Bill 11 updates our election laws, but its new ballot guidelines could cause confusion at the polls.

Mar 30, 2023 | 42-4, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature | 0 comments

This week, I rose to speak about Bill 11, the Elections Amendment Act. This Bill provides necessary updates to our electoral legislation, bringing our laws in closer alignment with how modern elections operate.

Bill 11 will ensure protections against deliberate disinformation, broader recognition of the use of online communications for election advertising, a straightforward, accessible procedure for voting by mail, the assessment of third-party advertisers against independence criteria, and a more efficient final vote count process.

I was pleased to speak in favour of these amendments and believe they’ll have a sincere, positive impact on our electoral process — except for one.

In a move towards leader-style politics, this Bill gives people the ability to write the name of a party leader on their ballot, regardless of whether the leader is running in their community. While I acknowledge that this change stems from the exceptional circumstances of the 2020 snap election, I find it quite concerning.

During that election, the BC NDP placed Premier John Horgan’s signs all over my riding, promoting a candidate who wasn’t running in our community. Amidst the chaos of that election, people were legitimately confused and our campaign received numerous questions about whether the Premier had decided to run in Saanich North and the Islands.

Leaders of large political parties are recognizable and known by many. While I advocate for making our electoral processes easier for people to understand and participate in, I fear this change will only consolidate the power of existing political parties in the Legislature.

Amongst all the other beneficial changes this Bill makes, I believe this one requires us to pause and reflect on the kind of democracy we aspire towards.


A. Olsen:
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill 11, and I apologize for the delay. Just wanting to stand and speak to some of the changes that are being put into this bill and some of the recommendations from the CEO of Elections B.C. that are not finding their way into this bill and maybe some of the questions that we’ll have as this bill moves through the remaining parts of this legislative process.

We do recognize the process that has been involved in order to draft this legislative amendment today and including the CEO’s ability to authorize locations for mail ballot drop-off beyond electoral offices or voting places. A campaign period — election advertising is now going to be more broadly defined to include electronic communication instead of simply text messaging. Recognizing that this allows people to write the name of a party leader on a write-in ballot to vote for that party’s candidate in their riding. I’ll come back to that in just a second.

The CEO doesn’t currently have to issue a mail-in ballot if they don’t think that there’s enough time in order for the voting member, citizen, to return it. It requires mail voters to provide a date of birth as a shared secret to confirm their identity when voting. It removes the requirement that the mail-in voting be done before a witness and allows for the curing of mail-in ballots returned with errors, so voters can correct mistakes to allow the votes to still count.

I think all of these initiatives that I just outlined are laudable initiatives, save one. And I’ll speak to that. I think it is important that we recognize that the accessibility of our elections is there for all British Columbians — those who don’t have a fixed address, for example, or maybe those who may have made a mistake in that process. I appreciate the effort that’s being taken by government here to ensure that British Columbians are able to have their say in one of the most important acts in our democracy, which is to go out to the poll and to vote.

I recognize that in this bill we have the ability for, and I mentioned this, people to write the name of a party leader into their ballot instead of their party’s candidate. I recognize that during the snap election in 2020 this was a particularly challenging aspect for voters, in that it was being done in a pandemic. It was a snap election, meaning it wasn’t planned. In some ridings, no party had a candidate until quite some time. Because of the pandemic, we used mail in ballots to an extent that I don’t think have ever been used in this province previously, so we saw an awful lot of write-in ballots.

I think the idea of writing in the party leader’s name into a ballot goes against the electoral system that we have, where members from their community put their name forward to represent their communities. This idea that we can simply just have leader-style politics is kind of like they do down in the States, to some extent, when they vote for the President. It’s a focus on the leader of the party rather than actually those individuals who have been nominated and elected to be the candidate for their party.

It was indicated to me that during one of the ballots back in the 2020 election — in the West Vancouver–Sea to Sky riding, I believe — there was a different position that was taken by Elections B.C. on this. Now, in this report that the CEO of Elections B.C. has given to the minister, in order to draft this legislation, he has changed the position, maybe, from what was in the judicial recount decision.

I think we need to be very careful if we are moving away from 87 MLAs elected here, all in the same way, by a majority of the members in their riding and we’re moving towards more of a leader style of politics, where the focus is on the leader of the political party. I think we need to recognize that that is a system that has evolved over the decades. That is not how this institution is supposed to work, as it was historically set up.

It has evolved that way. This place is about the political parties that exist here. It’s about the sparring between the political parties that exist here. It is about the consolidation of power by those political parties that exist in this House. That’s what this chamber has become, and, I believe, what this amendment will further entrench: a lack of understanding and awareness, for some British Columbians, of who their candidate actually is.

In my riding, for the first four weeks of the election, I had the Premier’s signs up all over my riding, promoting somebody who wasn’t running in my riding. You know, I still beat the Premier in my riding during that election, as it turns out. He did not win in Saanich North and the Islands. He wasn’t running in Saanich North and the Islands.

What it did…. I can talk about what it did. As I was standing having a conversation with people on the street in Sidney, it brought a sense of confusion into that race. I didn’t know the Premier was running in Saanich North and the Islands. Well, he was not. People were legitimately confused.

This is the single most important act in our democracy: going to the polls and selecting the person that you want to represent you in your riding. Indeed, we all, most of us, run for a political party in here, and the collections of candidates that run under those banners form a government. They form an opposition, they form a Third Party, and they form a fourth party and maybe a fifth party.

The reality here is that if we are changing our laws that are going to serve to further confuse British Columbians, I think we need to pause and reflect on that. It was confusing. You know what? I think the Premier of the day got what he was looking for. He got the outcome that he was looking for, and that’s fine, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing for us to do.

I think it’s important to acknowledge some of the things that the CEO of Elections B.C. had in their report and that — for some reason, inexplicably — are not appearing in this bill.

Prohibiting the spreading of misinformation about the political officials or the elections process. Imposing monetary penalties on those who spread misinformation. Providing criteria for what constitutes an independent third-party sponsor. Allowing voters to use date of birth to confirm identity to vote by mail. Allowing ballots to be dropped off at CEO-designated drop-off locations.

Some of these are not…. Oh, sorry. I should say that those were in. Here are the things that are not in the…. This is my confusion. This is what happens when your notes walk in at the moment that you’re supposed to stand up and speak.

There are aspects of this bill that do not cover recommendations that were made by the CEO. From the 2020 report, require online bots to disclose their automated nature. That seems to me, in a world of AI, something that we should be aggressive…. In fact, I would say that this government has been very slow on the rapidly changing digital landscape. We are five years behind, perpetually, because of the way that we update our acts and because of the way that we view this. I would say that this is something that is a missed opportunity in this bill.

Expand the definition of “election advertising” to 12 months before an election if the ads endorse a candidate or a party and six months if the ads are solely issues-based. This would reflect the trend towards permanent campaigning in our politics, which we’re seeing.

Require third-party advertisers to be B.C. residents, using Canadian funds and bank accounts. Back in 2013, we spent a considerable amount of time talking about foreign money and the influence that it’s having in our political system. It seems to me that this would be an aspect, a remnant, a legacy of the system that was in place back in 2013 that could have been addressed in this legislation.

Impose penalties for fraudulent or incomplete nomination forms and nomination contest reports, and ban advertisers from sponsoring content on platforms that fail to remove illegal content. The reality is that if we don’t get ahead and ensure…. Those who own and operate these digital platforms do not believe that we are going to penalize them for allowing fraudulent or incorrect information to just linger in that digital landscape. This would be a way for us to be able to ensure…. Many of these platforms are driven by their advertising models. So banning that advertising on platforms that don’t conform, I think, would be one of those pieces.

These are issues…. I’m very happy with the fact that some of the aspects of this bill are moving forward. I have some pretty substantial questions, frankly, about the move towards a leader style of politics. That, frankly, I think, is outside of the way the system of our government and our elections should work.

I have some questions for the minister as to why it is that some of these pieces were ignored — the correct ones, the ones that I got right. Why the ministry and the minister decided to leave these out for now. It could be that there’s another bill coming, and that would be fine too. We will be pressing at the committee stage as to why those pieces were left out.

With that, I’ll take my seat.



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