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wTuesday, April 22, 2003

I DO NOT RECALL: This will be of limited interest to my audience, but it's the last article that I wrote for the Report, as I wrote it. Enjoy:

Campbell's opposition
Voters are using the right of recall to establish a counterweight to B.C.'s sitting government.

Call it what you will: a gimmick, a waste of money or a fetish for ever more extreme forms of democracy. But several B.C. Liberal MLAs are privately calling the right of recall the bane of their existence.

Though Elections B.C. announced in a press release on February 27 that the attempt to unseat Val Roddick (MLA from Delta South) was unsuccessful, the possibility of unseating a sitting representative has struck the fancy of several B.C. residents. Election B.C.'s website (www.elections.bc.ca) lists six outstanding recall petitions (for ridings in Nanaimo-Parksville, Alberni-Qualicum, Columbia River-Revelstoke, Nelson-Creston and Victoria-Beacon Hill) and more are likely to follow.

According to Trinity Western University political science professor John Dyck -- whose research on recall movements during the early '90s was presented before the then-NDP government and helped to usher in the current law -- the bar for recall remains almost prohibitively high. Though the "magic number" is 40% of those voters who were registered to vote in the riding in the last election, because of migration and the high rate of disqualifications the actual number of signatures needed is much closer to 50% of the residents of a riding.

Before the current crop of attempts, there were 14 other tries, only one of which was even close. The one was Paul Reitsma, a scandal prone former MLA for a Parksville-Qualicum riding who resigned before the final recall count could be issued. "The supposition is that he likely would have been turfed," says Prof. Dyck.

Recall campaigns are costly and expensive and must be conducted within a timeframe that makes it difficult to gather the required number of signatures, let alone enough valid ones. With such a slim chance of succeeding, why recalls have been attempted as often as they have is an interesting question. Occasionally, personal animus toward certain elected officials plays a role. There is no recourse for recalled politicians. If Elections B.C. determines that enough valid signatures were gathered, the seat is instantly vacated and the previous holder's career is likely over.

However, there is another use toward which the right of recall can be put--one that is not fully understood in most B.C. newspapers. Because the province's current political arrangement represents what Prof. Dyck calls a "marriage" between a Parliamentary system and a more populist variation of representative democracy, voters can use recall to introduce some opposition to the largely oppositionless B.C. Liberals.

This view certainly seems to be reflected in a poll commissioned by B.C. Citizens for Public Power. It found that 40% -- that magic number -- of B.C. residents would likely sign a petition to remove their local MLA if he or she votes for the government plan to privatize some of the functions of B.C. Hydro.

Several politicians are taking the threat to their political careers seriously. Energy and Mines Minister Richard Neufeld has even gone so far as to promise that he will resign if his government ever fully privatizes the crown corporation.

The real possibility that the people could give the government a black eye has, in turn, brought up a lot of anti-recall sentiment. The Vancouver Sun recently editorialized that the recall legislation should be "repealed outright" because it "makes a mockery of our electoral process." Calvin Townsend, a professor of political science for TWU who specializes in political theory, agrees with the Sun: "Recall, initiatives, plebiscites, referendums damage democracy. They don't enrich it for one second. I believe strongly that, once elected, you're in. Unless you pull a Nixon," he says. "You want to put power in the hands of the people: let them have a say. Well they do and that's in the polls. Leave it there."

Though Prof. Townsend believes that Premier Gordon Campbell is "going just hog wild crazy" with the recent drunk driving scandal and tax and spending cuts, he argues that the next election cycle is the appropriate opportunity to "kick the bastard out."

As for B.C.'s experiment with more representative forms of democracy, the professor advocates repeal. Otherwise, "Any type of legislation that has to be passed, guys will just freak and say 'Oh, I could loose my job over this.' So they'll just throw it to a referendum. Instead of allowing our representatives to do what they should be doing, it handcuffs them."

And that would be positively un-Canadian.

posted by Jeremy at 12:38 AM