Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


November 22, 2017

On the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act (Bill 6)

I’m pleased to get an opportunity to stand and speak to the Electoral Reform Referendum Act. This is a piece of legislation that I’m excited about. It’s a piece of legislation that I support and a piece of legislation that I think will move forward the political and electoral system in British Columbia.

Essentially, what this legislation does is enable and direct the province to have a provincewide referendum that will be held in the fall of 2018, where the subject of whether or not to change our voting system in British Columbia is decided. The question essentially will be to move from the current first-past-the-post system to a form of proportional representation. The act also provides for the referendum to be conducted by the Chief Electoral Officer through a mail-in ballot. It sets the threshold for that at 50 percent plus one provincewide in order to be successful. If a new voting system is approved, the government will be required to introduce legislation to implement the new system in time for a general election to happen post July 1, 2021.

Why is this important? We’ve made a commitment…. Well, maybe just to step back. The previous speaker.... I very much appreciated her comments, the member for Fraser-Nicola. At one point in her comments, she spoke about the situation we see south of us, south of the border. We know there’s a lot of attention paid to the uncertainty we see south of the border, and there’s a lot of political commentary about the President of the United States and where he lands.

What we know…. The system, I think, that we see down there and the concern that’s being raised and the concern that the member for Fraser-Nicola raised is about how the circumstances in the United States currently really go back to some of the problems we need to address. The problem down there is the enormous influence of money. Money dominates politics in the United States at every level.

The other thing that we know has happened in the United States is…. Almost without exception, you’ve seen both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party at different times use legislative tools to gerrymander boundaries. They do that in the United States, and we have seen that. That’s been the challenge we’ve seen in the United States, and those are the challenges that we need to overcome. That’s exactly what we are doing with legislation here. We have introduced the legislation that will end big money in politics in British Columbia and will end the pay to play that the B.C. Liberals engaged in for 16 years.

The other thing that we will see, if we adopt this, is…. I believe that we will see an end to the situation where you have parties — and it’s true for both of the parties that have governed in this province — that have 100 percent of the power with 43 or 44 percent of the vote. We have seen seven elections in this province, going back to ’91, and only once did a party get 50 percent of the vote. In every one of those other elections, until today, this recent election, we’ve had a party — on two occasions, the NDP, and the other occasions, the B.C. Liberals — who had 100 percent of the control without having a majority of the votes, without having a majority of support.

Here we have a change where, for the first time — other than the one 2001 aberration — we have a government supported by a third party that in fact has a majority, that garnered a majority of the votes and, I would argue, a much more stable, receptive and responsible government than we have seen in 16 years, without doubt.

I understand the anxiety of the other side. We have, in the B.C. Liberals, a party that, at least for the last, probably, eight years, has dismissed the issue of good government and policy. It’s been about hanging on to power. None of that was more true than in their last term.

I’ll give Ms Watts, who’s a leadership candidate…. I’ve certainly heard it from other Liberal leadership candidates, who say the number one priority…. Is it education? No. Is it health care? No. Is it climate change? No. Is it poverty? No. Is it the economy? No. The number one priority is: don’t allow a system where we can’t hang on to power. That’s all that matters.

I suspect, for the Liberal Party, the situation probably is more desperate than that. We have a situation with the Liberal Party where I suspect that there are many members on that side who believe…. And it may be true. I guess time will tell, depending how the referendum goes and what the people of British Columbia decide, whether that party has any future under proportional representation or whether, within months after a successful referendum, we will all of a sudden have a Liberal Party and a Conservative Party sitting on that side.

I suspect that that’s what we’ll see. That’s the reality. The opposition to this isn’t about what’s good for British Columbia. It isn’t about people actually having a legislature that looks like how they voted. None of that matters….

None of that matters to anybody on that side. All that matters is: “Can we find a way to bamboozle the people of British Columbia and get power back any way at all?” That’s all that matters. That’s the problem that the B.C. Liberals have, and it really isn’t about any of this other highfalutin stuff that we keep hearing about.

The reason I think this this is important…. I’ve been through lots of first-past-the-posts. I’ve been elected four times on a first-past-the-post system. I was engaged in politics before that. My party has been the beneficiary of a system where you get government without having a majority of the votes, and that’s just the way this system works.

The more that I learn about politics as we move forward…. We always hear that we need to do things differently. We hear that people want to see things done different. We hear that people ask why politicians act the way that they act in this place, in the House of Commons. I think it has something to do with people being frustrated that they, in fact, don’t feel they’re represented.

The member for Fraser-Nicola made a good point when she said that people are anxious to know that every vote counts. In that case, she was talking about that rare but not totally uncommon situation where one vote wins an election and somebody you know forgets to vote. I think she told the story about a family member. And there was a member here, I believe — I think it might have been Frank Calder — who lost an election because he and his wife didn’t get out to vote for him. He lost the election by a vote. That kind of one or two votes — there’s no doubt that matters.

What really matters with every vote counting is that people are skeptical, if not cynical, about a current system where your vote doesn’t count. Too often it doesn’t count.

In my constituency, where I’m privileged to have a pretty good majority, I know people who would go out and vote for other parties. They don’t vote at all because they say: “You’re going to win anyway. So my vote for the Green Party or the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party…. I didn’t go out to vote because I knew you were going to win anyway. I don’t support you, but I support the other man, the other woman, the other party.”

Well, we put this system in place, and they are encouraged to get out to vote, because depending on the system that we adopt, at some point in the counting, that vote is going to be allocated to the party that they believe best represents their values and their interests. It’s going to be there, and it’s going to represent the composition of this Legislature.

The Legislature is going to look like what the people in British Columbia voted for. It’s going to make up that composition. Will politics have to change in this House? You bet they will.

I’ve heard all the criticism about the CASA agreement and about how parties work together here. It’s this remarkable comment by people in the official opposition — that somehow the ability of two political parties, who do not always agree here, to work together and find ways to collaborate in the best interests of British Columbians is somehow a bad thing, that it’s somehow a weakness. It’s not a bad thing, and it’s not a weakness.

If this referendum passes, if the people of British Columbia choose to embrace the referendum and we move forward to elect a system, I suspect that what we will see is many more governments — a majority of governments where one party with 43 or 44 percent of the vote doesn’t get to make every decision. That party needs to reach out. It needs to engage the Legislature. It needs to find common ground. It needs to find common cause — something that happens very rarely here and, I believe, probably underlies what lots of people say about the British Columbia Legislature and about the harsh partisanship of this place. If we can bring that down a notch or two, it’s probably good for all of us.

We will not do that with this system that we currently have. The only reason there’s anything different here is because — and it may have been by accident; it may have been for any reason whatever — we have a minority system in this particular Legislature. The good thing about this minority system right now is that it obliges….

The people of British Columbia are going to have the opportunity to watch what happens here, to watch the relationship between the NDP and the Green Party, to determine whether there’s a level of collaboration there that they think is a positive thing for British Columbia. They’ll make that judgment, and they’ll make that decision when they go to vote next fall on this. We’ll see how that works.

That puts the obligation on us to make the relationship and the collaborative effort work. That becomes the challenge moving forward. But I do believe that if we really want to have politics that I think is increasingly reflecting the views of British Columbians, then we want to have a political system where we are obliged to come into this place — whatever party we come from and wherever we’re elected from, whether it is from a constituency or from a list — and be able to work together in ways that we have not done very well, certainly for the 12 or 13 years that I’ve been here.

It has always been an us-and-them. It’s always been a gotcha moment. That’s what it is. What we need to do, I believe, is make that change and take that change.

I’m happy to vote for the legislation. I will be happy to vote yes in the referendum, when I get the opportunity to do that.

If I’ve learned something in 12½ years, it’s that we can do better in the way that we work together. There are lots of smart people on both sides of this Legislature. There are lots and lots of people who came to this place for the right reasons. While we may not agree on the path that we take to the success that we’re looking for, I believe we are committed to that success. We may not agree on how to get there.

I think the failure of this place is that it has institutionalized a structure that doesn’t encourage or, in some cases, almost allow us to come together and collaborate in ways that I think are in the best interests of the people of British Columbia. We need to figure out how to do that better.

I believe that a proportional system is not only more democratic in that it reflects the Legislature; it will reflect the vote of the province. It will reflect what it looks like. If you get 40 percent of the vote, you’re going to get 40 percent of the seats. There you go. What it means….

The member across the way talked about appointed members. There are a large number of constituencies in the province where some people would say, because of the first-past-the-post system, that if you succeed in getting a Liberal nomination or getting an NDP nomination, you almost become the appointed member, because you’re going to win the election.

It’s getting a little closer to Langley. The reality is that people will vote for the party of their choice. What they get to do is vote for the party of their choice and know that party, their representation, is going to reflect the people who voted for them. People get to vote for that party and their candidates. They’ll see a list, I’m sure.

We’ll get there. It’s going to be a great debate over the coming months on this. They’re going to have a new leader — it really doesn’t matter which of the candidates for the Liberal party becomes the new leader — who will be preoccupied with trying to hang on to the survival of their party and be out campaigning against this referendum. You will have people on this side who, I believe, will be saying it’s time for change. It’s going to be very interesting to see where the people of British Columbia come down.

We heard the member for Fraser-Nicola, whose comments I enjoyed, talked about the last two. That was a bit of a saw-off, to tell you the truth. I mean, the bar that was put there…. What was it? Sixty percent plus two-thirds of the constituencies, I think, was the bar. It missed by a couple of percent, but clearly, a majority of people in British Columbia thought it was a good idea.

The second time it didn’t receive a majority of the vote of British Columbians. It failed because it didn’t have that support.

We’ve kind of had that vote go both ways. We’re going to get an opportunity now to try it one more time, and I think that it’s going to be great for British Columbia.

If, in fact, the Liberal Party is concerned about that…. I’m sure that you’re going to have to produce the list. You can say, and we can say…. I suspect that voters will look at this and say: “Based on our percentage of the vote, proportionally, here are the people who will be chosen or be elected.” That’s quite a common occurrence. People can look at the list and say: “Do all those people come from Vancouver? No. There’s a Kelowna and a Kamloops and a Prince George and a Quesnel.” They can say all of that.

I’m excited about this. I think this, like taking big money out, is a fundamental change that has been too long coming in this province. I think it’s a change that will up the game of everybody in this House, that will make us more representative. Its parties will make us more accountable to the people of British Columbia and will force us to work with each other to find solutions people want. That’s exciting. That’s good for British Columbia.

This will pass, and I’m very hopeful the referendum will pass. I look forward to seeing the Conservative and the Liberal Party sitting in the opposition benches shortly after that vote.

https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/41st-parliament/2nd-session/20171109pm-Hansard-n59#59B:1530

events
Thursday, December 7, 2017 - 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Friday, December 15, 2017
Saturday, December 16, 2017 - 11:00am - 3:00pm
Saturday, December 16, 2017 - 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Sunday, December 17, 2017 - 7:00pm - 9:30pm