Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How Campbell can ease recall's sting

Recall campaigns are ugly.
The goal is to convince voters to fire an MLA. So campaigners talk about the rotten, incompetent person representing the voters in Victoria.
And it looks like we're into recall season.
Bill Vander Zalm and the Fight-HST crowd gave Gordon Campbell a choice this week.
Accept their proposals for how and when the HST referendum would be conducted or face three recall campaigns against Liberal MLAs in January, with an extra campaign launched every month after that.
It was all pretty clever. Vander Zalm even announced a Survivor-style competition for those ridings hoping to be the first to launch recall campaigns. The challenge is to sign up canvassers over the next eight weeks; ridings with the most participants launch recall campaigns first.
Even the five conditions the anti-HST campaigners set were crafted to place Campbell in a tight corner.
Two of the demands - to make the initiative binding and require only a simple majority vote to kill the tax - had already been accepted by Campbell last week in a surprise announcement. (The initiative legislation says the threshold is 50 per cent of all eligible voters, not just those who show up at the pools. Even then, he result isn't binding.)
The other three demands were tougher.
The Fight-HST People wanted the referendum held under some legally binding framework, like the Referendum Act, with spending limits and other safeguards.
They wanted the question to be drafted by Elections BC and approved by "both the government and Fight HST."
And they wanted the referendum held this year.
Pushy. But except for the timing, Fight HST isn't really out of line. Don't forget, the group succeeded in a petition process which was supposed to result in a vote next September on the bill to kill the HST that they had drafted. That's the law.
Now Campbell appears to be making up his own rules.
A little compromise and consensus is in order.
The Liberals certainly won't accept a vote this year. They hope time will ease the anger over the way the HST was introduced and let them convince people the tax is a good thing.
And they want the advantage of being able to draft the question.
But that doesn't mean they have to stand by passively as the recall campaigns are launched.
Recall efforts are damaging for the party in power. The biggest tactical recall effort was Kevin Falcon's "Total Recall" which targeted all 40 New Democrat MLAs in 1999.
Falcon maintained he wasn't a Liberal then, though it came out that he had previously been paid about $800 a week by the Liberals on a six-week contract, campaigned in a Lower Mainland riding for the party and gave Campbell "speech ideas, but not complete speeches," as Mike Smyth wrote in the Vancouver Province.
Total Recall flopped. Falcon couldn't raise enough money.
But that didn't really matter. The New Democrats had to focus on the threat to MLAs and, as a result, paid less attention to governing.
Campbell won't accept the Fight-HST proposals. But he should address the underlying the issues.
The commitment to a simple majority and binding outcome needs some legislative backing. It's not enough for a premier, who might not be in the job a year from now, to make a promise he can't keep.
And Campbell can say now how the referendum question will be developed and when the public will see it.
He can also explain why the vote should wait until next September, rather than being held in March. If the HST is really important for investment, the uncertainty is hurting British Columbian. He's changing the rules around other aspects of the vote. Why prolong the pain?
Campbell can't likely stop the recall campaigns. But with the right responses, he can make life a lot easier for the targeted MLAs.
Footnote: To be successful, a recall campaign must collect signatures from 40 per cent of registered voters within a 60-day window. It's a high threshold, which has never been reached. (Although one campaign might have made it; the MLA resigned before the signatures were counted.)
But the anti-HST group starts with a battalion of volunteers and a strong base in most ridings.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Paul, I couldn't resist this whole quote. I posted it on my blog, therealstory.ca

From hansard, July 7, 1994:
“G. Campbell: I’m going to move an amendment to section 14, as follows: “If required, initiative votes shall be called by the government for a date not earlier than three months and not later than ten months after the select standing committee refers the initiative petition and draft bill to the chief electoral officer, pursuant to section 13, above.

“The rationale behind this is that I think there are times when it’s important for us to act expeditiously. Again, I think the principles behind this bill are those of providing the citizens with full access and full accountability of their public institutions and indeed of some of their public policy. I believe the amendment allows us ample time to put a properly constituted referendum before the public.”