Dianne Watts—Black Press file

B.C. Liberal leadership front-runner slams planned election referendum

Dianne Watts says changing to proportional representation will hurt rural B.C.

The planned provincial referendum on using proportional representation to elect future B.C. governments is a non-starter for B.C. Liberal Party leadership front-runner Dianne Watts.

Dianne Watts, who will make two appearances in Kelowna today to drum up support for her bid to succeed former Liberal leader Christy Clark, says the NDP government’s plan to hold the referendum next year is “bad for our province,” particularly for those living in rural communities.

“This legislation will divide British Columbians, taking seats out of rural B.C. and moving them into urban centres,” she said. “This is a significant issue as it will reduce the representation of rural communities. Let’s be clear, proportional representation gives a bigger voice to one part of the province at the expense of the rest of B.C. I want rural B.C. to have an equal voice, not less.”

The NDP government announced plans for the referendum earlier this month. It was one of the promises made to the Green Party in return for support in defeating Liberals after it won the last spring’s provincial election by a one seat, formed a minority goverment but could not overcome a joint NDP/Green vote of non-confidence.

“This is (Green Party leader) Andrew Weaver’s bill and it’s flat out wrong,” said Watts. ” He knows this is his only path to political success and it is the crux of the coalition.”

She said there is nowhere else in Canada using proportional representation “for a reason.”

“The ‘first-past-the-post’ model is at the heart of our democracy and it works,” said Watts. “Proportional representation will result in more unstable minority governments and the kind of backroom deals we are witnessing in B.C. right now.”

“First past the post” is the system currently in use, where the winning candidate in a riding get the most votes. The party that wins the most ridings—or seats—wins the election and gets to govern.

There are a number of different forms of proportional representation and the type that would be used in B.C., if the referendum is approved, has yet to be determined.

The federal Liberal government included a pledge to change the electoral system federally during the 2015 election campaign, but has backed away from that saying it feels there is not a consensus across the country for a particular way to change the federal electoral system at this time.

That controversial flip-flop has garnered criticism from many who believed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he pledged during the 2015 campaign that vote the would be the last time Canada used the first-past-the-post system to elect a federal government.

Watts said not only would a change to proportional representation hurt rural B.C., the planned referendum success threshold—50 per cent plus one in favour—will put rural communities at a significant disadvantage in having their voice heard in the discussion.

“The structure of the referendum is wrong,” she said. “If urban B.C. decides this is a good idea, rural B.C.’s voice won’t even be heard.”

Watts plans to discuss a variety of issues facing B.C during her stops in the Okanagan, including proportional representation.