Cheryl Ashlie

MacDuff’s Call: I will be voting to stay with First Past the Post

‘This referendum isn’t about good governance.’

After 15 years in politics and ongoing involvement with non-profit board governance, I can safely say I am a constitution, bylaws and policy freak.

Anyone who works with me knows that I like rules and I like them to be followed, which, for any organization, is easy to do with a good set of bylaws and adherence to such.

Therefore, when the government introduced the new Societies Act, which every one in B.C. has to transition to by Nov. 28 and which reaffirmed long-standing procedural bylaws that support the application of good governance for those registered, I was very pleased.

However, when the NDP/Green team launched the 2018 referendum on Electoral Reform and announced that a change to our electoral process would be decided by a simple majority vote (50 per cent plus one), and based on incomplete information, I was shocked that the government was not holding itself to the same standard for doing business that was recently affirmed for other such bodies.

To the contrary, the NDP/Green team is disregarding good governance by using a flawed process to preside over one of the most significant decisions in recent history that citizens have been asked to make in our province, which will affect both our voting system and our government construct, and I am surprised that citizens are not outraged, regardless of whether they want to keep First Past the Post or change to a form of proportional representation.

Good governance practice recognizes that significant issues impacting how an assembly does its business on behalf of its members – in this case, the provincial government on behalf of its citizens – should be determined by a “special resolution” requiring a two thirds majority vote, as significant issues demand a higher vote threshold than that of ordinary business, which can be done through a simple majority.

It would be hard to debate that changing our electoral system is not significant, therefore, it is equally hard to fathom how the NDP/Green team determined that it would only require a simple majority vote to enact such changes. But that is, in fact, what it has done.

And if the lower vote threshold being applied to this significant issue is not enough of an affront to good governance, then government’s assurance of our ignorance regarding the final model should be, as it has not provided clarity as to what our electoral system would be, as nothing being presented is definitive.

Looking again at what government expects all other governing bodies in the province to do, it is required that all voting members are to be provided with the information they need to make an informed decision prior to voting.

The recent changes to the new Societies Act embeds this as a bylaw and it, along with the higher threshold for procedural bylaw changes, such as voting systems, are both rooted in edition after edition of Roberts Rules of Order that has presided over parliamentary law since being developed by General Henry M. Robert in 1876.

Yet, having received my ballot in the mail just last Friday, it confirmed to me that the information being provided was incomplete and insufficient to make an informed decision, especially since the final option for voting will not be fully developed until after the referendum.

Therefore, even though, like that of my colleague, Katherine Wagner, who wrote in detail about the referendum last week, I supported the Single Transferable Vote – B.C. that was put forward by the Citizen’s Assembly in 2009, I will be voting to stay with the First Past the Post model, as the basics of good governance and decision making are being disregarded by the NDP/Green team and I have no confidence that a good democratic process was intended for this referendum.

In fact, I believe it was designed to the contrary to take advantage of confusion and typical low voter turn out for votes of this nature.

And if anyone doubts that the voter turnout will be low, just reflect on the March 16-May 20 government-held, mail-in ballot plebiscite regarding the proposed 0.5 per cent increase in sales tax that was intended to address Lower Mainland transportation improvements.

According to Elections B.C., even with all of the hype and lead-up to that vote, only 48.64 per cent of eligible voters turned out.

Comparing the coverage and the lead-up to that plebiscite to this referendum, which was initiated two days after the distracting municipal elections and faces a more compressed timeline – Oct. 22 to Nov. 30 – it is hard to believe that the voter turnout will be much better than 48 per cent.

And if that ends up being the case, using the 50-per-cent-plus-one threshold the NDP/Green team have put in place, 25 per cent of the voting population could very well change our electoral process.

Add in the fact that the voters have three PR options on the ballot, means the prevailing option could be determined by as low as 34 per cent of the 25 per cent of votes cast, which means 8.3 per cent of eligible voters could be deciding our electoral system.

Keep in mind that the government will be developing the final model after the referendum and voters will not be given the option of approving the new model prior to implementation, which means we are flying blind here.

As someone who loves governance, I find this very disheartening, especially considering the government expects every non-profit organization, society and municipal government in the province to operate at a higher standard than they are holding for themselves and they know it.

However, this referendum isn’t about good governance, it’s about retaining power and they are hell bent on designing that end.

Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and former citizen of the year.

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