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Liberals reverse plan to silence parties on BC-STV vote

The B.C. Liberal government has backed down on restricting political parties from advertising their positions on a referendum planned for May.

“We got a message from Elections B.C. saying the Lieutenant Governor and council had amended the regulation,” said B.C. Green Party leader Jane Sterk.

In November The Tyee reported that Elections B.C.'s interpretation of a regulation on referendum advertising was it banned parties from stating in their campaign materials a position about the May 12 referendum on adopting the Single Transferable Vote system.

“There was a lack of clarity in the existing regulation,” said Shawn Robbins, a spokesperson for the Attorney General ministry. The intention was never to restrict discussion of the referendum, he said. “I think it's good we've clarified it.”

“We're glad to have it clarified,” said Nola Western, an Elections B.C. director responsible for electoral finance.

The amended regulation, passed on Dec. 11, adds a clause saying “candidates and registered political parties may engage in referendum advertising and, for this purpose, the referendum advertising is deemed to be election advertising under the Election Act.”

Sterk said criticism from parties, the public and the media made the cabinet change their minds. “It was not supportable,” she said. “I think it's as simple as that.” The original regulation was passed with many other orders in council, she said. “They may have thought nobody would really notice.”

The Green Party will be advertising its support for a 'yes' vote. “We support BC-STV. I personally like BC-STV,” said Sterk. “It shifts the balance of loyalties from parties to the people in a riding. I think it's a good thing.”

She hopes people will ask other parties running in the election for their positions, she said, adding the referendum should be a campaign issue. “It's a critically important issue for democracy.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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