Debate in Question Period on Thursday, April 19, 2018 between Liberal MLA Michael Lee (Vancouver-Langara), Liberal MLA John Martin (Chilliwack) and Attorney General David Eby:
M. Lee: On October 4, 2017, the Attorney General announced that British Columbians would be asked to vote on proportional representation before the end of November 2018. Over six months later, the ballot question of this referendum still has not yet been announced.
To the Attorney General, when will he inform British Columbians of the referendum question they will be asked in just a few months’ time?
Hon. D. Eby: I thank the member for the question and for his interest in this. We had an exceptional level of participation by the public in our engagement process — 180,000-plus site visits, 88,547 questionnaires completed in multiple languages; British Columbians feeding back from 30 organizations spending an average of 14 minutes on the site, spending an average of 16 minutes completing the questionnaire.
This is a huge amount of feedback for us, and I can assure the member that we are taking that feedback very seriously. There will be a report that summarizes all that feedback — it will be available to all members — with recommendations about the question or questions, the rules, whether third parties should be funded and so on, and it will be based on the feedback of British Columbians. The ultimate question about our political system and the voting, how we send representatives to this place, will be decided by British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver-Langara on a supplemental.
M. Lee: While the Attorney General views himself as a non-partisan, neutral arbiter, no one else does. He has yet to inform voters of the ballot question. He has yet to announce the campaign rules. He has yet to even provide the exact date of the referendum. Key information that voters need to make an informed decision is being withheld while he continues to manipulate the process.
Can the Attorney General explain why he hasn’t told voters something as basic as what the question will be, when we’re mere months away from this referendum?
Hon. D. Eby: I’m not sure what the member hopes would happen here. We went to British Columbians, and we said: “What should the question be? What should the rules be?” They participated. I hesitate to say it, but this was certainly one of the largest engagements of British Columbians, in terms of the number of people participating, in the province’s history — in multiple languages.
We are compiling that information for all members to be able to review. All of the information will be available to them. What better process than this to set the question and the rules? And the member will have that information as soon as we can get it to him.
J. Martin: Last fall the government released a questionnaire that many have claimed is skewed in favour of proportional representation. I happen to have a November 15 email from a director in the Attorney General’s ministry that might explain why. In this email, the director reveals that political staff in the Attorney General’s office directly provided input to shape the questionnaire.
To the Attorney General, what input did his political staff have in the drafting of the questionnaire?
Hon. D. Eby: We had several academics that assisted us in the process of setting up this questionnaire. They were of various backgrounds, but their expertise was in consultation with the public in British Columbia. Certainly, I agree with the member that I have political accountability for the questionnaire, for the referendum process. That is the job that the Premier has given me. I accept that responsibility.
The questionnaire has been criticized by people who are pro–proportional representation, and it has been criticized by members who are anti–proportional representation. I think that’s exactly where we should be.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Chilliwack on a supplemental.
J. Martin: Well, absolutely no one views the Attorney General as non-partisan or neutral in this matter. We now know his political staff had direct input into the drafting of a questionnaire widely seen as being skewed in favour of proportional representation.
As the supposed neutral arbiter, will the Attorney General table in this House all input his political staff had into the drafting of the questionnaire?
Hon. D. Eby: There have been a number of freedom-of-information requests in relation to this. They have all been responded to, and I imagine that’s how the member got the document he’s talking about. He already has the information. I’m not sure of the basis for the question.
What I can say is that I will not be lectured by members from a government who put forward a referendum called by pollster Angus Reid as “one of the most amateurish, one-sided attempts to gauge the public will that I have seen in my professional career.” That referendum about whether or not First Nations people had rights — unacceptable.
Source: BC Hansard.