BY PETER EWART
As Wikipedia describes it, a fairy tale is a fanciful story that “typically features entities such as dwarfs, dragons, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, griffins, mermaids, talking animals, trolls, unicorns and witches.”
And what a collection of strange tales the No to PR BC spokespersons are conjuring up in their attempt to discredit proportional representation (PR) in the upcoming referendum. One of the most bizarre has to be the claim that the existing first-past-the-post (FPTP) system in British Columbia is a non-party system and that MLAs are non-partisan. If there is one place in the world where this has to be the least true, it would have to be British Columbia which has had an extreme party-based system ever since 1903 when the big parties took over the process.
Yet this is precisely what the No side spokespersons are claiming in their attacks on proportional representation. For example, former Liberal MLA Suzanne Anton has been telling cozy little tales about how FPTP is, in effect, a non-party system which means MLAs are non-partisan and, like Mother Goose, will welcome constituents into their office no matter what their politics. On the other hand, she claims that, if proportional representation is adopted, this will all change for the worse and, like the Miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin, MLAs will become beholden to and controlled by the backroom imps of the political parties.
In spinning such tales, Anton is attempting to use the constituency side of MLA work (which would be the same under any voting system including PR) to gloss over the legislative side which in B.C. is extremely party-based.
Instead of a fairy tale, let’s look at the cold, hard reality of politics in B.C. today. MLAs are selected and nominated by the political parties, not by the general electorate. Once elected, they are under the thumb of the political parties. They must follow the party line on all major and even most minor issues, otherwise they face repercussions including expulsion from the party. In the last few years that latter fate has happened in the Central Interior to both Liberal MLA Paul Nettleton and NDP MLA Bob Simpson.
To say that MLAs are non-partisan is even more laughable when we look at the MLA voting record. In the last Legislative session, about 100 bills were passed by 87 MLAs from the three parties in the Legislature. That amounts to about 8,700 separate votes. Of those 8,700 votes, it has been calculated that only five did not follow their party lines.
In the Central Interior and North, all the current seats are held by Liberal MLAs in what amounts to be a regional monopoly. When did any of these MLAs speak out against the cancellation of the appurtenancy clause requiring forestry companies to mill logs in or near the communities where they were harvested? Dozens of mills were closed and thousands of jobs were lost as a result, but nary a peep from any of these MLAs.
The same holds true for the sell-off of BC Rail, despite 70 per cent of the population opposing it. Or the imposition of the hated Harmonized Sales Tax. None of these Liberal MLAs in the region spoke out against any of these policies being rammed through despite the many complaints of constituents.
How can the No side claim that this is non-partisan? Only if they would have us believe a fairy tale. Indeed, they are also spreading other fairy tales such as that proportional representation will mean “farewell to local MLAs” and that PR will “eliminate the voice of small communities” (see previous column by Bill Phillips demolishing that claim).
There is a danger when No side spokespersons try to pass off falsehoods as true. Like Pinocchio, their noses grow longer. And they pay a price in credibility.
Peter Ewart is a columnist, writer and community activist based in Prince George, BC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org