Kamloops slated for citizens' assembly

By Darshan Lindsay
Published May 23rd 2004 in This Week (BC, Canada)

Next year's provincial election could be the last of the first-past-the- post system in B.C.'s history. The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform is nearing the halfway mark of its provincewide public meetings, with one planned for Kamloops next month. The committee's task is to determine whether or not to propose a change to the electoral system and, if they do, have their suggestion put to voters in a referendum coinciding with the May 2005 election. 

"There is a fair amount of interest," said Ray Jones, a Kamloops resident who sits on the 160-member assembly. For logistical reasons, the members are only required to attend two to three of the 50 public meetings. Jones attended one in Valemount earlier this month and will listen to presenters at both the meeting in Merritt on June 15 and one in Kamloops on June 17. In Valemount, while there were only six presenters, 20 people came to the meeting to listen to the discussion.

"Most felt there was a problem we had to fix," said Jones, with proportional representation offered as the solution. Under such a system, the number of seats won by a party would be proportional to the votes they garnered. For example, in the 2001 provincial election, the Liberals took 77 of 79 seats in the legislature (97 per cent) but had only 58 per cent of the vote. Under a proportional system lobbied for by the provincial Green Party, that 58 per cent voter support would have instead resulted in the Liberals taking 51 seats in the legislature, the NDP 18 (instead of their current two), and the Greens 10. 

"What we would have had was still a majority government but strong opposition voices and debate. That would have served democracy better," said Green Party leader Adriane Carr. Though a critic of the Liberal government on many things, Carr said the Liberals did the morally right thing through the creation of the Citizens' Assembly. Now, she said, it's up to British Columbians to do their part and participate.