Dear Drex: Why monosyllable answers don’t always cut it

Dear Drex:


Hope you don’t mind, but since you joined the conversation on Twitter yesterday I thought I would address this to you.

I never said I wouldn’t answer the question on whether the voters list (distinct from the proposed list of those who voted) should be turned over to political parties, just that I wouldn’t debate election legislation in 140 character tweets.

Here’s why.

The legislative background to the question that was posed yesterday actually goes like this: should two people who can fill out a form to register themselves as a political party – that might never run a candidate in a B.C. election – be given an electronic file of the names and addresses of 3.2 million British Columbians almost unconditionally?

Let me explain.

When most people think of a political party, they think of the B.C. Liberals, the NDP, the Greens or the Conservatives. They don’t think of “Unparty: The Consensus-Building Party” which is one of B.C.’s 24 political parties.

I particularly like the name of this one: The Platinum Party of Employers Who Think and Act to Increase Awareness. They’ve been around since 2005. Since 2011, two donors have donated $4,386.66 to the party, which pales in comparison to the $4.19 million brought in by the Advocational party between 2006 and 2013.

The Advocational party didn’t run any candidates in 2009 or in any subsequent by-election. They did run two last time out. The party has no discernible policy, website or telephone number. But it raised $4.19 million. Think about that.

In B.C., a registered party doesn’t have to run candidates in every election, just as long as it runs two candidates in every other election (roughly an eight year time span).

In the last B.C. election there were 26 registered parties. Nineteen parties ran candidates and only six of them ran more than five candidates. There were also 46 independent candidates.

So should all parties get the same voters list of 3.2 million British Columbians (who also hold Canadian citizenship, BTW), even if they don’t run a candidate in an election?

Or should they only get the list when they run candidates and then only for the ridings they are contesting?

The B.C. Election Act doesn’t distinguish. All 24 parties get all 3.2 million names and addresses in an electronic file. And now the government wants to throw in the names and addresses of British Columbians who cast a ballot, about 1.9 million names, as well.

Why does B.C. have so many political parties, you might ask?

Because it only takes two people to register a political party in B.C. No other province allows two people to register a political party. None. Zero.

In Ontario it takes 1,000 electors. In Alberta 7,500.

We’ve been raising concerns about B.C.’s lax requirements since 2012.

Get this: parties in most other provinces actually have to run candidates too. In every election. Strange condition to impose on a political party, no? (Mild sarcasm, BTW).

Once a political party is registered in B.C., it can also issue tax receipts where the monetary benefit, accruing to the donor, is paid for by all British Columbians (you and me). See above on that $4.19 million thing.

Then there’s local elections. Different legislation: B.C. Election Act versus B.C. Local Government Act.

There’s no requirement in B.C. for a local government to use BC’s permanent voters list. In fact, there’s no requirement that they have a voters list at all. Tough to hand something over to a local party or candidate that doesn’t exist.

Nearly, a third of B.C. communities don’t have a voters list and don’t use the permanent list.

Instead, they rely on what’s called ‘poll book registration.’ That’s when you register on election day. Hopefully, you’ll have remembered to bring the appropriate identification, proof of residency and citizenship with you, otherwise you’ll have to go home and get it before you’ll be able to register and be allowed to vote. Wonder how many do return?

It also means long line-ups and delays.

Ask Phil Johnson at AM 1150 how well it went in Kelowna in 2014. Because I’m not just talking about smaller communities like Hazelton (although that’s one of them), but larger cities such as Kelowna, Kamloops, Chilliwack and Prince George.

In fact, roughly 500,000 British Columbians in 70 communities aren’t on a voters list for a local election. That’s shocking, isn’t it? We don’t think it’s right and have said so for a few years now, just last month actually.

It’s also not particularly democratic, because it means a first-time candidate is hamstrung against incumbents in those communities. They won’t have access to the list from last time out. No obligation under the Local Government Act that they be given it or even that the local government retain it.

In an election, the playing field should be level. And fair.

Another issue is whether the list is provided to a political party just for “use in an election” (term from the B.C. Election Act) or between elections too (a term not in the act).

Perhaps there should be some discussion and public consultation on what uses a party may make of the list between elections.

It’s likely a good idea to have B.C.’s Privacy Commissioner look in on political parties as well to see how they use such personal information and whether it’s compliant with federal and provincial privacy legislation.

Here’s one example of what can go amiss with the use of such lists between elections.

In last year’s civic election in Victoria, mayoral candidate Stephen Andrew filed a complaint to Elections B.C. and the Office of the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner over an email sent out by the Victoria-Beacon Hill B.C. NDP Constituency Association.

The association had sent out an email endorsing Mayor Dean Fortin as well as council candidates Marianne Alto, Ben Isitt, Eric Kaye, Jeremy Loveday and Pamela Madoff.

According to Andrew’s complaint “[The NDP] has generated data they have collected in other election campaigns. They’re not, under the Personal Information Protection Act, allowed to collect that data and use it for another purpose.”

He’s right on that legislative point, BTW.

There were comparable complaints in other B.C. communities last time out. Won’t bore you with the details but they did raise some eyebrows.

Too funny, that raises another issue.

How do you address the inequity of a registered party having the list between elections, but not an independent candidate?

Independent candidates don’t legally exist under the B.C. Election Act until their nomination papers are accepted by Elections B.C. and that can only happen – under the act – during the writ period. Vicki Huntington, Independent MLA for Delta South, can’t start fundraising until sometime in April 2017. Her opponents, who will run as candidates for a political party, can fundraise today.

In an election, the playing field does have to be level. And fair.

Oh, get this – to address that problem – the B.C. government is now proposing to give the list of those who voted in a past election to independent candidates that ran in the election but who might never run again. How to make a bad idea worse.

They hadn’t even considered independent candidates when they tabled the legislation back in March.

I know how much fun it can be to push for a yes or no answer: “why can’t you just say yes or no?” Great stuff for a pile on. Great radio. It all seems so simple. And in some provinces it might be.

But giving over the names and addresses – virtually unconditionally – of 3.2 million British Columbians to any two individuals who choose to form a political party that may never run a candidate demands more than a monosyllable answer.

In fact, the most important legislation in a democracy deserves a little more analysis than a 140 character tweet.





PS: If the legislation to turn over the names of those who voted in a B.C. election to political parties is passed, do you think civic parties will want their list too?


Additional resources:

2013: Financial transactions between two B.C. political parties raise questions

2012: Toughen rules on party registration and deregistration in B.C.