COLUMNS: Referendum in the cards next fall

Premier Horgan is holding his cards as close to his chest as possible.

With little more than five months before British Columbians are asked to consider changing the way we elect a government in this province, Premier Horgan is holding his cards as close to his chest as possible.

We still don’t know the precise date of the referendum, what campaign rules will apply to those who favour or oppose proportional representation and perhaps most important of all, what question will appear on the ballot?

This will be the third referendum on electoral reform since 2005.

I personally believe the public should have every opportunity to inform themselves about all the alternatives well before they cast their vote.

If government is really serious about building support and understanding of a whole new system of electing MLAs, then Mr. Horgan should lay all his cards on the table and give people the time necessary to make an informed decision.

Unfortunately this is not going to happen until a few weeks before a vote is held this fall.

In 2005 and 2009 government handed responsibility for drafting the referendum question over to a neutral third party called the B.C. Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform.

This time only the Premier and his cabinet will make those decisions behind closed doors.

So far the only thing we do know is that it will definitely not be a simple yes-or-no question. Premier Horgan instead says he prefers a much more complicated question asking voters to consider four or five different models ranging from ‘mixed-member proportional representation’ to the ‘single non-transferable vote’ previously considered in the 2009 referendum. If all this sounds rather confusing, you are not alone. Last week in the legislature the government admitted that political staff in the Attorney General’s office had the final say in shaping an ‘objective’ public survey held earlier this year.

And if all this sounds like a premier might be trying to stack the deck in favour of his own party, you could be onto something.

Donna Barnett is the Liberal MLA for the Cariboo-Chilcotin.

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