Failure to engage public led to HST disaster

In 2009, then-radio-host Christy Clark said, “people are sick to death of the way our political system operates. People tell me … they’re tired of electing politicians who ignore what their constituents want and do what their leaders want them to instead.”

Clark could have chosen no better example of this behaviour than the recent HST fiasco.  Regardless of the technical merits of a Value-Added Tax, even the government has acknowledged that opposition to the tax was “in large measure due to our own handling of the introduction of that major policy change”, as Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said.  Premier Clark likewise noted that “government understood the way this was brought in well over a year ago wasn't good enough."

It is worth considering why the government at the time felt that they could introduce the HST so soon after an election campaign in which they had explicitly denied that they were considering it.  According to Fair Voting BC President Antony Hodgson, a significant contributing factor was the disproportionate number of seats our voting system gives to the major parties.

“In 2009, the Liberals won 46% of the popular vote, but our First-Past-the-Post voting system gave them 58% of the seats,” Hodgson said.  “Since half the seats effectively gives a party all the power, the government was able to cut off debate on the HST in the legislature and ignore calls to engage in public consultation.  Dissent inside the party was squelched.  When high-profile Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom felt heat from his constituents and called for slowing down and engaging the public in conversation, he was forced to resign.”

“The HST referendum results clearly show that BC voters want our government to listen to us,” Hodgson added.  “Tools such as citizen initiative rights (imperfect as BC’s current Act is) and reformed ways of voting such as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly can play an important role in shifting the balance of power away from the Premier’s office towards more involvement of voters and empowerment of individual MLAs.”

Christy Clark echoed this idea in her impassioned plea in 2009 that voters support STV: “the change it will bring frightens [the backroom boys] – politicians will be forced to listen to their communities first and their leaders and parties second.“

In light of the clear public thirst for meaningful influence over public policy, Fair Voting BC calls on the provincial government to re-open a public dialogue on updating our voting system and initiative rights to better enable us to hold our politicians accountable.

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