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Newsletter - #11

1st June, 2004 : Vancouver (Internal)

Public hearings

We are at the half-way point in our public hearings.  Tonight’s hearing in North Vancouver marks the 26th of 50 hearings province-wide.

This week, hearings continue in the Lower Mainland.  And next week we move to the southern half of Vancouver Island as well as to the north coastal region. 

The following are excerpts from news releases for the last three weeks of hearings.

News release: May 15
Assembly hears mixed messages

British Columbians offered members of the Citizens’ Assembly a range of views at 10 public hearings held this week in four different regions of the province – as well as some innovative electoral options.

People in the Peace River area plead for an electoral system which strengthened, rather than diminished, local representation and local accountability.  Northerners want representatives that understand local issues and fear that the voice of the north would be diminished if the Assembly recommended an electoral system which resulted in enlarged ridings.

In the West Kootenays, there was a clear consensus that change in our electoral system is overdue.  Most favoured some form of proportional representation (PR) – either mixed member proportional (MMP) or single transferable vote (STV).

Like Peace River residents, British Columbians in the Cariboo and Prince George, expressed the need for direct representation from their region and an electoral system that recognized the wide regional disparities in the province.  They urged the Assembly to recommend an electoral system that allowed meaningful representation of the diverse needs and interests of all regions of the province.  Others proposed innovative electoral systems and broadened ballot choices for voters.

Hearings on the Island and Sunshine Coast saw the majority of presenters call for increased proportionality, but proposals varied widely in how that proportionality should be achieved. Many favoured a form of MMP, but cogent arguments were also made for PR-STV.  While the Ucluelet meeting heard calls to retain local representation, the Victoria hearing heard a defence of the current first-past-the-post electoral system.  

Other themes of this week’s meetings have included:
• voter disenchantment and an anti-party sentiment
• displeasure at the concentration of power in the cabinet and Premier’s office
• frustration with the effect of party discipline on MLAs’ ability to represent constituents
• a desire to see more women and minorities represented in the Legislature
• concerns about the political disengagement of youth
• a call for ongoing citizens’ assemblies to review other public policy issues

News release: May 22
Presenters differ over electoral reform

Visionaries seeking a remake of BC’s electoral system spoke out alongside those seeking more modest change during public hearings this week.

Members of the Citizens’ Assembly gathered at venues in Chilliwack, Maple Ridge and Langley to learn what people want for their electoral system. And, while most speakers favoured greater proportionality, they differed on how that proportionality could be achieved.

In Chilliwack, presenter Olaf Frost saw electing MLAs through a random process as a key step in creating an electoral system of pure proportional representation, with BC having 50 MLAs instead of the current 79.

Raymond Smith proposed that BC continue with its current First Past the Post electoral system - but add a new twist: an Oath of Obligations that would have to be sworn and adhered to by MLAs.

In Maple Ridge, presenters complained about the “yo-yo effect” of successive governments switching policies. William Walsh, in advocating greater proportionality, blamed the costs associated with policy changes for the province not living up to its tremendous natural potential. 

Robert Hornsey also identified swings in government policy as a costly consequence of the current electoral system.  While favouring more proportionality, he advised the Assembly to retain local representation. 

And in Langley, some tinkering with the current system was also the order of the day. David Truman spoke for change but said a recommendation by the Assembly that was too radical might not fly with voters. He spoke out against minority government because he said it would "always be in crisis and in danger of falling".

Former Conservative MP Benno Friesen suggested a "reconfiguration of behaviour" - rather than a reconfiguration of BC's electoral system - was needed. He said voters are shying away from the ballot box "because they see little difference in behaviour and conduct from one party to the next".

But he urged smaller parties to keep campaigning. "It is a mistake to think that if you do not win, you lose," he said, because all voices "help to load up the marketplace of ideas and refresh the whole structure, even if we seemingly do not make any progress".

News release: May 29
Quotas, fines, and yes-no votes

A quota system to ensure better representation of women in the B.C. legislature. . . . Fines for failure to go to the polling station on election day. . . . Giving voters both a "yes" vote and a "no" vote to use for and against candidates. . . . Voting for one half of our MLAs every two years as a means of moderating swings in policy.

All were among ideas presented to members of the Citizens' Assembly in their public hearings last week in Port McNeill, Courtenay, Nanaimo and Vancouver.

At the Vancouver hearing Saturday, Janet Wiegand noted that, while females make up roughly 51% of the B.C. population, women have never made up more than 28% of the MLAs, and that dropped to 24% in 2001. She proposed a "proactive measure" (quota) that would ensure men and women each got a minimum of 40% of the seats in the legislature.

The call for compulsory voting came in Vancouver from John Dennison. He cited Australia’s $100 fine for failure to go to the polling station. But presenters Tim Howard and David Black objected. They said voters have a right not to vote, as an expression of their views, and compulsory voting would probably be unconstitutional.

Many presenters and speakers from the audiences at the week's four hearings called for more proportional representation in our B.C. electoral system, and many specified the mixed member proportional representation system (MMP). Among them, 20-year-old Eric Brown said in Port McNeill Tuesday: "Proportional representation facilitates the creation of policies that reflect the interests of a larger segment of society."

In Nanaimo, presenter Robert Baker proposed that the Assembly retain the first-past-the-post electoral system – but with the added feature of giving voters both a "yes" vote and a "no" vote. Candidates’ "no" votes would be subtracted from their "yes" votes to determine their tally. This, Baker argued, would encourage MLAs to keep their promises and pay more attention to their constituents.

Another refinement to the current system came in Vancouver from Doug Wright. Instead of 79 MLAs who each represent a local constituency, he proposed a house of 75 members: 40 members elected at the local district level, 20 more at the "small regional district level", 10 more at a "medium large regional district level" and a final five at a "large regional district level." Voters thus would have four votes, one for each district.

The suggestion of voting for half of B.C.'s MLAs every two or three years came up at two meetings (Courtenay and Vancouver). And other food-for-thought ideas during the week included:
• Returning to formal enumerations prior to elections
• Pre-registering Grade 12 students for the electoral list
• Legislation to hold majority governments accountable for keeping their campaign promises
• A second round of public hearings after the Assembly issues its recommendation of an electoral system
• Including party symbols on the ballot paper to assist illiterate citizens

Hearing summaries on the website
Summaries of all presentations are posted to the Assembly’s website (home page) following each hearing. 

Presentations and submissions flood in
We now have 539 submissions posted on our website:  And over 300 presenters have signed up, to date, to speak in public hearings.

These hearings already have full slates of presenters:
Sechelt (June 5), Victoria (June 10) and Vancouver (June 12).

If you wish to make a presentation, you may sign up by going to our website (under Get Involved and Make a Presentation) or by calling our office. 
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