Debate in the Legislature on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 between Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson and Premier John Horgan on proportional representation:
A. Wilkinson: Last Thursday we had quite a show put on by the Attorney General as he demonstrated that he was unwilling or unable to answer the most basic questions about the proportional representation referendum that is apparently happening someday this fall.
The supposedly neutral arbiter of the process has demonstrated in the past, through his statements and behaviour, that he is in fact deeply biased in favour of a positive outcome for that vote.
He has completely failed to avoid the perception of bias. In any judicial system, he’d be voluntarily recusing himself from the role. However, the Attorney General carries on and maintains the facade that he can be neutral.
Will the Premier keep his promise made during the election that he will establish a truly independent and non-partisan oversight process for the referendum?
Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the question, but I have to say I reject the premise. I have full confidence in the Attorney General to discharge his responsibilities to this place and to the people of British Columbia.
We will be having a referenda in the fall to address the question of electoral change. That’s something that we campaigned on. That’s something the people on the other side of the House put into a throne speech that didn’t make it past first-day debate. But nonetheless, they seemed enthusiastic about it then. I don’t know why they’re not now.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a supplemental.
A. Wilkinson: This is diagnostic of the problem. The Premier takes an arrogant, dismissive approach to this issue, which is going to be fundamental to how this institution is governed and how our province is governed.
A. Wilkinson: The members opposite mock the need for an objective process. Listen to them sneering at the prospect of an open process.
What we have is a record. In 2005 and in 2009, British Columbians were asked questions that were formulated by an independent body that took more than a year to develop those questions, in cooperation with the academic community, with Elections B.C. The entire process was clear and transparent.
Instead, today we have a referendum with no date. We have a question apparently to be decided by cabinet. We don’t know if there will 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. There’s no clarity whatsoever about any funding for organizations, both acting in favour and opposed to the referendum.
We are told nothing. The people of British Columbia are kept in the dark, and this is supposedly five months away. And we have arrogant and dismissive answers from the Premier.
To the Premier, how can he justify this charade in comparison to the 2005 and 2009 open, transparent and public engagement processes?
Hon. J. Horgan: We have had a record response to this question in terms of feedback from the public to the government and to this Legislature about where the people of British Columbia want us to go with respect to this question.
Electoral reform was a key pillar in our election campaign, as well as for the Third Party. Again, as I say, it was embraced most recently by those on the other side of the House last June.
I would say to the Leader of the Opposition that 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.
We’re committed to that, and I would hope that the members on the other side would join us in that regard.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a second supplemental.
A. Wilkinson: The Premier has broken his promise of a simple yes-or-no question. No debate about that. The Premier has broken his promise for regional thresholds. No debate about that. The Premier has broken his promise to set up an all-party committee on proportional representation. No debate about that. A series of broken promises.
Now the Premier falls back on an on-line contact process, for which they refuse to disclose the actual material that came in and where it came from. Was this done by bots from Zimbabwe? We don’t know because they won’t tell us.
This process is entirely secretive, is entirely hidden, and the Premier smirks with glee as he says: “I’m getting away with it.” This is an insult to the people of British Columbia.
Will this Premier finally acknowledge that this cynical exercise is nothing more than an effort to mollify the Greens to keep his fragile coalition together?
Hon. J. Horgan: Cynical exercises are being practised by those on the other side of the House who forget their record of 16 years of indifference to public participation, their indifference to engaging with the public to get a true understanding of where the people of British Columbia want to go. We’re engaging in that process now.
To suggest that I’ve broken a promise on a question that we don’t yet know is a little bit of a reach by the Leader of the Official Opposition.
I understand that asking questions from that side of the House is new to those members, and they’re going to get better at it over time. But I think they should have some patience, allow us to fulfil the commitments we made to the people of B.C. It will be known in the fullness of time. I have full confidence in the Attorney General to do that in an impartial and just way.
Source: BC Hansard.