VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A business association and construction union representing thousands of BC workers have joined forces to ask the province’s top court to stop the upcoming referendum on proportional representation.
In a 49-page petition, the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA) and Canada West Construction Union want the BC Supreme Court to place an injunction on the referendum because they argue the process is unconstitutional and rushed.
“Government has rushed the process to favour the outcome they want,” ICBA president Chris Gardner said. “The question is confusing and there’s a limitation on British Columbians being able to engage in a full and open debate on something that’s very important. People aren’t going to have time to digest the information they need to make a decision.”
As it stands, BC’s mail-in ballot referendum will run between Oct. 22 and Nov. 30 and will ask voters to choose between keeping the first-past-the-post system or changing to a proportional representation. If voters want change, they will be asked to choose between three options including mixed-member proportional, dual-member proportional (DMP) and rural-urban (URPR).
“Two of the three options [DMP and URPR] they are proposing aren’t used in any jurisdiction,” Gardner said, adding the minimum 50 per cent plus one needed for the referendum to pass is too low a threshold.
The province should conduct the referendum in a similar fashion to those done in 2005 and 2009, according to Gardner.
Both referendums were held at the same time as provincial elections, required a 60 per cent majority, and the questions asked citizens to chose between first past the post system or the single transferable vote. In both cases, voters rejected the idea of changing the electoral system.
Gardner feels the groups launched their court challenge this week because starting Jul. 1, when the campaign begins, restrictions will be placed on third-party expression, much longer than the period for general elections.
Although he stressed this court injunction is not about taking sides in the debate, Gardener said his group is worried changing the system would lead to a rise in extreme fringe parties on all sides.
“What it means is you’ll have small fringe parties with extreme views all of a sudden in negotiations with larger parties to form a majority in the parliament and that process leads to a lot of backroom dealing and instability,” he said.
NDP, Greens dispute petition claims
Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Bob D’eith says the petition is to stop people from having a choice in their electoral system.
“I think it’s people at the top, they don’t want ordinary people to have a stronger voice in the elections and I thin they’re desperate to hang on to the status quo,” said D’eith, who is the NDP caucus representative working with Greens on the campaign for proportional representation.
He adds the question was approved by Elections BC as being clear.
“I think the people of British Columbia are intelligent to be able to understand the clear questions that’s being put towards them,” he said.
D’eith does not believe extreme fringe parties would be a concern under a proportional representation system because parties would need a minimum amount of support to even get a seat. He says while other parties may be elected, he believes BC will continue to see the current parties play the biggest roles.
Green Party Deputy Leader Sonia Furstenau says extensive public consultations were conducted last fall.
“It was the largest public engagement in BC’s history. Nearly 100,000 people responded and gave their input to this process,” she said, adding a five month campaign is plenty of time for voters to understand their options. “If you consider that most of our campaign periods are 28 days long and people make a decision about which party to elect for the next four years, given that we have five months ahead of us, there’s going to be an enormous opportunity for education.”