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Island Tides

September 9, 2004

Citizens' Assembly Faces Decision Time

September 9, 2004

BC’s Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform wrapped up its public consultation at the end of June with seven meetings (the last of 50) in one packed week in the Okanagan. A summer break is giving its 160 members a chance to catch up on their reading and decision-making meetings will start September 11 in Vancouver. 

There’s a lot of reading to catch up on. Over 900 written submissions have been received from the public, and 387 further presentations were made at the public meetings. Submissionsreceived before August 13 are archived on the Assembly’s website and made available to all members of the Assembly before September 11; submissions received after that date will still be considered. 

Five weekend meetings in Vancouver are scheduled for the ‘decision-making’ phase, with a sixth possible. 

‘If we are going to recommend a change, we should know that by weekend four (October 23-24) so that we can then begin working on the wording of a referendum question,’ says assembly chair Jack Blaney. 

If they recommend a change, it will be the subject of a referendum for all voters in the May 2005 provincial election. The final report must be completed by December 15, 2004; Blaney has confirmed that the office of the Assembly will disband by December 31. 

MMP: For and Against 

Hearings throughout the province heard a preponderance of opinion favouring a change to Proportional Representation (PR) from the present FPTP (‘first past the post’) system of electing MLAs to the provincial legislature. A New Zealand style MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) system has received the greatest support. 

Speaker Tom Hoenish in Penticton thought PR would raise the level of debate in the Legislature. Kevin Barry agreed; MMP, he said, is more likely to produce consensus-based government: ‘the tyranny of the left and of the right will be broken’. Cass Robinson and the Penticton Raging Grannies sang: ‘politics will moderate here in our own BC.’ Two speakers who had voted under MMP in Scotland and Northern Ireland said that partisan debate would continue; however, they thought that MMP would work in BC.  

At the Kelowna hearing, many speakers also endorsed MMP. But former Socred cabinet minister and broadcaster Jim Nielsen said that PR would be ‘a monumental error of judgement’. ‘Why would we wish to empower small segments of society with influence inconsistent with their political base? ‘He continued: ‘Would we want power-brokers constantly putting their votes up for sale among those larger groups seeking to overthrow the government of the day, if their own self-interests were met at the expense of the well-being of the province?’ 

Nielsen said: ‘It would divide the people into small interest groups promoting religious differences, ethnic origins, single-issue zealots ….’ But Devra Rice said in Kelowna: ‘Our government should not be based on win-orlose.  It’s not a hockey game….’ And Patty Weston: ‘MMP facilitates a move away from a competitive, adversarial working environment within government, to a more co-operative, collaborative, and harmonious work culture.’ 

In the public meetings, there has been a clear desire for change, and PR/MMP appears to have the most support.

The Citizens Assembly website, which is very Comprehensive, is

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