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BC Liberals Blast Lack of Information on Fall Electoral Reform Vote

NDP says progress being made; Greens satisfied with process.

By Andrew MacLeod 25 Apr 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The Green Party is anxious for details on the promised referendum on electoral reform, but understands why it is taking time, said Sonia Furstenau, the party’s critic on the file.

“I think we’d hoped it would be a bit quicker than this,” said Furstenau, the MLA for Cowichan Valley. “I think also the level of engagement was more than was expected, and that’s a good sign.”

BC Liberal opposition MLAs focused on the topic during question period in the legislature Tuesday, criticizing the lack of details and what they see as a lack of neutrality on the part of Attorney General David Eby, the cabinet minister responsible for overseeing the process.

“The members opposite mock the need for an objective process,” said Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson. “We don’t know if there’ll be one or more questions. There's no prospect of a debate in this House on what the questions might be. There’s no set date for the referendum.”

It’s also unclear whether there will be funding for organizations arguing for and against changing the voting system, he said.

“We are told nothing. The people of British Columbia are kept in the dark, and this is supposedly five months away.”

Premier John Horgan pointed out that the BC Liberals supported a referendum on electoral reform in the last throne speech before their government fell and the NDP formed the government with Green support.

“We’re doing our level best to ensure that we have everything in order in a timely matter so that the public will have an opportunity to have their say on whether they want to keep the first-past-the-post system, or they want to have a different approach in British Columbia,” he told the legislature.

In an interview, Eby said it’s taking time to go through the more than 80,000 responses the government received through the public engagement process. That process closed Feb. 28.

“Staff are going through and preparing a report based on that feedback, as well as [from] 30 different organizations, as well as recommendations for cabinet around rules and how the referendum should be conducted,” he said. “This includes the ballot question, whether or not third parties should be funded, and what the donation rules should be around the referendum process.”

The government is trying to honour what was heard in the engagement process and make sure it is reflected in what is presented to cabinet, Eby said. “We’ll try to get it out as soon as possible. I understand the urgency. A lot of people need this information to do their campaigning, and so I’m trying to get it out as quickly as we can.”

As for his own neutrality, Eby said, “The report, the feedback from British Columbians, is going to speak for itself, as well as the recommendations, and I hope British Columbians judge the process that’s laid out.”

The Tyee reported last September on worries the tight timeline could doom any chance of change, as it would be difficult to select an alternative voting system and educate the public about it.

Furstenau said once the details are available, which she hopes will be soon, it will be about engaging the public.

“We have election periods that are 28 days and we expect the electorate to get informed about their choice in the space of 28 days,” she said, adding she expects the campaign period ahead of the referendum will be much longer than that.

The conversation has been going on since last year’s election and the proponent and opponent groups are already active, she said.

“We all want to know the details and the parameters, obviously, that’s really important, but that doesn’t preclude the fact this is an important conversation about how to strengthen our democracy.”  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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