Gordon Campbell should be celebrating one broken promise. If he had delivered on his New Era pledge to bring effective recall legislation to B.C., his government would be on the ropes today.
And it might have been gone by next spring.
The Liberals’ integrity and mandate are both being questioned —not surprisingly, given an election campaign that failed to mention plans for the HST, health care cuts, slashed grants and was based on a bogus budget. (And that’s just so far.)
The new sales tax, which will shift some $1.9 billion in taxes from businesses to individuals, has sparked a special outrage. Campbell’s claim that he just woke up one day a couple of weeks after the election and discovered the new tax was urgently
needed is, literally, incredible.
Some angry voters are looking for any way to throw out a government - including recall campaigns against Liberal MLAs. The theory is that eight successful recall campaigns, followed by eight NDP byelection victories, would bring a New Democrat majority government.
If Campbell had fulfilled his campaign promise to introduce workable recall legislation to make it “easier for citizens to hold their MLAs accountable,” it might have worked.
But he didn’t. That means recall campaigns have to meet the requirements set by the NDP government when it introduced the process in 1995.
So campaigns can’t start until 18 months after the election. Organizers have just 60 days to get the signatures of 40 per cent of the registered voters in the last election — not of actual voters, but of all those on the list.
Take a capital riding, Saanich North, as an example. Anyone who wants to oust Liberal Murray Coell, who eked out a 245-vote win over his New Democrat opponent, would have to get 17,460 signatures from people who were registered to vote.
Coell won with just 13,120 votes. Thousands of people will have moved or died. The challenge is enormous.
Unfair, said Campbell in opposition. He introduced amendments to allow recall efforts within six months of an election and gave proponents six months to get the signatures.
And his law would have seen an MLA ousted if opponents could collect petition signatures from the same number of people who voted for the candidate, plus one.
So instead of 17,460 signatures, proponents would need 13,121. Tough, but much more doable.
The changes, Campbell said in opposition, were desperately needed.
“One of the most critical issues that faces all of us in public institutions today is the re-establishment of trust and public accountability between elected officials and those who elect them,” he said in the legislature. “The current recall and referenda legislation fails on both counts.”
His version, Campbell said, would “bring true accountability to the legislature and give us an opportunity to give our constituents the real sense of control that they deserve to have over their elected representatives.”
That was all forgotten once the Liberals were elected.
There have been 20 recall efforts since then: 19 have failed and one was halted when the MLA - Paul Reitsma - resigned.
Even with little chance of success, recall campaigns have some political appeal. They keep the targeted MLAs on the defensive and provide a focus for protests. Kevin Falcon got big publicity for the Liberals and created headaches for New Democrats in 1999 simply by threatening a “Total Recall” campaign against the NDP. He couldn’t raise enough money to go ahead.
And, positively, perhaps recall efforts would encourage MLAs to make more of an effort to earn the continued support of their constituents. It’s embarrassing to think of all those Liberal MLAs who were as surprised as everyone else when the new HST was imposed without discussion or consultation.
It’s too bad Campbell didn’t improve recall legislation. It could offer a needed safety valve when people feel they have been cheated in the election process and, as he said,
Footnote: An Angus Reid Strategies poll confirmed the public anger. The Liberals, with 34 per cent support, trailed the NDP at 42 per cent. The Greens were at 12 per cent and the B.C. Conservative Party - which barely exists - was at seven per cent.