The provincial government has promised the yes and no sides in British Columbia's upcoming referendum on electoral reform will each receive $500,000. And, according to proposed regulations released earlier this month, the money could be split among up to five groups on either side. But neither the pro- nor anti-single transferable vote forces are pleased with that arrangement. In a joint letter sent to the ministry of attorney general, Fair Voting BC and Know STV representatives Bruce Hallsor and David Schreck write, "We believe that it is essential that the government recognize, through its funding formula, one clear leadership group on each side which can become a focus for media coverage."
The reason: "This is an important public issue, and we know from experience, both in British Columbia and in other provinces, that it quickly becomes confused if the media begin to pick and choose from a multiplicity of voices on each side."
In their letter, Messrs. Hallsor and Schreck also argue the yes and no sides should be able to fund polling, travel and staff expenses using donated funds - something the government's proposed regulations wouldn't allow. The following is a complete copy of that letter.
A Joint Submission from Fair Voting BC and Know STV
c/o Bruce Hallsor
800, 1070 Douglas Street
19 August 2008
Strategic Planning and Legislation Office
Ministry of Attorney General
PO Box 9283 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC V8W 9J7
Re: Consultation on Regulating Funding for Electoral Reform referendum Proponents and Opponents
We are writing to you jointly as leaders of the pro-STV and anti-STV forces in British Columbia.
David Schreck is authorized to sign on behalf of Know STV, the only significant group to campaign against STV in 2005. Bruce Hallsor is president of Fair Voting BC, a group which has advocated for proportional representation since 1997, and which now unites all the significant pro-STV groups from 2005. Bruce Hallsor was also a co-chair of the Yes to STV Campaign in 2005.
Although we disagree about the best choice of voting system for British Columbia, we are agreed on the need for a clear and focused public debate, and wish to see the public funds already committed to this project spent effectively rather than dissipated through a confused and muddled process.
Specifically, we are agreed on the following points.
(1) We both believe there should be one recognized yes and no campaign, to receive all the funds. We believe that this measure is crucial to ensure that there is a meaningful and well-publicized debate. In 2005, although groups tried to establish themselves as the leading voices for Yes and No respectively, the media did not recognize any group or individual as having a legitimate leadership role. Media coverage of the referendum was thus very different from media coverage of the parallel election, in which the party leaders were clear spokespeople for their parties. We believe that it is essential that the government recognize, through its funding formula, one clear leadership group on each side which can become a focus for media coverage.
If the government is not willing to accept this scenario, funding should be weighted to applicants with a province wide focus, and should not be distributed randomly or by chance, but by some pre-established logical criteria.
(2) We both believe that while the province may restrict how the funds are spent, they should not restrict recipients from raising money separately for other purposes, such as polling, travel expenses, paying salaries, or any other purpose. It is obvious that $500,000 is not adequate for conducting a province-wide campaign. It represents less than 20 cents per eligible voter, not even enough to reach each voter once by bulk mail.
Political parties raise and spend far more than this in order to communicate with the voters. Similarly, the pro-STV campaign and the anti-STV campaign will each need to raise additional money in order to campaign effectively.
In the interest of public debate, they should be encouraged to do so, not have their hands tied behind their backs.
(3) We both believe that recipients should be entitled to pay for the administrative expense of administering the funds out of the funds, including paying the official agent.
(4) We both believe that releasing a discussion paper in August, with less than one month to respond, is not adequate, and request an extension on the time to respond. We will be very surprised if the government receives many substantive replies from members of the public in the time allowed.
(5) We both believe that recognized proponents and opponents should have access to the voters list, with the same rights and restrictions as political parties have. Like most of our other recommendations, this will be easier to arrange and to monitor if the number of proponent and opponent groups is limited to one of each.
We strongly urge the government to begin thinking in terms of creating a clear public debate by recognizing a single group on each side. This is an important public issue, and we know from experience, both in Britiwsh Columbia and in other provinces, that it quickly becomes confused if the media begin to pick and choose from a multiplicity of voices on each side.
Imagine if there were six recognized pro-STV groups and each one gave a different key reason for British Columbians to vote in favour of STV. In such a scenario, what exactly would a vote for STV mean? There would be no shortage of people, from all sides, eager to give their own conflicting interpretations.
This debate is important. It would be tragic indeed if we emerged from this process on May 13th with no clear outcome and nobody able to agree on who had voted for what, or on the significance of the result. There is still time to ensure that this does not happen.
Fair Voting BC