Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


October 19, 2017

Constitution Amendment Act, 2017 (Bill 5)

Hon. S. Simpson: I’m pleased to have the opportunity to join in the debate on Bill 5. The member for Kamloops–North Thompson was talking about how some of these issues will affect potential turnout and the scope of some of these issues. I would suggest that as the changes that have been proposed by a number of pieces of legislation brought forward by this government, we are likely to see those significant increases in turnout if they occur. We all hope there will be greater numbers in turnout.

I think we’ll see that, should the referendum on proportional representation be successful and we move to a new system of proportional representation, because I think there are many people in this province who don’t believe their vote is valued. They cast a ballot for their party of choice, and that’s not reflected in the results.

Instead, we have a Legislature here, regardless of which side, where power is given to one side or the other side, usually with significantly less than a majority of the votes cast in the province. With the exception of the anomaly, really, of 16 years ago in 2001, we haven’t elected a government in this House that’s had more than 50 percent of the vote. That’s the reality, and I think that people get frustrated, and they wonder whether their vote counts.

If we move to that system, should the voters of British Columbia choose to make that change, what we will see here in British Columbia is a system where the composition of this Legislature reflects the choices of the voters of this province in terms of the percentages that each of the respective parties in that election is able to garner. I think that is probably going to do more to drive turnout than whether we have an election on a Tuesday or a Saturday, quite honestly.

But I do want to just walk through the changes that are contemplated in Bill 5. The first is the change of the date to the fall. I think that the reason…. We’ve been talking about this change for years in this House. It’s been back and forth. Members on both sides have talked at different times about this change. Always the fundamental that has been underlying that change is the issue of the timing of the budget.

We’ve seen budgets that are, of course, introduced in the spring. They take an extensive period of time to complete, and without exception, when we’re in an election year, we are adjourning this place before a budget is resolved into an election, when the numbers have not been confirmed by public accounts. There is always at least perception about whether those budgets are accurate, because they haven’t had that independent evaluation done that we get out of public accounts.

 

This change to the fall, in fact, removes that. A government then does come into an election, campaigning on its record, including its financial record and including its most recent budget and all of the things that are included in that.

It has been pointed out that that budget will presumably have been passed prior to the election so that the new government coming in, in October is not under the pressures to scramble to complete a budget process in order to allow the government to continue to function, operate and have the dollars to continue to operate. That, I think, becomes a very important thing. That in itself is more than ample reason to move the election into October and to allow us to vote at that time.

I heard one of the members earlier. I’ve heard a couple of members on the other side go back and forth about whether this should be the fall of 2020 or the fall of 2021. Well, we’ll have a difference of opinion on that. But I would note, for all members here, that the reality of this — and this is certainly a reality here, where we have a minority parliament — is that we could have an election at any time, and it is about a government being able to hold the confidence of this House and the majority of members of this House.

We could have an election at any time, and I am confident that we will have an election in the fall of 2021, when that date is planned, because I am confident that this government will hold the confidence of a majority of members of this House. But at the end of the day, we all know that you can put any election date you choose into legislation, but unless the majority of the people sitting here are prepared to vote on matters of confidence, in favour of a government, we will be having an election at the time when a government can no longer garner that confidence. That will be the issue moving forward, I’m sure, and I’m sure that we’ll have a number of confidence votes over the next four years in order to test that issue.

The question was raised about elections on Saturdays. We know we all have experience with elections on Saturdays because our local elections have been held on Saturdays for a significant amount of time. Elections B.C. has certainly deemed, in discussions, that Saturdays tend to be good days, in many ways, around a vote. They have seen that in advanced polling. They certainly don’t seem to have an issue with that.

I watched the last election. I watched the actions, and I thought that, really, the positive work of Elections B.C…. I think the thing that probably most resonates with me about increasing turnout is understanding that elections aren’t about one day. We have the day that we call election day, but our success in elections and in getting turnout, I think, is in having significant advanced voting days, significant numbers, and creating as many opportunities as we can create for people to exercise their franchise, to create as many opportunities in the days and weeks heading up to election day, after the writ has been dropped, for people to cast their ballot. That’s what’s going to go the farthest, I think, in creating greater turnout. It will be creating those opportunities where people get to go and vote — and that we don’t put artificial impediments in their way.

The notion that you have one day that is election day, and it is the be-all and end-all, whether it’s on a Saturday or Tuesday, is that kind of error. I think we do much better when we have six or seven days, at least, that people get a chance to go vote and, as we know, the opportunity, of course, on the other days to go to your returning officer if you need to and cast a ballot as well. I think that becomes a much more significant issue in terms of turnout. Whether it’s a Saturday or a Tuesday, that’s really much less of an issue.

The good thing, I think, about Saturdays, though, a couple of things that are positives…. One is that we all know — I certainly know in my constituency, and I’m going to presume it’s true for most of us — we rely pretty heavily on schools as voting places, as voting stations, polling stations.

I’ve got to believe that the notion that you’re using schools on a day when kids aren’t in school becomes not only an easier and more convenient situation for the school boards and the people who have to operate the schools…. Arguably, it is a safer situation in the schools, as well, to not have the kids there when the voting is going on. So I think there are lots of arguments to be made for Saturdays.

We get up at throne speech time, and we talk about, especially throne speeches right after elections…. We all come to this place. We thank the people who helped to get us elected, and we thank the volunteers who work hard for all of us in our constituencies to help bring us to this place and give us the privilege of being in this place.

It’s quite possible that in terms of that team of volunteers, which we all need every election to help get us elected, come election day, their availability may be better on a Saturday than on a weekday, in many cases, simply because the majority of people are employed Monday to Friday or in school or whatever. So it may enhance the ability to get volunteers out. As we reduce the amount of money in elections, we’ll find that we’ll all be depending more significantly on volunteers, as well, and that’s a good thing. I don’t think that the Saturday creates any particular issue there.

I want to talk to the issue of reducing the number of members for party status. The debate here seems to be…. I hear members on the other side saying: “Well, it’s okay. I guess we can go down to three so that the Green Party can be an official party, but maybe we should review it after this election or put a sunset clause on it. Why should it go down to two?”

Well, I think, as we heard our friend…. The member from the Green Party, Saanich North and the Islands, in his comments, talked about this. I think he’s correct when he said that this isn’t…. Let me just step back. Absolutely, the beneficiaries of this change here will be our three colleagues who are members of the Green Party. But this isn’t about them. This is about how this place works, and this is about the democratic process. It’s about whether people who come to this place and are elected in this place under a party banner should have the right to fly that banner and to have the supports that come with being an official party.

I believe that the vast majority of us in this place, regardless of whether we are B.C. Liberals or NDPers or Greens, would not have been elected to this place if we were not under the banner that we ran under. We ran in constituencies where, certainly, our personal reputations and maybe our contributions and our work have contributed to the votes we get. But we are in a province where party politics is a significant aspect of our political life.

We are in a province where many people determine their vote based on their political party of choice. They look at those parties, they look at their platforms, and they look at their values. They say: “I’m going to vote for the member of party X here because they most closely reflect my interests or my family’s interests, and they’re who I think represents me best.”

Part of the reason that happens is because there is a level of party discipline here, politically, that we don’t see with our friends in the United States. There is a level here where, on most issues, you can determine how people are going to vote based on their party affiliation. That’s the reality of what we see. It’s not entirely the case, but in most instances, it absolutely is.

What that does is it provides people with some confidence that…. If I choose to vote for the NDP because I like what the NDP says in their platform, then I’m relatively confident that the person that I send to the Legislature….

If you do that, then people are relatively confident that they know they are voting for a candidate who, in fact, represents the party. And that’s what we see.

The member on the other side is prattling on about something about parties that I can’t quite hear. What I would say to the member on the other side…. This is the party on the other side…. Let’s talk about this for a minute.

This is a member who stood up and voted for a throne speech that betrayed his party. This is a party that has demonstrated time and time again that they have no values. They don’t believe in anything. In fact, all they believe in is power. This is a party, on the other side, that after the election was desperate, hanging on by their fingernails to power. They tried to manipulate this Legislature. They misrepresented what they believed. They threw their presumed values out the window to embrace the NDP and Green platforms in a throne speech, and now they have the audacity to talk about principles. That side of the House and principles haven’t been in the same room for 16 years.

Getting back to the issue of two members versus three members. The issue that we see here and the question was: why go to two instead of three? Well, I want to tell you why I think two is important. I want to take us back to 2001. In 2001, the current opposition won a massive victory — 77 to two. There were two New Democrats and 77 members of the B.C. Liberal Party elected. The Premier of the day, the government of the day, chose not to recognize those two members of the NDP. That was their prerogative as government, though pretty much the consensus in the province from…. Many people, including many people who supported that government of the day, said they should be recognized.

The reason that they should be recognized is because this place works best when you have parties, when you have different views and when you ensure that to the greatest degree possible, based on their level of seats and representation, they have the resources to be able to effectively either make that case as government or make that case as opposition. But there was a mean-spiritedness in 2001, and that was the decision: to refuse those two members party status.

In this legislation, this is more a recognition than anything else that that should never happen again. If two members get elected here, coming to this place under a political banner, supporting a set of values, principles or a platform, there should be an acknowledgment that they were sent here to advance those views and to advance those positions. And part of that recognition is to acknowledge their status as a party.

How we support them is a matter that…. LAMC and the structures of this place decide how those supports are put in place. The question for us is the question of whether we think that the democratic process is better served by recognizing parties and people who come here under common cause and common banners. This legislation says yes, we should. This legislation says that’s what we should do, and it says we can do that with two members, not three. That’s why I think it becomes important that we’ve made the decision to do this and to move to two members.

This piece of legislation, combined with legislation that will change electoral finance, combined with legislation that, should the people of British Columbia choose in a referendum to support it, will change to proportional representation and change how we elect people in this province…. As one of the members on the opposition said, and he was quite right, it will change politics in this province forever. I’ve been in this place long enough to know that some change is a good thing and that that change will have value. I know that if those changes all come forward, we will look at politics in a very different way moving forward.

 

There will be growing pains, and there will be questions about whether this system works as perfectly as it could. Not so much, always. There will be those questions. But we will have created a system where money doesn’t determine politics, where people’s values and principles are recognized when they come to this place. It will determine that we elect people and we elect a legislature that, in fact, looks like the votes in the place. That’s what we’ll get.

We’ll no longer have politics here where it’s just simply about a party that desperately hung onto power for 16 years, that in the last few years was vacuous in terms of its policy and its beliefs. In fact, at the end, the only thing that was important was trying to manipulate the Lieutenant-Governor and trying to manipulate the Legislature in order to hang onto power.

Now, I know that the member on the other side misses his cabinet office. He’ll get over it. He’ll do well as an opposition member.

We need to change, and this legislation will effect that change. This legislation and the combined other pieces will effect that change. When that change comes, if the voters decide next fall to choose to move to a system of proportional representation, we will all and should all be very proud that we will have changed for the better the democratic processes in this province. That will be a legacy we should all be able to take away.

https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/41st-parliament/2nd-session/20170918pm-Hansard-n19#19B:1500

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