FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The upcoming provincial referendum on proportional representation was the main topic of BC Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson’s speech to the Fort St. John & District Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
Wilkinson is in Fort St. John for the second day of a two-day visit to the B.C. Peace Region, making him the first leader of a provincial political party to visit Northeast B.C. since former Premier Christy Clark and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver were both in the Energetic City on the same day last June.
On Tuesday, he toured an oilfield site and the Louisiana Pacific mill in Dawson Creek before meeting with local party members.
In Fort St. John on Wednesday, Wilkinson toured the Site C dam and Surerus Pipeline ahead of the Chamber luncheon, ahead of scheduled stops at the Salvation Army, Women’s Resource Society, and another event with party members this evening.
The Liberal leader told attendees today that his party will be doing as much campaigning as it can to try and make sure this fall’s referendum on proportional representation fails.
Should the referendum succeed, he said that the Liberals will do everything in their power to force an election before the scheduled date of October 16, 2021, since the referendum’s rules state that that election date is the earliest the new proportional representation system would be implemented.
Wilkinson explained that all three of the proportional representation options being put to B.C. voters in the mail-in ballot would erode local representation in the Legislature for Northern B.C. residents, due to the small proportion of the population living in The North.
He also did not completely reject electoral reform, saying that should the Liberals form the next government, one of the first things he would do would be to reconvene the Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform, which recommended the Single Transferable Vote system ahead of two referenda in 2005 and 2009.
The first referendum saw just under 58 percent of votes choose the BC-STV system in 77 of 79 ridings, though in the second referendum, almost 61 percent of voters were in favour of keep the current First Past the Post system.
Speaking to reporters after the luncheon, Wilkinson said that given the current unstable minority government situation, his party does have some MLA’s in the NDP who are unhappy with the current state of government.
“We’ll continue to talk to those folks over time and see what they have in mind. It’s a hair-trigger balance. Just one person has to change their mind and it would probably lead to an election,” he said.
The BC Liberals currently have 42 seats in the Legislature, the NDP has 41 seats, and the Greens have 3 seats. Current Speaker and Abbotsford South MLA Darryl Plecas was elected as a Liberal, but was ejected from caucus after submitting his nomination to be Speaker without prior disclosure.
Wilkinson also shot down in flames a suggestion from one member in attendance for Northern B.C. to form a separate province from the South Coast, saying that his party seeks to keep the province united and prevent such divisiveness.
“We do not need British Columbia to fractionate out into these tiny parties, which is what will happen. We don’t need a Peace River separation party. We don’t need an Asian-Canadian party. We don’t need a Free Ferries party on Vancouver Island. It’s our job to keep this place together and govern for the whole province of British Columbia, to make sure that everybody’s interests get addressed. The sentiment the gentleman expresses is not silly, it’s not dangerous, it’s a genuine sentiment that what’s going to happen to this place if we’re going to get screwed over all the time. There will be a great deal of activity that is designed to tear this place apart. That’s the hand grenade they’re working with, and they have not recognized that,” said Wilkinson of those in favour of the upcoming referendum succeeding.