B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver and Premier John Horgan announce terms of proportional representation mail-in vote at the B.C. legislature, Sept. 18, 2017. They left abruptly, with Horgan referring questions to Attorney General David Eby. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. VIEWS: Waiting for a secret referendum

John Horgan admits the fix is in on proportional representation

How do you like minority government so far? We have a range war with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ottawa over our NDP government’s theory that it can rewrite the Canadian constitution.

We have record-high gasoline prices, fuelled by an early increase in the carbon tax insisted on by the three-member B.C. Green Party.

And we’ve got a Green leader who throws tantrums, floats empty threats to bring down the NDP government he put into power, and tries to use most of his time in the legislature to attack the opposition.

If you like that, great, because Premier John Horgan is doing everything he can to make sure fringe parties are elevated permanently, through some formula of proportional representation that won’t be disclosed until a month or so before a mail-in ballot this fall.

Press gallery reporters got one of our brief opportunities to question the premier before the legislature took a break last week. Horgan assured us that while the public will be told nothing until the fall, they’ll have more than enough information to answer the still-secret question (or questions) before the November deadline to mail in ballots.

“We are months and months away,” Horgan said. “I’m fairly certain there won’t be too many summer barbecues where the topic of conversation is proportional representation.”

He’s made sure of that by keeping the preparations and the ballot question in the hands of Attorney General David Eby and his political staff. There’s nothing to discuss yet.

For his part, Eby is so enthusiastic about the response to his slanted online survey on the subject that he can hardly stand it. He hasn’t said anything about the results or the distribution of responses. They’re still processing the “metadata” and stuff. But by golly, more than 88,000 people self-selected to respond to the survey, and that’s the biggest consultation ever!

Indeed, 88,000 people is slightly more than the population of Chilliwack. Heck, it’s enough people to vote in the referendum to reshape the voting system, since there is no minimum turnout this time.

Here’s what the NDP’s 2017 election platform said: “We’ll hold a referendum on changing our voting system so that every vote counts. We’ll ensure B.C.’s regions are all represented fairly. And we’ll campaign for the yes side.”

I guess they could now argue that two out of three ain’t bad. The “regions” are intentionally not represented fairly, as they were in two previous referendums. This time urban B.C. will decide the outcome, because that favours the NDP and Greens.

The B.C. Liberal opposition pressed the NDP government in the legislature in late April, and after Eby did most of the deflecting in a raucous question period, Horgan rose to mock the opposition’s objections.

“How outrageous of us to join with the Green Party, who also campaigned on that commitment, to make sure that we get proportional representation in this house,” Horgan said. “That’s what we campaigned on; that’s what we’re going to deliver.”

So the fix is in, officially.

The government’s going to fund a yes and no side, after barbecue season of course. But there are already two “yes” campaigns. One, VotePRBC, is fundraising. The other, YesPRBC, doesn’t seem worried about money, almost as if it expects public funding.

Its directors include retired NDP MP Jean Crowder, a failed Family Coalition Party and B.C. Unity Party candidate, a failed Green candidate, and a former Green leader who resigned from the party in 2000. Oh, and a vice-president of the B.C. Government Employees Union.

Happy barbecuing.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


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