Former green candidate and Maple Ridge council candidate Peter Tam is with Fair Vote BC. (The NEWS/files)

Maple Ridge in doldrums on electoral reform vote

Former city hall candidate Peter Tam supports pro-rep

Peter Tam would like to talk about it.

But it’s proving difficult to get a local discussion going what can be a dry topic – how British Columbians will actually elect their representatives in the B.C. legistature.

B.C. is currently in the middle of a mail-in referendum in which people will mark how they want, or if they want, their voting system to change and Tam is part of Fair Vote BC, which advocates for a change from the current first-past-the-post system.

Tam said because he’s part of the group, he can’t host a meeting on the topic.

So he’s mentioned the idea to other groups but so far, no one wants to organize such an event, with some saying that it’s “too political.”

“There’s a lot activity in Vancouver and Coquitlam. Not so much in Maple Ridge, yet,” Tam said.

That may increase as people realize that a referendum is going on after receiving their ballot in the mail.

While it can’t moderate a forum, Fair Vote BC is trying to get out its message. “We plan to just try to put out information,” Tam said. “We’re just trying to supply things and explain things to people.”

One scenario cited by the no side, is that proportional representation could lead to the election of extremist parties to the legislature.

“That’s not going to happen, because we’ve got a five-per-cent threshold,” Tam said. “You’re going to have to have a few thousand people voting for any extreme ideas. Canadians are not going to vote for the Nazi party. You’re not going to get even close to coming to any thresholds, percentages.”

But former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh is urging voters to say No because he believes it will usher in extremist parties like those in some European countries.

Dosanjh says Germany, the Netherlands and Hungary require low percentages of people to vote in candidates with racist views, and that has changed their political landscape. Dosanjh says the current first-past-the-post system is simple, as opposed to the proposed system, which he calls confusing and complicated.

Tam said he’d doesn’t know if the referendum will pass. “I just see that there’s a lot of fearmongering. People are afraid of change.”

Earlier this year, Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Bob D’Eith and Sonia Furstenau, Green MLA for Cowichan Valley, led the working group named by the government in December to recommend which systems will go to the public for a vote. But the attorney general’s office decided which systems to propose, he added.

D’Eith said Friday that interest is growing. He defended the 50-per-cent plus-one majority needed in the referendum to carry the vote. He said if people are worried about fringe parties surfacing, that’s more of a societal issue rather than an electoral issue, and also cited the five-per-cent threshold required.

D’Eith is also going door knocking next week in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows to talk to voters.

In August, a lawyer for the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association argued in court in August against the referendum.

The structure of the vote, a two-part question offering a choice between the existing system and three new voting systems, has been a target of critics since it was unveiled at the end of May.

“We believe that the referendum questions and process are illegal because they don’t present the public with a clear choice between the current electoral system and a defined system of proportional representation, as was the case in the two previous referenda held on this matter in 2005 and 2009,” the ICBA said in a statement.

A move to a single transferable vote system was rejected during a 2005 B.C. referendum because it didn’t receive the required 60 per cent threshold. A referendum on STV in 2009 also failed.

Under a proportional system, the number of seats in the legislature would be proportional to a party’s share of the overall vote.

he ballot, mailed out Oct.22, will include two questions: First, if you’d like to keep the current voting system or something different and second, which of the three PR systems you want to replace the old system with. People will have until Nov. 30 to vote.

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