This week starts a very important period for every British Columbian. A time that could cement instability into our province forever. If you haven’t heard about the referendum on electoral reform, or don’t know what the question is, now is the time to become more informed.
Unfortunately, this referendum is not a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question. I wish had enough space in this column to explain the differences between our current First Past the Post system of voting and the three different types of proportional systems the government wants you to consider, but that is just not possible.
For those curious about what government would look like under proportional representation, we got a pretty good insight during a joint press conference held at the rose garden at the B.C. Legislature last week. It was an unusually hot and sunny day for mid-October, but this did little to warm a rather stone-faced finance minister Carole James. Standing beside her was Green Party leader Andrew Weaver. Both looked like they wanted to be somewhere else.
James appeared as though she had just swallowed a poison pill, and he happened to be standing right next to her. Weaver looked like he impulsively bet all his chips on one hand and just lost, miserably. Their joint press conference underwhelmed media who had gathered with an expectation that something big was about to happen.
On Tuesday, James had finally introduced legislation that would spell out her controversial Speculation Tax. Her ‘crackdown’ on foreign and domestic real estate speculators would send carpetbaggers packing, lower house prices for everyone and raise half a billion dollars of revenue over three years.
That was until members of her own party and Green MLAs began to field angry calls from anyone who owned a cabin or second residence for work purposes. Premier Horgan and James did their best to spin the idea that British Columbians would not be captured by the tax, but it turns out that two-thirds of the 32,000 residences in question belong to people living and working in B.C.
Like the mouse that roared, Weaver once again threatened to bring down the government, this time over the tax. He was attempting to steal the thunder from municipal leaders pleading for the ability to opt-out from the tax.
After much protest, James backed down last March and exempted the Gulf Islands, Parksville (where Weaver owns a vacation home) Qualicum Beach and the Juan de Fuca region that belongs to the Premier Horgan’s constituency.
This had the effect of dividing the province into ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ tax regions. James bravely defended her position, but then just two days after introducing legislation, she was forced to swallow Weaver’s poisoned bill amendments, which only amounted to an annual summit tax chat.
For his part, Weaver and his self-serving decision lost tremendous face with municipal leaders who were expecting an opt-out clause. James fared much worse because the finance minister just blew a giant hole in her budget.
If this is how government operates tax policy under proportional representation, then I want to keep First Past the Post. Please, participate in the referendum.
By Dan Davies, MLA for Peace River North