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Referenda an 'affront' to elected officials: Victoria councilor

During a Dec. 10 debate on the future of Victoria's Johnson Street bridge, rookie councilor and former New Democratic Party member of parliament Lynn Hunter panned giving voters a say on the matter.

“I'm firmly opposed to a referendum because I consider it an affront to representative democracy,” said Hunter in a speech available from citizen journalist site B Channel News. “The question we should ask ourselves is where does the use of referenda stop? In this electronic age it is possible the public could vote directly on anything and everything, making elected representatives obsolete.”

Some people might welcome that, but it would lead to worse decisions, she said. “I firmly believe that well considered decisions come about only through the representative system. We had an election just last year and we were the ones that were selected.”

Hunter won 7,926 votes in November's civic election. There were an estimated 63,422 eligible voters in Victoria and about 27 percent of them voted.

After the election the new mayor, Dean Fortin, and council announced a $63-million plan to replace the Johnson Street bridge. The plan, which has a $21-million commitment from the federal government and requires the city to borrow $42 million, has the support of mayor Dean Fortin and all but one of the eight councilors.

Citizens, organizing through, can force a referendum if they collect signatures from 10 percent of eligible voters, or about 6,346 people, by Jan. 4.

Holding a referendum on the bridge project would give people a say on something nobody talked about until the election was over, said Ross Crockford, an organizer with “We're seeking a vote on our council borrowing $42 million and restructuring the Inner Harbour, without having held so much as a public hearing.”

Crockford said he believes referenda shouldn't be used to vote on minority rights, but there is a long and legitimate tradition of them being used when local governments want to spend "huge" amounts of money on projects. "That's what this is, a gigantic capital expenditure."

Organizers have about half the signatures they need and are concerned cold weather will make collecting them more difficult, Crockford said.

See the video . . .

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

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