On Wednesday, and continuing to Thursday, we debated at second reading Bill 6 – 2017: Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act. This is the act the enables a referendum to occur in the Fall of 2018 on proportional representation.
Below I reproduce the text and videos of my second reading contribution to the debate. As I am sure you will notice, there is a remarkable amount of BC Liberal heckling during my speech.
A. Weaver: Thank you for the warm welcome to my friends to the left of me here.
I rise to take my place in the debate in support of Bill 6, the Electoral Reform Referendum Act. This bill, as we know, sets up a framework for a referendum on changing our electoral system to one based on some form of proportional representation.
I’ve been listening for quite some time downstairs and now up here in the chamber to members opposite raise their concerns about this debate. And it’s quite remarkable, when you listen to some of the concerns, how they’re grounded in fear. They’re grounded in alt-facts.
But what’s even more remarkable is let me take you to the throne speech — the throne speech that was read here in the Legislature on June 22, 2017. This is what the throne speech said.
A. Weaver: The member from Chilliwack-Kent just heckled me and said: “Old news.” I’ll come to what you spoke to in response to this throne speech shortly.
This is what the throne speech said:
“The results that British Columbians delivered in the May election require cooperation. Your government is committed to working with all parties in the Legislature.
“Following referenda in 2005 and 2009, there remains a desire by many members in this place to revisit electoral reform. With the confidence of this House, your government will enable a third referendum on electoral reform. It will require extensive public consultation to develop a clear question and will ensure rural representation in the Legislature is protected.
“It is vital that any referendum reflects the views of British Columbians, not just its political parties. Additionally, your government will work with other parties to strengthen lobbyist legislation and regulations.”
I look forward to hearing them speak against that one as well.
“Members, we gather for the first time since British Columbians sent you here following an unprecedented outcome in the May election. British Columbians want a stable government, and in sending us this result, they expect us to listen and find a way to work together. They expect us to collaborate, while respecting the dignity, rules and traditions that govern our constitutional monarchy, our democracy and this Legislature.”
Quite remarkable. Quite remarkable that this was part of the B.C. Liberal Party throne speech on June 22, 2017. What’s even more remarkable is listening to members now speak and compare it to what members said in June of 2017. We just heard the member for Richmond-Steveston stand here before us and tell us how profoundly troubling he thinks this proposed referendum is. He’s aggrieved by this affront to democracy, which is being put forward by government as part of some kind of conspiracy theory in collaboration with the B.C. Greens.
Well, let’s just have a look at what the member for Richmond-Steveston said in his response to the throne speech on June 28. It says this. I’m quoting directly from Hansard. Hansard, you can go back and cut and paste here, as you listen to this.
“Our electoral system has been heavily scrutinized in recent years. We held referendums” — note grammatically incorrect; “referenda” is the correct thing — “on electoral reform in 2005 and 2009 — both times of particular importance to me because I was either a candidate or seeking re-election as a member of this assembly.
“The discussion around electoral system is a key facet of our democracy, and renewing a healthy debate on our system is important. That’s why we have committed to a third referendum on electoral reform.”
I can’t make this stuff up. But there’s more. Let’s come to the member for Chilliwack-Kent, who just heckled me a few minutes ago, and see what he had to say. What did he have say? Well, he said this: “We said that the people of British Columbia will decide that question, and we will provide a path to that decision point. I have no problem with that,” he says. But now the member for Chilliwack-Kent feels this is an affront to democracy as well.
Let’s go to the member for Abbotsford-Mission, who is not here today but who spoke eloquently on June 29 and said this:
“Our electoral system has been heavily scrutinized by our time in government. The discussion about electoral reform will allow us to open up that dialogue, and it’s been a source of discussion around this province. Our government is addressing that. It’s something we make a top priority.
“We are also looking at electoral reform. Electoral reform, I know, is something that is of particular interest to our friends….
“We’re going to develop another referendum and develop a clear question, which reflects the needs of British Columbia, but protecting key populations and ensuring that rural areas are treated fairly here in the assembly….”
And on he goes.
We’ve heard some people talk about the fact that this is a leadership race happening within the B.C. Liberals, and there’s an awful lot of posturing going on there, trying to look like they’re strong champions of democracy here in British Columbia.
Let’s take a look at what a couple of those leadership candidates said in speaking to the throne speech back in June. The member for Kamloops–South Thompson, seeking leadership here for the B.C. Liberals, had this to say: “We are committed to enabling a third referendum with a clear question and absolute protection for rural representation.” I look forward to him voting in support of this bill as well.
What about the member for Vancouver-Langara, also seeking leadership of the B.C. Liberals? Well, he had a lot to say. “For many, it’s important that we conduct a third referendum on electoral reform to give British Columbians an opportunity to consider, once again, what is the best electoral system for the province and its people. Again, we listened, and we’ve acted.” On and on it goes — remarkable, frankly.
I could go on. Well, one of my favourites, actually, comes from the member for Penticton, who also felt this was an important issue. He says the following:
“We know that if there is a reform that takes place in the future on how people are able to govern out of this wonderful building, there is a promise that has been put forward for electoral reform no later than November 13, 2018. I hope we work together through the extensive consultation that should take place to develop a clear question that British Columbians could understand and can see that it is 100 percent in its meaning and depth, and also that not only protects urban areas but also protects the rural areas of British Columbia. I think that’s really important, because sometimes rural B.C. is forgotten”— and on he goes.
That’s seven members opposite who spoke strongly in favour of this legislation, but now somehow, because government has brought it in, it’s the worst thing since the development of I don’t know what. We hear about the rise of the Nazi Party coming in British Columbia. We had one member talk about the Rhinoceros Party. Oh, the fear of all these fringe groups that are going to spontaneously arise.
In fact, my favourite quote, of all the things I’ve heard spoken to this today, must go to my colleague the member for Saanich North and the Islands. He has said: “This party that was, for 16 years, in power is just going to vaporize into a bunch of gangs of two, and they are going to run around the province with clubs or something.” That’s the kind of level of fear that we’ve got going on here. There is fear. There’s fear internal to the B.C. Liberals that somehow they’re going to disintegrate into these roving bands of two across the province.
I really think we need to take this debate to a different level and actually start to talk about the different forms of proportional representation, because the legislation before us is nothing more than enabling legislation, legislation designed to enable a process to lead to a referendum. We’re not talking about what form of proportional representation. We’re not talking about one question or two questions. It enables the possibility of there being multiple questions. It’s enabling legislation.
We’ve already heard from members opposite that there apparently is only one form of proportional representation that’s going to be put forward here. It’s going to be some kind of system that they already think it is. I’m not sure what they’re articulating, but they all come back to the same message line that has obviously been prepared for them on what it’s going to be. You know, they’re trying to, again….
For so many years, the B.C. Liberals have created an artificial divide between rural B.C. and urban B.C. — artificial because they’ve driven a wedge between rural and urban B.C. in a desperate attempt to retain power. What they’re not telling rural B.C. is that proportional representation is exactly what will bring equity across this province. Right now most of rural B.C. is represented by members opposite. The government does not have the depth and the breadth of representation in rural B.C.
Under proportional representation, there would be an assurance that the Okanagan Valley would have representation in government as well as in opposition.
A. Weaver: Again, the members opposite say: “Not necessarily.” Just have a look at the election results. The B.C. Greens would have had one representative in the Okanagan sitting here in the Legislature, under a form of proportional representation — in light of the percentage vote, 20-odd percent in a couple ridings in the area, 18 percent in others. The B.C. NDP would have had a couple of ridings, but the B.C. Liberals would have had the majority here in the Legislature.
Now let’s go to Vancouver. Hardly a Liberal to be seen anywhere representing Vancouver ridings. Or Vancouver Island — I feel for the lone member for Parksville-Qualicum. There would be more representation for Vancouver Island and Metro Vancouver in the Liberals here if there was a form of proportional representation. The people of Vancouver would be represented in opposition and in government. That’s healthy. Issues can be brought forward by opposition and dealt with in government, and the debates can ensue.
I don’t know how many times, when the B.C. Liberals were in government, that I was contacted by people across this province, saying: “Please help us with this issue, because we do not feel represented by our Liberal MLA, because government is run out of the Premier’s office, and the Liberal MLAs issues are not dealt with. Help us, please. Raise it in the Legislature. We’re not being responded to.”
If there had been a form of proportional representation, those constituents out in rural B.C. could have gone to one of the opposition MLAs from their region — not travelling to Victoria to meet the B.C. Green MLA or perhaps a B.C. NDP MLA somewhere else, but actually going down street or maybe driving 50 kilometres to their local opposition MLA. That’s good for democracy.
What happens right now if you’re a B.C. Liberal on Vancouver Island or in large parts of Vancouver? You’d feel frustrated if your MLA happened to be in government and they’re not listening to you. You will try to go and find somebody who is listening. This happens, and it will happen. It will probably happen far less often here than it has been, because once you have been in power for 16 years, you get a sense of entitlement — a sense of entitlement, as if divine insight has determined that you shall govern without any kind of accountability.
But that is not the case. There is no representation by the Liberals in southern Vancouver Island. That’s wrong. We should have a Liberal MLA representing southern Vancouver Island. We hear the fear-mongering opposite. We have the fear-mongering opposite that, somehow, this will all be driven by urban B.C. and that somehow….
A. Weaver: The member for Chilliwack-Kent is now so affronted again. After speaking in favour of the referendum in June, he’s now saying it will be governed by urban B.C.
Why, Member, did you not stand up and say that? Why didn’t you stand up to your own party and say: “This is wrong? What’s in the throne speech I cannot support, because it’s a referendum on proportional representation that will be dictated by urban B.C. on rural B.C.” You didn’t say, that hon. Member — through you, Mr. Speaker. You had the opportunity. No, you sang the praises of the throne speech.
Now it comes to people like me, wondering who do we listen to and who do we trust? We hear members opposite talk about these agreements signed in back rooms. The same negotiations are going on with B.C. Liberals. The same negotiations were being done at the same time with B.C. Liberals.
A. Weaver: Not true. The member from somewhere in Vancouver, somewhere south of the….
A. Weaver: The member for Surrey-Cloverdale suggested it wasn’t happening.
A. Weaver: The member for Surrey-Cloverdale was not anywhere near that office and, frankly, probably was not ever consulted or had anything to do with that.
In fact, I was in those rooms, and yes, indeed, there were a lot of discussions going on, just like as happens around the world when you have minority or coalition governments, and people are tasked, and the electorate says “go work together.” We tried to do that, but now we come back and we ask the question: “Did we make the right decision?”
It’s clear to me that the B.C. Liberals can’t be trusted. On the one hand, they argue for something, and now they argue against. For the B.C. Liberals, there are no principles anymore. There are no principles. It’s all about the quest for power. Say whatever it takes, no matter what it is — just “we need to get power.”
I come back to the justification for that, as articulated so beautifully by the member for Abbotsford-Mission before the parliamentary democracy meeting a couple days ago, where teachers from across this province came. He spoke passionately about the importance of being in opposition. He said: “The role of the official opposition is to get into power.” That’s his words, not mine.
That so beautifully represents what’s going on here in British Columbia. This is not about really doing what’s right for people. It’s not about rural B.C. If it was about rural B.C., we’d see them speaking for proportional representation. It’s about their desperate quest for power. What’s demonstrated is they lost principles in the last throne speech. I don’t even know how the members opposite can actually stand and look themselves in the mirror in the morning and say, “I feel comfortable now speaking against this, after my throne speech was one that said we’re going to do the same thing.”
This is why, hon. Speaker, many of us have such respect and regard for the principled position you’d like to show — the non-partisan nature of that Chair. I thank you sincerely for that.
Much of the detail for the referendum….
Oh, before I continue, I do have a question, which the Clerk might be able to address. Given that section 5 passed and was enacted, do we, as the B.C. Greens, now get to designate a Speaker or not, or do we have to wait for royal assent?
An Hon. Member: Royal assent.
A. Weaver: Royal assent? Unfortunately, you’re going to only have me for a half an hour instead of the full two hours.
A. Weaver: Thank you, honourable speaker.
Coming back to that, much of the detail for this referendum, of course, will be left in terms of further consultation about. For example, the question, about what….
A. Weaver: Again, it’s enabling the process that will lead to consultation that will develop the question. We will be part of that. We will submit as B.C. Greens following the normal process as everyone else. Through the public-run consultation process, we will make our views. We will not provide them to the Attorney General, nor do we want to be consulted on this, and we’ve made that very clear in supporting this bill. We believe that we will respond in the same process as everyone else in this province of British Columbia.
You know, the reason why this is happening is government recognizes that a referendum on electoral reform can’t be based on what politicians want but rather what British Columbians want. Fifty-seven percent of British Columbians put this side of the House into a minority government situation — 57 percent. This is responsible to meeting a promise by both parties, with the B.C. NDP campaigning on this.
While the B.C. Greens didn’t campaign formally on this, it is one of our five guiding principles — representative participatory democracy. It is part of who we are. We didn’t need to campaign on it, because it’s one of our five guiding principles, and that is true of every single Green Party in every form or affiliation anywhere in the world. They fall with the same guiding principle.
I come back to some of the justification. Let’s go to 2001. In which time the B.C. Liberals won 77 seats. Good job, well done — even won in Victoria, which is pretty remarkable. They did that with 57.6 percent of the vote. There were two NDP seats. So 343,156 B.C. NDP voters, with 21.5 percent, got two seats; 57.6 percent of the vote got 100 percent of the power and 77 seats.
How is democracy served there? I’m not so sure it was. I’m not so sure it was served at that time. The B.C. Green Party at that time got 197,231 votes or 12.4 percent — 197,000 votes in British Columbia and zero seats. Is that fair? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s fair, because there are hundreds of thousands of British Columbians who don’t feel represented by a government making decisions for them in their interests not in the people’s interest.
In that election, if you took the number of seats divided by the number of votes, each of those NDP-vote seats represented 171,578 voters. Each of the Liberal votes represented 11,908 voters. Each of the B.C. Green’s zero seats represented an infinite number of voters.
Now let’s go to 2017 — 2017, where we are, here now. BC NDP got 795,106 votes — 40.28 percent and 41 seats. The Liberals had 796,772 votes, or 40.36 percent, representing 43 seats. And the B.C. Greens had 332,387 votes, or 16.84 percent, with three seats.
In 2013, 100 percent of the power was received by the B.C. Liberals, with less than one in four registered voters actually voting for them, because there was just over 50-some-odd percent voter turnout. So the B.C. Liberals, in 2013, had 100 percent of the power with less than one in four British Columbians supporting them.
We know that when people feel there’s something to vote for…. We know that when people wonder whether or not their vote will count, if they believe that it will count, they’ll come out to vote.
That’s one of the good reasons for actually giving this forward is to increase voter turnout.
Over the next several months, British Columbians will have important questions to ask. They’ll be asked what types of values they want to see in their electoral system. They’ll be asked how the referendum campaign should work. They’ll be asked what sort of information the government should provide about the choices on the ballot. What sort of questions do they want to see? And so forth. There are many, many questions that will be asked.
If we think that somehow British Columbia is unique, I would say that we are one of the rare few who do not actually have proportional representation. I don’t know whether members opposite know that 85 percent of countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, known as the OECD, use a form of proportional representation.
A. Weaver: There are 23. There are two, actually. You’re incorrect. There are 23 — more than two, actually. There are 23 countries that list proportional representation. These include the despot….
A. Weaver: Twenty-three countries that use a form of list proportional representation of all the OECD countries. These include the notorious despot nations like Sweden, Finland and Norway. There are four that use a mixed-member proportional. These include the totalitarian regimes of New Zealand and Germany. New Zealand actually just had an election that saw the Labour Party elected and a confidence agreement struck with the New Zealand Greens and the Labour Party there.
Two countries, and these are Japan and South Korea — notably disruptive countries — use parallel systems of proportional representation. One country, which is troubled in turmoil all the time on every issue, Ireland, uses STV. What about this democracy that is clearly looked up to by nobody, a democracy in dire straits, about to collapse imminently — well, France has a two-round system of proportional representation. What about Australia? Unfortunately, they get more medals than us in the Olympics every time. I don’t know why, but they do. Australia, a nation in turmoil, they use a form of an alternative vote system or STV for their senate elections.
Finally, just three countries out of 35 in the OECD use first-past-the-post. Guess who they are? Canada, U.S.A. and Britain. So we hear opposite that in fact….
A. Weaver: That’s not first-past-the-post. The member opposite should do his own homework about Australia. The House has preferential balloting. The member opposite would know this if he actually studied the system in Australia. It’s preferential balloting in Australia. It is not first-past-the-option.
The member for Vancouver–Quilchena needs to go and research this because he is one of those leadership candidates, and he should get on top of this file. We continue forth here. You continue forth here. I’m getting concerned of the time, but I do note that the committee Chair has yet to arise into the chamber, so may I….
A. Weaver: I know. I have lots more to say. I’ve got much….
A. Weaver: I will come back to that. I’ll come back to conclude as we…. I will have to remind people as we move this debate forward to the next session when I do note the hour, which is not quite noted. I will remind members opposite about these quotes because it’s very, very, very important.
So I come back again to the fearmongering opposite that somehow proportional representation will lead to all sorts of crazy parties establishing. Well, the first thing you do is you just raised the bar a little bit by saying: “Okay, you only get to participate if you get 4 percent or 5 percent” — which eliminates the two parties. And the question is: who decides that? Of course, it is the people who decide that.
On top of this, we don’t have to look very far from British Columbia to see what can happen in a first-past-the-post system. In terms of a leader — and I would suggest to you that what we see south of the border is troubling. It’s troubling where first-past-the-post has led to a leader of a nation that has no problem with alternate facts. This is an example of first-past-the-post failing. This is a first-past-the-post failing.
As much as I would like to engage this debate further with the member for Vancouver–Quilchena, who is so desperately trying to get time here on the floor, I do note the hour, and I do reserve my right to continue speaking to this matter at the next sitting of the House. As such, I move adjournment of this debate.
A. Weaver moved adjournment of debate.
A. Weaver: I rise to continue my place in this debate on Bill 6, the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act. As I was speaking yesterday evening, I am delighted to stand in support of this bill.
One of the things I would like to address now — I didn’t have a chance to complete it yesterday — is some of the various types of proportional representation that will be explored in this extensive consultation period that we’re beginning to embark on under the direction of the Attorney General’s office.
If we go to the Angus Reid Institute, they did public interest research, which they released a couple of years back. I forget the exact date, but it was a very thorough analysis. They looked at a number of voting systems, and they talked about a number of ballots to get a sense of what people felt. They talked about the first-past-the-post system as one example. They explained, in a very straightforward manner, how it would be used and how it could be voted. They talked about a double system, whereby you could vote for a candidate and a party in a two-type system. They talked about the single transferable vote as one possible approach, an approach that has twice been used here in British Columbia. And they talked about numerous others.
I do recognize that I have not got much time left here, although I do so wish that we had royal assent of the bill granting the B.C. Green Party party status because I have at least another hour and a half that I could talk on this very important office, as I know members opposite would be delighted. I will say, though, that it is inappropriate for members opposite to continue to spread information that is not correct with respect to the process being followed.
It is not correct that regional parts of British Columbia are at a disadvantage. As I pointed out yesterday, proportional representation would give them an advantage over what the status quo is. It would allow members in the Okanagan to be serving in government. It would allow members of the opposition to be serving on southern Vancouver Island if a form of proportional representation were in place.
To suggest somehow that the allowance of other parties to be in this Legislature is giving rise to a National Socialist Party or some other party is rather absurd. The parties reflect the will of the people. Societal changes occur on short and long terms, and we are here to represent society. We’re not here to suppress other parties.
To suggest that we don’t want other parties, because it’s bad for democracy, is actually an affront to democracy. I would hope that as time goes forward, the members opposite realize that this is not the approach we want in British Columbia. We want to recognize society as a whole, and this approach to having a referendum does just that. I’ll end there.