ELECTORAL CHANGE – Let us remember the word ‘democracy’ in every sense

Excerpts from a speech by Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett this week during debate in the Legislature on Bill 40, the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act.

MLA, Cariboo-Chilcotin

BILL 40. This is a referendum that is very concerning to me, to many of my colleagues and to many of my constituents. Let’s go back to the referendum that is going to be voted on by the people of British Columbia in the not-too-distant future. Citizens of British Columbia are totally confused — a great job by the opposition on confusing the voters of this province.

Donna Barnett.

I have many people in my constituency who continuously — doesn’t matter whether I’m at the gas station, in the Superstore, wherever I am — say to me: “What is this about?” It is as clear as mud. What is the question, really, and what is the answer?

The government of the day is saying: “Trust me. Just vote the way I want, and I’ll tell you what’s going to happen later.” And then they turn around and say: “Well, if you don’t really like it, in four or eight or 12 years from now, we’ll give you another referendum. You can think about what kind of a mess we made before, and maybe we’ll convert it back again.” The NDP and the Green partners are essentially asking British Columbians to buy now and see a return on your investment later. Except in this case, there is no buyer’s remorse. This referendum is legally binding.

With 29 different factors that won’t be considered until after the referendum, how are voters expected to make an educated choice when they aren’t being offered any of the relevant information? First of all, how many MLAs? Is that a difficult question?

The size of ridings. Is that a difficult question? What constitutes a rural riding or an urban riding? Is that difficult?

Whether we use a closed or open list or even if we use a list at all. Will your MLA be appointed? Will your MLA be elected? Why do we not have clean, concise, clear answers?

Let’s go back in history. We had a lot of history last night by a lot of good speakers proud of the democratic system in Canada and in British Columbia. Why do you want to change that system? And it is quite clear why: because those in power want to make sure they stay in power. They’ve come to the conclusion that power is more important than people.

I’ve been in my riding for over 50 years, and I’ve had the privilege of serving in public office for almost 30 years, 17 as a mayor of a local community. I’ve sat on regional districts, hospital districts, social development programs…. I worked with constituents for all these times, and to me, people are the most important of my constituency.

…. This is one of the most important times in British Columbia, and our system is great. Our system of democracy has worked forever.

You talk about history and the people before us who went to the First World War, the Second World War and built this country, what it is today, and built it because we have a system that works.

But our colleagues across the floor want to change it. Change it to what? We’ve had two referendums. Yesterday I heard from some of my opposition colleagues that this side of the floor said: “Well, maybe we’ll have a third referendum.” And there’s nothing wrong with having a third referendum. But let’s make it clear. Let’s make it so that there are thresholds, not where 5 percent of the population of this province can determine the future of the people of the province of British Columbia. That is not democracy.

Let’s have a threshold, like we had in the last two referendums. Let’s take a look. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Is this fair? Is it? No, it is not fair.

You know, the government had many different options to choose from. What did they do? Did they have a citizens’ assembly go out and talk to people? No. “We’ll go on line. We’ve had 90,000 hits on line; 90,000 people telling us how they’d like this done and how they’d like that done.”

That is not democracy. Talking to people, going around the province, talking to people one-on-one —that is what needs to be done.

Many people who go on line — great. What are the results? What were the questions they put in? Have we seen any of that? If we have, I’ve missed it.

…. What does the word “proportional” really mean to the people across there? That hasn’t been explained yet either. Does it mean people or geography? I don’t think they know either.

Maybe they should come and take a drive around on some of our rural ridings. Maybe there isn’t that many people, but every one of those people deserves to be heard. Every one of those people needs a fair vote and a fair choice. With what has been put on the table here, that is not fairness. It is not equal, and it is not democracy.

This is a significant change if it is approved for the people of this province. And to put a second referendum on the table before the first referendum has been passed sure shows how much confidence they’ve got in what they’re putting out in the first place is going to be a real good and democratic process.

I cannot support Bill 40. I hope that most of the people in this House that have an opportunity to rethink the future of the next generation and the next generation will think hard and strong before they make any more decisions.

This is not something about power and control, folks. This is about the future — the future of this size. And this is about caring about what democracy is about. This is about the whole province of British Columbia — each and every single constituent. I say think, and think hard. Think about equality and fairness. Think about what the future of this province will look like if we are unfortunate enough to have this new PR system in place.

I have a letter here from a constituent that is going in my local newspaper. I will not mention his name. You can look in my local newspaper and read it. He’s a dual citizen of Canada and New Zealand. In New Zealand, they have a PR system.

He says: “In the last New Zealand election by a caucus vote, the Labour Party ejected its leader and appointed Jacinda Ardern. As a result, Jacinda negotiated with NZ First Winston Peters to form a majority coalition. Deputy Prime Minister was the deciding favourite to Winston.”

So for six weeks, while Jacinda was on maternity leave, the country was run by an appointed leader of a five-seat party, all in the name of power. An unelected, appointed person became the Deputy Premier, and while the Premier was away, took over and made decisions for the people of New Zealand. That is democracy in their minds. That is not democracy.

…. Under some of these proposed systems, you can go and vote for a party, but you don’t have a clue who you’re voting for. Many people vote for a person nowadays, not a party.

So why would good people put their names forward? Because at the end of the day, under some of these PR systems, you wouldn’t be elected anyway. You’d just be out there trying to work hard for your communities, put your name forward. But at the end of the day, some party that’s got all these votes because of a great population in another part of the province may become the government, and they will appoint your MLA.

I encourage each and every one of us in this House to look at our conscience, to look at what is being proposed. Let us remember the word “democracy” in every sense. Let us remember our path. Let us remember our future generations, and let us give them the same opportunities of freedom of speech and freedom of choice that we had during our time here.

Source: BC Hansard

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2 Comments on ELECTORAL CHANGE – Let us remember the word ‘democracy’ in every sense

  1. Sean McGuinness // October 19, 2018 at 1:16 PM // Reply

    Dear Donna. Show me a perfect democracy. Please give me an example, because I couldn’t find any. The better question is, Is there a better democracy? Well, that might be one where at least more than half the votes count for something.

    Some people seem opposed to PR systems because they are more complicated.
    Well, find me a really simple democratic system that represents most people. For folks in rural areas who think the FPTP works just fine, look at your deteriorating schools. Are your local MLAs mostly representing you or just towing the party line?

  2. Talking to people one to one…as if that is a feasible option!
    Perhaps FPTP is ultimately a better option but most of its proponents/supporters writing and giving options have clearly laid out the reasons why we need to explore a better system…because the opinions given are more often than not butt-head silly, childish platitudes and I abhor the thought of having them steering the democratic process and governing me.

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