Oppal's Murky Method for Changing BC's Election Laws

AG ignored many suggestions by electoral officer, plucked others from thin air.

By Andrew MacLeod 19 May 2008 |

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.

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Attorney General Wally Oppal.

The inspiration to tinker with how British Columbians elect MLAs came from a report by chief electoral officer Harry Neufeld, Attorney General Wally Oppal said earlier this week. But while some of the most controversial measures are not in Neufeld's report, the government ignored other recommendations meant to increase voter participation.

The changes are included in Bill 42, the Election Amendment Act. Introduced on April 30, it is among a group of bills that will be deemed passed at 5 p.m. on May 29, even if it fails to pass through all the normal stages of debate.

"What's happened now is the chief electoral officer came to us in 2006 and said the Elections Act has to be reformed and that amendments should take place," Oppal said. That report included 60 recommendations, he said. "We thought it was an appropriate time to re-examine the Elections Act."

Neufeld is an independent officer of the legislature, like the ombudsman or auditor general, responsible for running the province's elections in a fair and impartial way. Comparing his report, Chief Electoral Officer: Recommendations for Legislative Change, to Bill 42 reveals that while the government adopted about 35 of Neufeld's suggestions, they ignored another 14 or so.

Plus, the government added in changes to at least 28 sections that Neufeld did not suggest changing. Those 28 changes include the ones that are drawing criticism from groups across the political spectrum.

Ideas ignored

While the government agreed with many of Neufeld's suggestions and included them in the amendments to the Election Act, they failed to act on several others:

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