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OP-ED: Details and debate missing from electoral reform process

By Dr. Shinder Purewal and Jordan Bateman


This op-ed first appeared in The Province on Monday, May 7, 2018, and is now available for other publications to publish, free-of-charge. Dr. Purewal is a political science professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Jordan Bateman is communications director at the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.

On proportional representation (PR), it seems the NDP government is taking the mushroom approach with voters – keeping British Columbians in the dark and hoping to feed us a bunch of manure.

A referendum on changing the way we elect the provincial government is coming this fall; it’s the key part of the deal between the NDP and the Green Party MLAs propping up the John Horgan government. But the details of the referendum, including the most important one of all – the question – are still a tightly guarded secret. Why are voters being kept in the dark about such a sweeping and fundamental change to our electoral system?

They shouldn’t be. B.C. had lengthy consultation processes on the electoral reforms proposed in 2005 and 2009, giving people a chance to discuss and debate the pros and cons. In this case, not only do we not know the question, Premier Horgan stated last week that most British Columbians aren’t going to think about this issue until the fall, just weeks before the vote. If it’s not top-of-mind for people, why bother trying to change at all?

Further, the votes in 2005 and 2009 were held during the provincial elections to ensure larger participation. This time, likely to suppress turnout to only the most passionate of PR supporters, the NDP plan a mail-in vote smack dab in the middle of a municipal election campaign.

On an issue so important to our democracy, governments should not play politics. When the federal government faced the challenge of dealing with the separatist movement in Quebec, they passed the Clarity Act. Two important parts of that process are vital for any discussion on electoral reforms in B.C.: The question in a referendum must be clear, and a clear majority has to be expressed – likely higher than fifty percent plus one.

The B.C. Government is already failing on both counts: we have no question yet, no details on what’s being proposed, no information on why this change is necessary, and no clarity on whether keeping our current First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system will even be an option. Second, the NDP has said a simple majority of the people who vote will be enough to change the rules – even if it’s just a tiny fraction of the overall electorate.

The delay in releasing such details seems designed to keep people from evaluating choices and making informed decisions. For example, some voters have expressed concerns about the tight discipline imposed by political parties on the elected representatives to move their narrow party agenda. PR would actually strengthen party discipline because it would deprive electors of the ability to directly elect their individual MLAs; they would be simply voting for the lists generated by party elites.

There is no room for independents in the PR system, thus forcing all voters to migrate to organized parties. Worse, the 87 electoral districts will disappear, making local representation a thing of the past. The present FPTP system allows people access to their local elected officials; the PR system would deprive this element of individual responsibility for local areas.

PR also breeds instability. All comparative studies of PR systems indicate that coalition formations become central to party politics, leaving the important challenges of governance and economy to happenstance.

The instability of coalition governments is a major deterrent for investment. The kind of politics being played on the Trans Mountain pipeline today by just a two-party coalition is dangerous and has already sparked a constitutional crisis. Imagine what a coalition of four or five such parties might do.

Every election in a PR system is followed by coalition formations, and sometimes it takes months before a new government takes power. After the 2011 elections in Belgium, it took 541 days of coalition talks to form a new government. This can cause economic chaos, especially if it occurs during tough financial times.

Studies have also shown that PR systems encourage anti-immigrant, xenophobic groups to mobilize people on narrow sentimental politics of hatred. In the most recent German elections, the ultra-right Alternative-For-Germany party got nearly 13 per cent of the vote share at the national level, entrenching it as major force.

In essence, we can see the necessity for a serious debate about the radical, proposed change to the electoral system. The government’s attempts to leave as little room as possible by not releasing details about the referendum do not bode well for democracy.

Keeping voters in the dark about how we elect our political leaders is not fair, is disingenuous, and betrays the very democratic principles that the NDP government purports to want to strengthen.

TRAINING THURSDAY: Responsibilities of Joint Health and Safety Committees

Do you serve on a joint health and safety committee in your workplace? Did you know that WorkSafeBC mandates that you take eight hours of training? Now you do, and ICBA’s training department is here to help!

Participants will:

  • Know how to use the OHS Regulation and WC Act to access health & safety requirements;
  • Explain the roles and functions of the Joint Committee and the Worker Representatives;
  • Learn how to perform an incident investigation;
  • Learn how to perform a formal site inspection; and
  • Develop a foundation in knowledge to:
    • Promote workplace health and safety
    • Assist in ensuring the health and safety program elements are implemented;
    • Conduct and participate in Joint Committee Meetings; and
    • Work cooperatively to address workers’ health and safety concerns.

Our next session is May 15 in Fort St John, and then on May 17 in Burnaby! Interested in taking this course or any of our other upcoming workshops? Check out the list at www.icba.ca/training. Plus, you’ll earn 8 Group A CPD Points from BC Housing!

Did you know that members of ICBA receive a discount on our courses? Check out www.icba.ca/become-a-member for more information about the benefits of membership with ICBA and how this affiliation can help you build your business.

TRAINING THURSDAY: Trenching and Excavation Safety Workshop 

Do you work in ground disturbance? Does your work involve trenching and excavation? Safety should always be top of mind, and our Trenching and Excavation Safety Workshop aims to keep you, your coworkers and the public safe.

The workshop walks participants through a comprehensive program that includes what the WorkSafeBC Regulations & Guidelines state, safe work procedures and what to do if something goes wrong. 

It covers shoring, benching, sloping and shielding systems. It also includes a section on location of underground utilities and the geotechnical and structural engineered documentation requirements.

At the end of the course, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify hazards around trenches and excavations
  • Be able to locate underground utilities
  • Understand soil types, soil collapse patterns, and warning signs
  • Gain familiarity with WorkSafeBC regulations
  • Understand geotechnical and structural engineered documentation
  • Understand sloping and benching
  • Understand shoring and shielding systems
  • Describe and demonstrate where possible safe installation and removal processes
  • Identify emergency procedures for a trench collapse

You’ll also earn 8 Group A CPD Points from BC Housing!

We are offering this course in Prince George, Kelowna, Whitehorse, Victoria, and Burnaby in the coming months. For more information on this or any of our other upcoming courses, visit www.icba.ca/training. 

NEWS RELEASE: Horgan’s Pipeline Hail Mary Fumbling Away Investor Confidence

BURNABY – British Columbia’s referral of questions surrounding the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is nothing more than a desperate Hail Mary attempt to delay and ultimately kill the project, said the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association today.

“B.C.’s concerns over this project were fully heard and addressed during an exhaustive 4-year review process,” said Chris Gardner, president of ICBA. “That’s why the pipeline must meet 194 conditions set out by federal and provincial regulators, why $1.5 billion has been allocated for ocean protection measures, and why 43 First Nations support this project. This project was approved nearly two years ago, but the B.C. Government refuses to allow it to go ahead, costing British Columbians the jobs and opportunities that will flow from this investment.”

The $7.4 billion Trans Mountain project will generate $5.7 billion in revenue for the provincial government, and an additional $922 million in municipal property taxes. More than 15,000 construction jobs would be created and there will be investments in energy innovations and training for people working on the project.

Gardner dismissed Premier Horgan’s claim that the government is “protecting British Columbians,” noting that, as polls recently confirmed, the majority of B.C. residents support the Trans Mountain project. “If Premier Horgan was truly interested in standing up for British Columbia, he’d get out of the way of this historic investment and job-creating project,” said Gardner. “The only thing he’s protecting right now is his premiership, pandering to the BC Green Party that is propping up his administration.”

The B.C. Government’s activist-driven agenda against Kinder Morgan is sending chills through the investment community across Canada and beyond our borders.

“Investors – the companies that provide jobs, build infrastructure and create opportunities for Canadians – are losing confidence in Canada’s ability to ‘Get to yes’ and ‘Stick to yes’ on significant projects,” said Gardner. “Already, we are seeing investors go elsewhere with their dollars, and our economy could take years to recover from the damage being caused by the uncertainty that comes with governments refusing to establish clear rules. By continuing to change the rules and move the goal posts, the only thing the NDP government is going to end up with are lost opportunities for our province.”


Did you know that you can get up to $300,000 per fiscal year in government funding to train your employees? The Canada-BC Job Grant is open!

The Grant is funded under the new Workforce Development Agreement, and provides funding for employers to support skills training for their current and new employees. More information can be found at www.workbc.ca/Employer-Resources/Canada-BC-Job-Grant/What-is-the-Canada-B-C-Job-Grant.aspx

The criteria features three streams this year: foundational training, technical skills training, and workforce training.

The foundational stream allows for 100 percent of eligible training costs up to a maximum of $10,000 per participant with no contribution from the employer. This stream includes apprenticeship training and safety training courses!

The technical skills training stream will reimburse 80 percent of the training costs, again to a maximum of $10,000 per participant. As an employer, you would contribute the remaining 20 percent.

The workforce training stream will return 60 percent of the costs up to maximum of $5,000 per participant, with the employer contributing 40 percent.

Most of our training courses are eligible for this grant! Check out the full list of our upcoming courses at www.icba.ca/training, or send our training team an email at training@icba.ca; they’d be happy to help you!

NEWS RELEASE – Horgan Plunges Canada Into a Crisis of Confidence: ICBA

BURNABY – Premier John Horgan’s “double-down” today on his flawed, obstructionist, unfair attack on the duly-approved Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is shaking investor confidence and showing the BC NDP Government has no interest in doing what’s right for Canada.

“B.C. has created a crisis of confidence and the implication is that Canada cannot get major projects approved and built,” said ICBA President Chris Gardner. “It is abundantly clear that the responsibility for this crisis we are facing today rests squarely at the feet of Premier John Horgan – he went to Ottawa and ‘doubled down’ on his obstructionist approach to the pipeline, rather than offer solutions to resolve the impasse.”

ICBA commended the federal government for convening today’s meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Premier Horgan in Ottawa, and is pleased that the Federal Government will assert its authority over this project to increase the chances of the project being built.

However, Premier Horgan’s comments that his government has every right to undo a project approval granted under a previous administration sets a very dangerous precedent that will further erode the confidence of investors seeking stability and certainty when looking to invest in BC.

“Prime Minister Trudeau’s statement today that Premier Horgan’s attempt to block the pipeline is the direct cause of this impasse is a stunning indictment on the actions of Premier Horgan,” said Gardner. “Premier Horgan is effectively ripping up a contract which Kinder Morgan negotiated in good faith with the federal and provincial governments of the day – that’s not how we must do business in Canada. It’s not right, it’s not fair, and it’s not legal.”

Kinder Morgan is prepared to invest $7.4 billion in our economy but Premier Horgan’s actions have forced the federal government to act in a way that means taxpayers could assume risk that a private sector investor was willing to undertake. “Canada is now basically saying that only governments can build major projects – and BC is saying we’re not interested in having private companies invest in our economy,” said Gardner. “This has profound implications beyond BC now – investor confidence in Canada is also being seriously undermined.”

IN THE NEWS: ICBA Joins #ConfidenceInCanada Coalition to #Get2Yes on Trans Mountain Pipeline

On April 12, ICBA joined more than 75 other organizations calling on Justin Trudeau, John Horgan and Rachel Notley to break the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project impasse. We want to show #ConfidenceInCanada! Make your voice heard at ConfidenceInCanada.com!

Some of the news coverage of the event:
The full news conference, including the speech by ICBA President Chris Gardner, can be seen here: