Liberals sound alarm about NDP electoral reform

Okanagan MLA in Kelowna says NDP seek to unfairly skew referendum vote results

An Okanagan Liberal MLA says a planned referendum on proportional representation legislation will be stacked in favour of the NDP.

Norm Letnick, who represents the Kelowna-Lake Country constituency, says the NDP appear set on the mail-in referendum, planned for the fall of 2018, having an approval threshold of 50 per cent plus one.

Letnick says with 2.4 million residents, the Lower Mainland will have a disproportionate impact on the referendum results.

That belief is cited in a report circulated on social media by the party, which includes a graphic of the province coloured in blue, except for one small patch near the bottom left-hand corner, outlining Metro Vancouver, which is coloured orange.

“The population of the orange portion of this map is enough to change the voting system for all of B.C.,” is the wording on the map.

While some have called this criticism fearmongering by the Liberals, Letnick said it shows how the government is seeking the lowest threshold possible because a proportional representation voting system could allow the vote to be split in their favour.

“Our party is debating this in the legislature this week, but while our members get up and speak for 15 or 20 minutes about our concerns, the NDP members say very little in response or nothing at all,” Letnick said.

“They are not defending the legislation which leads me to believe this will be done in the cabinet backroom.”

Letnick points to the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform struck by the Liberal government in 2004 to come up with a referendum approval format. That assembly recommendation was for the referendum to require a minimum 60 per cent overall voter approval, and simple majority support in 60 per cent of the 79 electoral districts to pass.

Held concurrently with the 2005 provincial election, the referendum passed the electoral district threshold in 77 of the 79 electoral districts, but fell short at 57.7 per cent in the overall approval vote.

Another referendum held concurrently with the 2009 election was also defeated, as overall popular support fell to 39.09 per cent.

Letnick said he believes the current first past the post electoral system, for all its flaws, remains the best form of representation for electoral district constituents.

He feels groups forming a coalition under one banner is a more effective way to form government than a myriad of coalition parties seeking to broker deals to prop up the party with the most votes but short of a majority.

“I believe that MLAs should stand up for the constituencies they represent and be held accountable for the commitments they make to the voters. (Green Party leader) Andrew Weaver said recently that the NDP election campaign promises are not relevant now because they didn’t win majority support,” Letnick said.

“The only promises that matter now are the coalition agreement between the NDP and the Greens. I feel fundamentally in my core this is the wrong way to elect people and form governments.”

Letnick wants the referendum results to represent a broad base of British Columbia voters, and not be hijacked by Lower Mainland population numbers.

“There are many parts to our province, many different areas of focus, passion. Obviously the Lower Mainland has the most concentration of people, but we live in a broad province, from the Peace country to the southeast Interior, up to the northwest and central Interior, the Cariboo, the Okanagan and the Gulf Islands.

“With the referendum, to base fundamental change on how we elect our representatives on a simple majority with no minimum votes cast I believe is a weak attempt by the NDP to skew potential future elections in their favour.”

Letnick said while some political media pundits are talking about the referendum adoption threshold debate, the general public is largely still tuned out.

“The average guy is not engaged in this yet and I understand that. People have jobs and busy lives,” he said. “But at some point the public will get more engaged and I hope recognize the advantages of the current electoral system outweigh the advantages of proportional representation.”

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