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Do You Recall How to
Dump Your MLA?
BY BILL TIELEMAN - Tired of attending protest rallies, writing letters to the editor, calling talk radio and grousing to friends about Gordon Campbell and the B.C. Liberals? Not willing to wait until the next election day on May 17, 2005 to vent your spleen? Then you're ready for precall!
Precall is the name I'm giving to the process of preparing for recall campaigns, which cannot begin until 18 months after the last election. And it serves a very useful function, as recalling a member of the legislature is a difficult task. Think of precall as the political equivalent of foreplay, a necessary activity before you remove your member, so to speak. What is recall? B.C.'s Recall and Initiative Act lets citizens reject their member of the legislative assembly before the next general election if they successfully gather the signatures of 40 percent of the voters who were registered at the time of the last election and remain registered voters.
If enough signatures are collected and verified, the MLA is thrown out of office and a by-election must be called within 90 days. But the trick is, those signatures must be obtained in just 60 days from the date a recall petition is authorized by Elections B.C. And there are stringent restrictions on the amount of money recall organizers can spend, as well as lots of rules on obtaining signatures and other procedures.
In other words, it's tough.
But there are two ways it can be done. One is simply to wait for the B.C. Liberals to make it easier to recall their own elected members.
Not going to happen, you say? But they promised!
"If we can turn to the recall legislation, I think it's obvious why people demand this legislation. They are tired of politicians who make promises before an election and do the exact opposite after," said then-opposition leader Gordon Campbell in a prophetic statement on July 6, 1994, when debating the legislation.
Then-MLA Gary Collins told the house: "But if you're doing your job properly, if you're listening to the people that you represent -- and to the rest of the province -- and if you use your good judgment, you don't have anything to worry about from recall or initiative."
"We have to at least try to open up this legislation so that people feel there is a real opportunity," Campbell agreed the next day. "You can't say on the one hand that we are for recall and referenda, and then keep putting the nails around the coffin so that you can never use it."
And the Liberals' New Era document says the party will: "establish workable recall legislation, to make it easier for citizens to hold MLAs accountable."
Alrighty, but just to be safe, let's go to plan B and use precall. First, you collect the names, addresses, phone numbers, and emails of registered voters in a riding who would support a recall campaign if one were launched.
Gathering this information in advance increases the potential of a successful recall campaign and reduces the work necessary in the short 60-day window when all signatures must be obtained. If you can find 5,000 recall supporters, it will be easy to sign them up when the recall period starts, then spend the remaining time locating others of like mind. Second, there are no spending restrictions until a recall campaign formally starts. That means you can advertise, set up phone banks, undertake polling and other organizing activities before recall spending limits come into effect. Third, a pre-call campaign can spread the buzz and gather the momentum necessary to be successful when the real recall effort starts. Some observers think recall can't be done. They're wrong. In Parksville-Qualicum in 1998, when voters found out Liberal MLA Paul Reitsma had been sending phony letters to the editor, they collected far more than the required 17,020 signatures. Reitsma resigned before the signatures could be verified.
And in Prince George, a 60-day campaign to recall then-NDP cabinet minister Paul Ramsey (one of three unsuccessful attempts) came just 500 signatures short.
Precall: when getting mad just isn't enough. For recall information, go to the Elections B.C. Website at www.elections.bc.ca
Precall, which first appeared in the March 28, 2002Georgia Strait, is re-printed with the author's permission. West Star Communications' President Bill Tieleman has clients in labour, business and non-profits. He is a political commentator on CBC TV's Canada Now and CBC Radio's Early Edition. Email at email@example.com
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