BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson was in Kimberley as part of a tour of southeast British Columbia this week.
There’s a lot on Wilkinson’s mind, but of primary importance right now is the looming referendum on proportional representation.
Wilkinson thinks Pro Rep would be bad for B.C., and as he speaks to people around the province about it, he is finding that the level of awareness on the upcoming referendum is not where he’d like it to be.
“I do speak to people who are very engaged, but overall the level of awareness is low,” he said.
His concerns with Pro Rep are many, not the least of which is that the provincial NDP government has not shared a lot of the information, Wilkinson thinks it is important people have before the vote, such as a look at the maps of the new ridings.
“All the hard core mechanics of how it will work, the maps, are being suppressed. We’re supposed to take their word for it.”
Wilkinson says it should be of particular concern to the rural ridings, which will get much larger under Pro Rep.
“This riding would be huge. You’d have the two Kootenay ridings and potentially, the Shuswap. Will you ever have your own MLA again? Right now, your MLA is accountable to you. You can contact them if you have an issue. Under Pro Rep, all that disappears. Party bosses decide who your MLA will be. Your MLA doesn’t have to come from here. You could end up with an MLA from Surrey.
“This (Columbia River Revelstoke) is a complicated riding to begin with, but you do have the four towns that have lots in common. But in a mega-riding, all those common things, like the mining, the ski hill towns, go away. You lose influence.”
While Wilkinson acknowledges that the current First Past the Post system may have its flaws, he says it has worked for 300 years.
“It’s worked for 160 years in Canada, 150 n B.C. You have to be careful to sweep away a system that has worked.”
Wilkinson says Pro Rep allows small, one-issue parties to have too much power.
“Pro Rep is a field day for ethnic, regional and religious parties. You only need five per cent of the vote to hold the balance of power. Look at what’s happening around the world — Germany with the rise of the far right. Sweden has a goofy right wing party with only 19 per cent of the vote holding the balance of power. Show me the evidence that it works.”
Wilkinson says he is expecting a low turnout for the referendum and that’s not a good thing. Because the threshold is a simple 50 plus one, and with no bottom limit on how much participation there must be, it’s a recipe for disaster, he says.
“It’s the most complicated ballot in the world, there will be many spoiled ballots. In PEI, Pro Rep won by a small margin but the government said the turnout was so low, they couldn’t change a whole system on those numbers.”
That won’t happen in B.C. so he urges everyone to vote and mail their ballot back in.
“Do not throw that ballot out. Vote and return it.”
CRR MLA Doug Clovechok echoed that thought. “I implore voters in this riding to vote. It’s so important.”
Wilkinson also questions whether John Horgan’s government is even sincere in this attempt to change the system.
“Horgan said there would be a yes/no question. He broke that promise. He promised a citizens’ assembly, he broke that promise. He promised regional thresholds, he broke that promise. And why is he doing it? To keep the Green Party happy. Even the NDP camp is divided on this.”