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Attorney General on Shaw-TV
1st December, 2004 : Vancouver (Internal)
Public information process planned
The following is an excerpt from a transcript of the "Voice of B.C." show on Shaw-TV (cable) on 01 December 2004. In it, host Vaughn Palmer interviews B.C. Attorney General Geoff Plant about the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform:
VAUGHN PALMER: Last weekend, you and Premier Campbell were in Vancouver handing out certificates of achievement to the members of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. I have to say, Mr. Attorney, I was in the class of scoffers when this thing was set up. I never believed that you would be able to get 160 citizens chosen at random to sit down for an entire year, study a complicated thing like electoral reform, get along - magnificently, I have to say - conduct themselves with far more dignity than the Legislature, I might add - there's another cheap shot - and come up at the end with a recommendation, all of which they have done. Did this thing go even better than you imagined?
GEOFF PLANT: I think that what we have seen is that the people that we call ordinary British Columbians are actually extraordinary people and that if you bring people together with good purpose and intent and a commitment and willingness to learn, if you supply them with some information and give them a chance to argue about the issue, if you make the issue an important one like, "Really, how are we to be governed?" you can trust people to think seriously, carefully, and to come up with an idea that is worth serious consideration. Of course, we are going to now let the people of British Columbia have their chance to decide whether they want to move to the thing that the Citizens' Assembly calls the "B.C. STV," the single transferable vote model, or....
VAUGHN PALMER: I'm going to ask you to explain it on air.
GEOFF PLANT: Well, that's interesting. I'll tell you this: I actually think that.... First of all, government is going to be scrupulously neutral on the outcome of this process, but I do think it's time to watch the debate move away from a fascination with mathematical formulas about how you calculate residual ballots, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and to actually start thinking about, "What would the Legislature look like if you had multi-member constituencies? How would people vote if they had a chance to vote for five MLAs? Would that change the way we're governed? Would it end the sort of two-party hegemony that has been the history of British Columbia for half a century? Would that be a good thing?" You've said this, I think, in a different way. I say it. I have no idea how my refrigerator works, but when I plug it in and wait five or ten minutes, the milk gets cold. All we're really asking people to do when they vote under this other model is to go in and say, "Gee, I like this guy best, this person second best, this one third best," and they go on until they get tired of putting numbers down.
VAUGHN PALMER: Well, you say, "People, we need to have a good debate on this," and here's somebody with a question about the debate, one of the people who were involved in getting this whole thing rolling - and a fan of STV, I might add, as well - Nick Loenen.
Nick Loenen: "Mr. Minister, congratulations. The Citizens' Assembly has been a huge success - grassroots democracy at its very best. These 160 members know the issues, but in that regard, they're miles ahead of the general public. What is needed now is a massive information campaign. As minister responsible, will you commit one dollar for every voter - $3 million in total - for such an information campaign? That is what is needed now. The one-time flyer that the assembly will send out in January won't do it."
VAUGHN PALMER: A constituent, a former MLA for Richmond as well, Nick Loenen. Are you going to give them three million bucks more for this thing - not him, but the program?
GEOFF PLANT: Well, there will be a public information process that will go beyond what Nick talks about, which is, I think, a pretty good first step. If everybody in British Columbia got their hands on the Citizens' Assembly report, that's certainly a first step. We will set up something that will be at least similar to the referendum information office that we established during the treaty principles referendum, which is to say there will be a 1-800 number. There will be some more communication pieces. There will be a website. There will be people that will answer some basic questions. Whether we need to go beyond that, to something that Nick calls "massive," is a question I am wrestling with. My own view is that this issue has actually captured the attention of an awful lot of people already, and the street corners and the public meeting halls and the airwaves of British Columbia are actually going to be filled with this debate over the next six months, and there will be enough of that to give people what they need without government weighing in with a multi-million dollar attempt to help still further. But I don't discount the proposal. What I've actually said to some of the folks from Nick Loenen's organization is, "Give me a bit more detail about what you think we would get for $3 million, and I'll look at it."
VAUGHN PALMER: If people want to know more about this, by the way, the Citizens' Assembly, there's nothing like it in the world, so if you've got any kind of a search capacity on your computer, just type in, "Citizens' Assembly of B.C.", and you'll find the site. You can find it off the government site as well. I think it's www.citizensassembly.com, but in any event you can find it. They're in the phone book as well, as a 1-800 number. They've got an enormous amount of information on their website, a lot of good explanations of this stuff. There's a lot of information there, too, and there will be a report coming out.
Note from the Assembly: The Assembly's website is at: http://www.citizensassembly.bc.ca