Soon, British Columbians will be facing important issues such as the Northern Gateway pipeline, fracking, the Clean Water Act and land use. Premier Christy Clark will decide what she plans to do about it.
Sadly we citizens will have no choice but to accept her majority government's decision.
B.C.'s non-binding Referendum Act, put in place by the NDP and labelled as unworkable by former Liberal opposition leader Gordon Campbell, makes it practically impossible to launch a referendum against any of her decisions.
In B.C., there can only be one referendum proponent, an individual and registered voter and not an organization, whereas there can be any number of opponents, consisting of organizations and individuals, creating a bias in favour of opponents in terms of fund raising and networking potential.
The proponent and his or her canvassers must collect the signatures of at least 10 per cent of voters in each of B.C.'s 85 ridings. If only one falls short, by even one per cent, all is for nought.
Opponents, however, need only concentrate their efforts in two or three ridings to make sure at least one fails.
In California and Washington state, the signatures of only four per cent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election are needed to launch a binding referendum.
B.C. could a similar rule, requiring the signatures of four per cent of voters who cast ballots in the last provincial election. Due to B.C.'s geography, most signatures would be collected in southern areas, but all British Columbians would be asked to vote on the proposal.
In B.C., canvassers must be registered voters, government approved and registered, a time-consuming and expensive process. In California and Washington, anyone can display, distribute and circulate referendum petition forms.
When it comes to a vote, these states require a simple majority, whereas in B.C. a majority of all registered voters is required. If 50 per cent of registered voters turned out to vote and 100 per cent of them voted in favour, the referendum would not pass. It would fail by one vote.
Voter participation in provincial elections since 1928 has averaged 67.26 per cent, but only 52 per cent in the last election. To top it off, in B.C. the result of a referendum goes back to debate in the legislature, which still has the power to trash the vote, thus turning it into an expensive poll and B.C. into a pseudo democracy.
In California and Washington, legislative change is the law and automatic.
In my country of origin, Switzerland, for the last 150 years or so, the signatures of only one per cent of registered voters are required to force a binding referendum, and only two per cent for the proposal of a new law (initiative).
Should our government ever decide to change the Referendum Act, financial campaign contributions from out of province must be prohibited in order to prevent what happened in the recent GMO labelling referendum in Washington, where out-of-state opponents contributed $22 million and within-state opponents only $550 to defeat the referendum.
To minimize costs, referenda could be appended to provincial general elections without any disadvantages.
Let us all turn our pseudo democracy into a real democracy, where citizens have the right to challenge the government on any issue at any time.