Thursday, February 20, 2003

By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - There is quite a lot of bunk being talked about recall, starting with the claim that campaigns to oust Liberal MLAs are some sort of an abuse of the legislation.
Says who, exactly?
More than 80 per cent of voters in a 1991 referendum backed recall. The questions was simple: "Should voters be given the right, by legislation, to vote between elections for the removal of their member of the Legislative Assembly?"
It doesn't say that right should be limited, with recall only allowed if an MLA knocks over a convenience store or gets caught drunk driving. If people had thought those kind of limitations were important, they could have voted against the recall proposal. They didn't. Voters thought that they should have the right to oust their MLA if they were disatisfied with his job performance.
Gordon Campbell used to think so too. Back in 1998, when the B.C. Civil Liberties Association challenged the recall legislation, Mr. Campbell was scornful. Recall is about accountability, he said then, for promises and performance.
And who better to decide if an elected representative is doing her job than the voters?
But the recall forces are just trying to refight the last election, complain some Liberals.
They have short memories. Within months of losing the 1996 election, Mr. Campbell was urging recall campaigns against NDP MLAs. Voters should recall MLAs immediately, he said, because they were breaking campaign promises and had misled voters about the province's finances before the election.
In fact Mr. Campbell has consistently argued that it should be easier to recall MLAs and promised again in the last campaign to ease the rules. When the current law was proclaimed in 1996 Mr. Campbell dismissed it as a sham.``Any MLA that has ever been in this House could survive this particular process,'' he said. The recall requirement - signatures from 40 per cent of the people eligible to vote in the last election - was "virtually unattainable," he argued. (Which should make the premier wonder why Liberal MLAs are now so nervous.)
Liberals concerned about recall being misused under some imaginary set of rules should also see Deregulation Minister Kevin Falcon for some background. Before he received Mr. Campbell's backing support as a candidate, Mr. Falcon helped run Total Recall, a campaign aimed at recalling enough NDP MLAs to bring down the last government.``This is a referendum against the government," he said then. "Desperate times call for desperate measures." Falcon's plan called for campaigners to argue that even if voters had nothing against their MLA's performance, they should help oust him to help defeat the government.
Recall campaigns can be messy, costly and sometimes mean-spirited. (Like many other elements of our political system.)
But 80 per cent of British Columbians said voters should have the right to recall their MLAs between elections. They didn't say that only politicians should be able to decide when recall campaigns are justified, and it's now insulting to hear suggestions voters are unable to decide for themselves when it is appropriate to recall an MLA.
The claim by some Liberals that the NDP is using recall to refight the election isn't supported by evidence or common sense. Recall campaigns are costly and consume volunteers' time and energy, and the NDP can't afford the financial or human cost. (Especially when the result might be a byelection that would see a demoralizing defeat for the party. That's certainly what would have happened in Val Roddick's riding.)
The practical arguments against recall aren't any more compelling. Verifying the signatures can be costly, but so are elections. And the risk of wasted time can be reduced if proponents are reminded of the penalties for collecting signatures from ineligible voters.
Voters wanted recall, and they supported a system that leaves the decision on when it is justified - when an MLA is breaking a promise, or not performing - up to their collective judgment.
As Mr. Campbell observed in 1998, it's not that strange a concept. "There are very few jobs where you do not have the right to fire someone who is not doing their job," he said then. And surely the voters are the best ones to decide when that's justified.

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