM mark, the Skeena MLA picks up the conversation in the afternoon at 1:35 PM.
You can view his response from House Video archive or review the comments from transcripts of the days proceedings from the Legislature.
Tuesday afternoon (Transcript) (House Chamber Video)
Tuesday morning (Transcript) (House Chamber Video)
You can review some of our past items of interest related to the referendum campaign here.
A wider overview of the work of the Skeena MLA at the Legislature can be explored here.