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OP/ED: Fairness Matters – tell that to Victoria

The following piece by ICBA president Chris Gardner first appeared in The Province on Oct. 15, 2018.

No matter one’s political inclination, we expect those holding office to be fair and transparent in how they govern the province.

However, not 15 months after John Horgan was sworn in as premier, at ICBA we find ourselves a party in two major lawsuits against the government. While the issues in each are vastly different, what we are fighting for can be summed up in one simple word – fairness.

The first is a challenge to the NDP government’s ill-conceived referendum on proportional representation. By any objective standard, the NDP government has done everything in its power to rig this referendum. It defined the campaign period as beginning four months before the ballots go out in the mail, severely restricting what people can say, how they can say it and what resources they can use to say it.

ICBA’s attempt to simply explain to the public why we are in court and what we are hoping to achieve was deemed by Elections B.C. to contravene the NDP Government’s rules. This draconian trampling of free speech and debate is highly offensive and undermines our basic democratic values.

The question on the ballot is the current system vs. three alternatives that many political scientists have found significant flaws in. Try and get any supporter of proportional representation to explain the “Droop Formula” or the “Gregory Method” over a cup of coffee – they can’t.

The government dropped the threshold of approval to a mere 50% plus one vote. Yet the Supreme Court of Canada has set out that there should be no significant changes to our system of government without voters expressing their view on a clear question and without a compelling majority of voters supporting that change. Fifty per cent plus one didn’t cut it for Quebec separation; it shouldn’t cut it for fundamentally changing our electoral system.

A few weeks ago, while addressing B.C.’s municipal leaders, John Horgan stated that he will use the full weight of the Premier’s Office to campaign for proportional representation while asking voters to “take a leap of faith.” That’s an astonishing departure from Gordon Campbell who made a point of staying neutral in the 2005 and 2009 referenda on electoral reform.

The second ICBA legal challenge is to the NDP government’s new policy of forcing every construction worker in B.C. who wants to work on a major transportation project funded by provincial taxpayers to join an NDP-approved union. Those NDP unions employ less than 15 per cent of the construction workers in the province – effectively shutting out 85 per cent of the men and women in B.C. who are not members of one of these NDP unions. This policy is not only discriminatory, but also impractical and will cost taxpayers dearly.

If you listen the rhetoric coming from John Horgan and the organizers of these special unions, you would think that the construction sector in B.C. has been in the dark ages for generations. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Construction accounts for about 10 per cent of the province’s economic activity and is employing more people, training more people, and has more women and Indigenous workers today than at any other time in our history. Creating a new Crown Corporation, forcing workers to join NDP-endorsed unions, and preventing businesses from working on projects with their own workers will be confusing, convoluted and costly.

The proportional representation referendum process betrays the very democratic principles that John Horgan is saying he wants to enhance. Union-only hiring is one of the worst kinds of backroom political deals with special interests by any government in B.C. history.

The common thread that links these two cases is the NDP’s lack of fairness. Fairness for voters, taxpayers, and the men and women in construction.

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