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It's Anxiety Time for Useless Politicians. Get Ready for Recalls.
By Bill Tieleman
Voters need not wait until the next election to rid themselves of an incompetent, dishonest, unresponsive or irresponsible representative. Thus, in theory, recall provides impetus for the government and elected officials to become more responsive to the will of the majority, and recall will encourage representatives to represent broad rather than narrow interests.
- B.C. Select Standing Committee on Parliamentary Reform, Ethical Conduct, Standing Orders, and Private Bills, November 23, 1993
As of November 17, voters get to try to put theory into practice by launching recall campaigns against B.C. Liberal MLAs. All you need to do is find an "incompetent, dishonest, unresponsive or irresponsible representative" (no problem) meeting only the needs of "narrow interests" (easy). Add volunteers, and presto: it's recall time.
Unfortunately, the act makes a successful recall very challenging. B.C.'s recall legislation allows voters to file recall petitions 18 months after a provincial election. In just 60 days, you need to sign up 40 percent of those who were eligible to vote in your riding during the last election and are still registered B.C. voters. If your campaign is successful, the sitting MLA is removed and the government must call a by-election within 90 days.
Despite those tough conditions, voters in several ridings are already working hard to recall their MLAs. Mathew Laird, spokesperson for Re-call BC, a group supporting recall campaigns, says the three likeliest ridings for an upset are Victoria-Beacon Hill (Jeff Bray), Delta South (Val Roddick), and Vancouver-Burrard (Lorne Mayencourt).
"It's not really a left-right thing; it's MLAs who don't speak up about issues that affect their community," Laird, a software developer who is not a member of any party, said in a Georgia Straight interview.
In Victoria-Beacon Hill, where Liberal Bray beat the NDP by just 36 votes and got only 37 percent of the vote in a three-way split with the Green Party, efforts are highly organized.
Sybil Rowe, a retired physiotherapist and spokesperson for the Recall Bray Campaign, said the group has 125 active volunteers who have already done extensive leaflet drops and door-to-door canvassing. "There's no doubt that this will be a daunting task, but it's very democratic and legal," Rowe told the Straight. The recall petition will likely be launched in early January, to avoid the Christmas holidays, she said. The campaign is not about Bray personally, Rowe said, but was prompted by B.C. Liberal government cuts to public services, affecting seniors and others. "We are not trying to vilify Jeff Bray, but whereas we expect him to represent us, he's actually representing Gordon Campbell in our constituency." Canvassing has proven encouraging, Rowe said. "I live in Rockland, which is presumed to be strongly Liberal, and I was very surprised how strongly people felt. There is fear of this government."
The most surprising possible recall is in Delta South, where Liberal MLA Roddick won a whopping 67 percent of the vote. But that was before the Liberals announced plans to close Delta's emergency room at night-a move that prompted more than 31,000 residents to sign a protest petition. "Delta South is planning to file immediately," says Recall BC's Laird. "I've seen their plan and they actually have a time line laid out." Laird says that if the recall campaign succeeds, he would expect to see an independent right-wing candidate elected.
West Star Communications president Bill Tieleman has clients in labour, business, and nonprofits, and is a regular columnist with the Georgia Straight. He is a political commentator Thursdays on CBC TV's Canada Now and regularly on CBC Radio's Early Edition. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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