Black Press legislative columnist Tom Fletcher sat down with Premier John Horgan to talk about his plans for 2018. Video of the interview is below, with a transcript of the premier’s comments on the pending referendum on electoral reform.
TF: You’re going to have a referendum on our voting system next year. You’ve said there is going to be a clear two-part question, do voters want to change or don’t they, and the second part is still being worked out. Is that accurate?
JH: That’s pretty close to what I expect will come back from the consultation. I think it’s important that we ask the public if they want to change from what we’ve got now, and once that’s established then what are the alternatives.
This will be the third referendum on these questions in a little under 15 years, so I don’t think we have too many more opportunities to put this to the public. So we want to make sure we get it right.
TF: This was a hot topic in the legislature, suggestions that it’s being arranged for your political advantage, or the B.C. Green Party’s political advantage. Can you respond to that?
JH: It certainly is not my intention to stack the deck in any way. This is something I’ve become increasingly passionate about. I voted against electoral reform in 2005 because I was uncomfortable. I understood the first-past-the-post system. It’s what I grew up with.
But after spending four years as an opposition member, having no influence at all in government, effectively shutting out my constituents from having a say, I changed my view, and felt that we needed to find a better way to reflect the diversity in our communities.
In my mind, it’s not about the NDP, the Greens, the Liberals, the Conservatives, it’s about people electing a representative. What we’ve got now is the first minority parliament in 50 years, and we have to work together, and put aside our partisan issues to the greatest extent possible.
I’ve been trying to do that, but you’ve been covering this place for a long time. It’s a partisan place. And we’re trying to dial that down, but sometimes it rears its ugly head. And I think that as we go forward with the referendum and the question, I’m going to be as transparent as possible, making sure this is about how people elect someone, not how we elect more of one or the other.
TF: You’ve said there will be protection for sparsely populated rural regions. How might that work?
JH: We’re going to have to come to a conclusion on that. I’ve heard clearly from rural MLAs in both the B.C. Liberal and NDP caucuses that their constituents are concerned they will somehow lose their ability to affect change within a sea of residents in southern Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.
We have to remember that our current system, if it were challenged in court, might be thrown out anyway. There is supposed to be only a 25-per-cent deviation between the smallest constituency and the largest. We have more than half a dozen that have very few constituents than you would have in Vancouver or Richmond or Surrey. So we have to find a balance regardless of whether it’s proportional representation or first past the post. But I absolutely hear the voices of people in rural B.C. that they don’t want to be left out of the political process.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org