Bill 11 takes a misstep — British Columbians are represented by their local MLA, not party leaders

May 19, 2023 | 42-4, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Sessions, Video | 0 comments

In April, I responded to Bill 11 and supported two amendments proposed by the Official Opposition which would’ve prevented party leaders from having more power in our elections.


A. Olsen:
Speaking to the amendment, I appreciate the member from the official opposition for raising it. It’s a concern that we also share in the Third Party, and I think that it’s a concern, actually, that should be shared across all parts of this House.

I want to read into the record from page 58 of the judicial recount from the 2020 provincial election in the electoral district of West Vancouver–Sea to Sky. There was a judicial recount there. Section 209 of this reads the following:

“Elections B.C. noted, properly, that in our Westminster parliamentary system, voters are not voting as one would for a president in a republic, in a single national election. Instead, a voter votes for their local representative in the Legislature; those members in turn may decide to change the leader of their caucus or of the Legislature. There are 87 separate elections in British Columbia, one for each electoral district, rather than a single election. In this context, a voter may well vote based on the individual rather than the party, and a vote for an individual candidate in the mistaken belief that he or she is running in the voter’s electoral district should not automatically transfer the vote to the actual candidate for that party in the electoral district.”

It appears that what happened here is that during this judicial recount that happened, Elections B.C. came to the table with this advice to the judge that was taking a look at this. It should be noted that it was the position that was taken by the Third Party, the B.C. Green Party, as well, that any ballot that had the leader’s name written on it should just be outright rejected. It did not have either the party or the candidate that was running in that election.

I used the example, when I was speaking at second reading to this bill, of the situation that occurred in my riding where, actually, the situation that the Attorney General outlined occurred. It took the government, who called the election, a couple of weeks in order to locate a candidate to represent them in that election. For the first couple of weeks of that snap election, there was a proliferation of the Premier’s signs in my riding showing up all over the place, presumably to take the place of the candidate that had yet to be determined. Even after the candidate had been determined, perhaps they took the place of the candidate who wasn’t able to get their signs printed early in the writ.

It served a couple of purposes. There’s no doubt that at that time, the Premier, the leader of the B.C. New Democratic Party, was very popular. So from that perspective, you can understand why it would be that a political party that has a popular Premier would want to do that. But another outcome of that was that it was terribly confusing for the electorate. Even people who had been paying close attention to what was going on, noting…. I live in the capital region. My riding is in the capital region. It’s neighbouring to Langford–Juan de Fuca. People were legiti­mately confused about what was happening.

Did the Premier, at the time, move to Saanich North and the Islands, and was he running in Saanich North and the Islands? Frankly, at that time, that was a confusion that I spent little time, at that point, concerned about. My concern was letting people know who I was and who I was encouraging them to vote for. At that point, it wasn’t the Premier.

But you know, I think what is happening here is that we are, indeed, creeping towards a scenario where we are elevating the leader into a role they don’t have any business being in — more of a presidential role than the one they play. There is no doubt that the most popular name in politics will always be, or will soon be, the person who is the Premier that we hear about and know who that person is. That is giving an advantage. It is, indeed, actually stepping outside, as Elections B.C. noted in the judicial recount, the parliamentary system of government that we have established in this province.

When I first began to look at whether or not I wanted to move from local government to the provincial government and maybe run as an MLA, one of the first things that I considered was the potential of running as an independent. I was curious about that. So I started to look into what that would mean.

I learned that over the decades — despite the system that we have, with 87 or whatever the number of ridings there are elections that are held on election day in B.C. — it had become more and more difficult to even run in this province without being a member of a political party.

There was a time in this province where political parties didn’t exist. We now have the creeping profile of the political party. I understand, and I’m not arguing against, having the political party as one of the options on the ballot. But just as that has crept into our system, I think this is now the next stage of this, which is to basically fold all of the elections under one name.

We see the name of every political leader on every sign across the province as part of the team of this individual, whichever leader it is. I’m going to — absolutely, and I think with no hesitation — be supporting this amendment because, frankly, it’s the right thing to do. I’m quite disappointed that the government has brought this amendment to include the leader’s name on a ballot anywhere in the province as an acceptable replacement to the actual person who will be representing, the actual person who will be on the other end of the emails, who will be serving the constituency in that particular riding.

What I’ve experienced is that constituents that I have who write to the Premier, who write to the leader of the political party that is in power, very rarely do they get a response back. It is always going to be the constituency MLA, the MLA that is part of that constituency. That is who their representative is. That’s who is responsible for those constituents. As much as possible, I think we need to guard and defend that relationship that the voter has — the citizen, the constituent has — with their member of this Legislature.

Hon. N. Sharma:
I want to thank the member for proposing the amendment and also the House Leader of the Third Party for the words. We won’t be able to support the amendment today, and I’ve outlined the reasons before. I just want to say that I agree with the belief in the values of local decision-making and local representation that were expressed today.

The changes we’re making to the Election Act under this bill were recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer and independent of us. The reasons for it are very exceptional circumstances.

We put this amendment in the context of a declining use of a write-in ballot and better technology and better availability for printing off an ordinary ballot, which will do what the member suggests, listing off the candidates and the party.

In the exceptional circumstance of a write-in ballot…. So we’re already in the category of a situation where there are not nominated candidates, so the nomination process has not been finished in that riding, and the decision has been to send in written ballots. And then I think the judicial guidance and certainly the Chief Electoral guidance is that you, and I share this view, should be driven by voter intent in those exceptional circumstances.

The vast majority of ballots are going to be ordinary ballots that list exactly who the candidates are in their party. And that’s increasing, as I mentioned before, because we will actually have printers at stations that can print ordinary ballots on call. So we’re strengthening the process of that. But in these exceptional circumstances, my view is that voter intent should be analyzed.

If a voter in the circumstance that the judge decided on, where they wrote in the name of the leader and the party, the fact that that was rejected because the leader’s name was there would be probably shocking to that individual, right? They felt that in a situation where they were meant to write in something, because they didn’t have nominated candidates in that riding and they wrote in the leader of the party, that their voter intent would be rejected and their vote not be counted.

The reason for those amendments are squarely in this category and are supported not only by the Chief Electoral Officer but guidance we’ve also gotten from courts on mail-in ballots when it comes to voter intent. So for those reasons, I don’t support the amendments.

The Chair:
Seeing no further comments, the question is on the amendment provided by the member for Abbotsford West.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 10 approved on division.

Clause 11 approved.

The Chair:
Shall clause 12 pass?

Sorry, member for Abbotsford West.

On clause 12.

M. de Jong:
No need to be sorry till you hear what I have to say, Madam Chair.

Well, look, I had indicated to the Attorney and to the committee the issue that the member for Saanich North and I have spoken to, and the Attorney for that matter, reveals itself in clause 10, clause 12 and, I believe, clause 24. I don’t intend to repeat all of the arguments that I have advanced in support of my amendment that has just been defeated on clause 10.

I do, however, wish to table a similar amendment with respect to clause 12, which seeks to eliminate what would be sub 2(c), the reference to the name of the leader of the registered political party of a candidate for whom the individual wishes to vote. I have provided that in written form. I think the table has had an opportunity to make copies of it. I hope members that require a copy have it.

Suffice to say it is advanced to accomplish the same purpose and for the same reasons as the amendment that was proposed with respect to clause 10. And I so move that amendment.

[CLAUSE 12, by deleting the text shown as struck out:
12 Section 91 (2) is repealed and the following substituted:
(2) In the case of a write-in ballot, an individual votes by writing in the blank space provided on the ballot
(a) the name of the candidate for whom the voter wishes to vote,
(b) the name of the registered political party of the candidate for whom the individual wishes to vote, or
(c) the name of the leader of the registered political party of a candidate for whom the individual wishes to vote.]

On the amendment.

A. Olsen:
Thank you to the member for Abbotsford West for the further opportunity, I guess, just to raise the point that I still support the initiative that was started a few minutes ago. I still support it to remove the option of putting the leader’s name.

I think it’s important to highlight what was said by Elections B.C. in the judicial recount, and that was that “a voter votes for their local representative in the Legislature. Those members, in turn, may decide to change the leader of their caucus or of the Legislature.” That could happen at any time in the electoral process. In fact, the electoral process is a challenging time, and lots of things can happen and can play out.

The idea of voter intent, as the Attorney General outlined…. I guess the challenge I have with that is that when you’re putting another individual’s name down, it’s different than putting a political party down. There is a difference in that. I think it’s important to acknowledge that. Again, Elections B.C. highlighted in the judicial recount the reality that that voter could very well be intending on voting for the New Democrat Party, could be putting the name of the leader of the New Democratic Party in the ballot instead of the NDP, and then that individual is no longer the leader of that political party when the election day rolls around.

Again, we’re talking about, as the Attorney General pointed out, a rather nuanced and declining situation. Here’s another situation that is fairly nuanced and may only happen once, but the reality is that we have to take this into consideration: that on that election day, that voter’s intention will no longer be available, will not be an option because of the unlikely scenario that that leader is no longer the leader of the political party at the time that the election is held.

The reality is that if it’s about voter intention, then we need to be clear to the voters. “Write the name of your local candidate, and if there is no local candidate, then write the name of the political party that you are most closely affiliated or aligned with that you’d like to see have the representative in that area.” Other than that, for the sake of judicial recounts and for the sake of clarity, I think that’s where we need to end it. And that’s the reason why I’m supporting this amendment.

Hon. N. Sharma:
Just to say I also appreciate, again, the intent and the discussion that we’re having here today. But for similar reasons, as I mentioned for the previous amendment, I don’t support these amendments.

The Chair:
Seeing no further questions, I call the vote on the amendment to clause 12, put forward by the member for Abbotsford West.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 12 approved on division.


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