Thursday, December 22, 2005

STV referendum plan, electoral boundary commission both need work

VICTORIA - Things are looking rocky for the Electoral Boundaries Commission, the panel with a lot to say about how democracy works in B.C.
So rocky - and expensive - that it's time to rethink the path ahead.
The commission is important. It will decide how the province is carved up into ridings for the next election, a process that's complicated and politically sensitive. Rural areas will lose seats, growing urban areas will gain and boundaries will be bent.
And this time the commission has to come up with riding boundaries both for the current system and the proposed single transferable vote proportional representation option. That's part of the preparation for another referendum on STV to be held along with the municipal elections in the fall of 2008.
Premier Gordon Campbell's plan for a second referendum is a clever solution to the narrow defeat for STV in May. The proposed reform just missed the required 60-per-cent threshold. But almost 58 per cent of voters backed the new system. It would be irresponsible for government to ignore that kind of message.
So Campbell announced another referendum for the fall of 2008. This time voters will have more details, including the ridings to be used under the new system.
Under STV there would be fewer, larger ridings, with two to seven MLAs each. Most of Greater Victoria could be one riding, for example, with four MLAs. On election day you would no longer just mark an 'X' beside one candidate, rejecting the rest. You would rank as many candidates as you liked.
When the votes were counted, the results would reflect the rankings. A voter might rank an NDP candidate first, and two Liberals second and third, and a Green fourth. All the votes would matter.
The result should be a more representative and diverse legislature, with MLAs who are more responsive to their communities.
Campbell's proposal makes excellent sense.
But the timing is looking like a problem. Chief Electoral Officer Harry Neufeld told a legislature committee that he is still working out all the planing details. But the tight timeline between the fall referendum in 2008 and the May election in 2009 means Elections BC will have to prepare to run the election under both systems, he says. That could mean a large cost, possibly tens of millions of dollars, to prepare for STV with the money wasted if - unhappily - the referendum should fail.
There are options. Holding the referendum along with the fall municipal elections offers some cost savings. But the overall savings might be greater if a standalone referendum in the fall of 2007 allowed Elections BC to prepare more effectively. Pushing the provincial election back six months to the fall of 2009 would ensure that the budget was debated before the vote and reduce the pressure on Elections BC to spend time and money preparing for two different kinds of elections.
A delay would also allow time to look at controversial appointment to the three-person Electoral Boundaries Commission. The commission was established back in the Vander Zalm days to take the politics out of rejigging ridings. It's always composed of Neufeld, a judge and a third member appointed by the Speaker, after consulting the premier and the opposition leader.
Bill Barisoff picked Louise Burgart of Fort St. James, part owner of Apex Alpine resort and a former school superintendent. NDP leader Carole James backed the choice, knowing Burgart from her own days as head of the BC School Trustees Association.
Burgart is likely an excellent person. But she's also a partisan Liberal, as the always diligent Sean Holman of Public Eye Online has reported. Apex has donated to the party. Burgart campaigned for successful Liberal candidate John Rustad and urged people to vote Liberal in a letter to the Prince George Citizen during the last campaign.
The appointment opens the door wide for future partisan appointments by the party in power, and a graceful way out would serve the public interest.
Footnote: The legislature's finance committee met behind closed doors last week to consider funding recommendations for Elections BC, the auditor general and other independent offices. Their recommendation may include comments on the best way to handle the whole process.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly James also backed the guy who is speaker.

Seems she used to know him as well.
She still has cordial relationship with The premier as well.

Any one she doesn't like who is part of the circle in the New Era gang?

What a nice person, she even liked Gord enough to cook up a pension plan and pay raise, but forgot to tell the folks who pay the freight for such things. Maybe she doesn't like those folks that much.

Gazetteer said...

"a graceful way out would serve the public interest"

How about this way?



(he said, tongue firmly planted in cheeek).

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