B.C. Premier defends Bill 20 amendments

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said Tuesday that a controversial provision in Bill 20 is meant to create “a level playing field” for all the political parties.

Her comments come on the heels of Liberal MLA (Vancouver-Langara) Moira Stilwell criticizing the bill, which is at the committee stage and facing a number of amendments. She said while she supported aspects of the bill, her constituents were uneasy with a provision in the bill that would allow political parties to know whether a voter had participated in an election or not. 

"The intent is to try and make it a level playing field for not just the New Democrats and the BC Liberals, but for the Greens, for example, who haven’t run a candidate in every riding in the province or for independent members, some of whom have gotten elected,” Clark told a media availability in Burnaby.

But Andrew Weaver, the B.C. Green Party MLA for the riding of Oak Lawn-Gordon Head, told the Vancouver Observer in an interview that the Green Party doesn't have any problems finding volunteers to provide scrutiny of voters at the polls.

 “If you look in the last election, I know the Liberals had a real time getting volunteers,” Weaver said. “The Green Party, we do not ever have a problem getting volunteers.”

Weaver calls the provision “egregious,” and wondered how the current government could imagine that an electronic list of voters from the previous election would make it easier for people to get out the vote.

 “You would also need to introduce a time machine to take you back in time if this other addition, which is giving who voted after an election, to actually be effected in an election that’s already happened,” Weaver said.

Instead, Weaver said the provision would lend itself to abuse, providing databases of people to the political parties. “Those would be misused, targeted with messages.”

Added Weaver: “It is wrong to be giving this personal and private information to people after an election has occurred, and there’s no reason for this information. You cannot use it to improve getting out your vote. It can only be used, of course, to target messaging.”

However, Clark said that kind of information is already available to the “big political parties” for the most part.

She called voting a very public act where voters were required to provide identification and where anyone sitting at a poll could challenge a voter’s identity.

 “It’s a very, very public act. As a result it means that the big parties have the resources to go out and figure out who voted in every poll in every riding,” Clark noted.

The Premier maintained that the changes to the Election Act will enable individuals who are independent or run with smaller parties and lack the resources of a “vast province-wide organization” to have access to the same kinds of information in each riding that the big parties have.

Weaver said he didn't support the change.

“In fact, I don’t, to be perfectly honest, think that it is anybody’s business apart from the voter and the chief electoral officer to know who or who has not voted. That’s a matter of privacy.”

B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner agrees. In a letter released last month, Elizabeth Denham wrote that the amendment extends beyond the objective of increasing voter turnout and expressed the concern that “the proposed amendments would allow for other uses and expand the already broad ability of political parties to collect information about voter participation.”

Denham urged that the government to withdraw the proposed amendment.

Stilwell had nothing more to add to the debate Tuesday, according to a spokesperson in her office.  The Vancouver Observer was told the MLA was going to wait and see what the new amendments are before commenting.

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