By Ken Alexander
On Oct. 2, the New Democrat government introduced legislation to “ensure British Columbians will have the chance to review and confirm their support for electoral reform if voters choose proportional representation (PR) in this fall’s referendum.
It noted that the new Electoral Reform Referendum Act will enable a second referendum after two election cycles if British Columbians vote to move to a proportional representation voting system in November.
However, Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart virtually scoffed at the provincial government’s move to push PR through.
“They introduced legislation saying don’t worry if it comes in, they will look at it after two terms.”
Tegart says the legislation is “ridiculous.”
“What are voting on?
“How can you write legislation on something that isn’t even there yet.”
The local MLA says she thinks the NDP government is desperate.
She notes people are asking all kinds of questions about what’s not included right now.
“It’s almost patronizing – like don’t worry; we’re going to figure it out after [the referendum]. “And if that doesn’t work, we’ll look at it after two rounds.
“If it doesn’t go through, they’ve written legislation on what? You shake your head sometimes. and they say, ‘trust us’.”
Noting the government hasn’t identified which PR model it’s going to use, Tegart says she’s never heard of anything like this before.
“The reality is if proportional representation comes in, it would vote in the people who are taking a look at it. And what do you think their response would be?
“I think their response would be ‘I want any model that would keep me in there’.”
The local MLA says the whole process has been tainted with partisanship.
“It was not what [Premier] John Horgan promised in the election. It’s one question – yes or no.”
Tegart says she is telling people that if they want locally elected, accountable MLAs, first past the post is the best model.
She adds it’s really about who elects or appoints MLAs.
“I think our electorate is pretty used to an accountable person who they can pick up the phone and make us accountable.”
During her annual Fall Tour around the Fraser-Nicola constituency at the end of September, Tegart says she was hearing lots of questions about proportional representation.
She notes there has been very little talk about PR over the past six months.
“My concern is it’s going to get lost in the province’s municipal elections. So, I wanted people to be aware that is was coming, that they’ll be receiving ballots in the mail between Oct. 22 and Oct. 24.
“Don’t throw the ballots out. They’re critically important to the democracy of British Columbia.”
During the tour, Tegart says they wanted to share some information with people so they could understand what the referendum was about.
“We shared some written information with them. Elections BC has some good information and we provided a couple to websites – both for and against – so people could take a look the information and make up their minds on how they would feel comfortable voting.
• People can check out Elections BC at https://elections.bc.ca
• People can look at the pro side of PR at https://voteprbc.ca/get-informed/
• People can look at no PR side at https://nobcprorep.ca/
“My concern is people will receive this ballot in the mail and just chuck it in the garbage.”
Tegart notes it’s hard to say what would have B.C. if the referendum goes through because there’s a lack of clarity.
“When you look at the models that have been put forward, it doesn’t include the one model the Citizens Assembly actually recommended in 2005 and 2009.
“Two of the models have never been used or are not in use right now.”
It’s hard to say exactly what it will look like because it’s “vote for it and then we’ll clarify it later,” she adds.
“That is particularly concerning when you think of what an impact it will have on representation in rural B.C.”
She notes rural B.C.’s population is spread out and a couple of the models look at gigantic ridings.
“As a MLA with one of the larger ridings in the province, it’s a challenge just getting to all of the communities.
“To think they might make the riding even bigger, is very concerning.”
Tegart says people need to understand it’s not just this generation that will be affected. It will be our children and our grandchildren, she adds.
“Once it’s in place, the chances of voting PR out is very slim.”