VICTORIA – A much-anticipated but short television debate between Premier John Horgan and Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson on Thursday centred mainly on unanswered questions about the three electoral systems versus the potential for a new voting system to engage disenfranchised British Columbians.
“We’re talking about changing to something that’s more inclusive and representative, or sticking with a system that will produce majority governments with a minority of votes,” Horgan said.
Wilkinson focused much of his debate points during the 30-minute live TV format on quizzing Horgan about specific details about the three proposed PR systems. He demanded Horgan tell the public how many MLAs would be elected under each model, as well as how many ridings would be merged and how many votes British Columbians would have on their ballots.
Horgan struggled to explain the specific details, because many of the finer points remain undecided until after the referendum is complete and an all-party committee of MLAs, as well as an electoral boundary commission, decide upon the ridings and formats.
“Premier Horgan is advocating a change to three different systems, two of which have never been used anywhere in the world,” said Wilkinson.
“You don’t believe we can be innovative?” asked Horgan.
“This is not a card game where you can write the rules,” replied Wilkinson.
“People want to know before they fill in that ballot how many MLAs will I have, how many votes will I have… tell us how it’s going to work. You are making the suggestion to change the system, you have to explain to people. And I haven’t heard you explain one single feature tonight.”
Wilkinson argued that the current first past the post system has been used for decades safely and is simple to understand with one vote in each riding for one MLA. Horgan rejected that argument, saying the province should use this unique opportunity to try something new and be comforted that a second referendum will be held two elections later if the selection is unpopular.
“I don’t think we need to keep using the telegraph, lets get modern, lets get hip,” said Horgan, who later in the debate also accused Wilkinson of not being in touch with the youth vote by saying “if you were woke you would know prop prep is lit.”
The TV format, while short, featured several segments in which the debate simply devolved into both men speaking over each other.
“I think at this point in the evening people are saying if I’m just going to listen to one guy yell overtop of the other guy I’m going to watch Wheel of Fortune,” said Horgan.
Horgan accused Wilkinson of peddling fear. Wilkinson appealed to the public to reject the “dog’s breakfast of abbreviations” of PR models on the ballots.
“Mr. Horgan has come along and cherry-picked three different systems out of a possible 16 or 17, he chose the three systems, people are very confused by these three options and we’re asking him tonight to explain,” said Wilkinson.
“I have more confidence in the people of British Columbia clearly than you do Mr. Wilkinson,” replied Horgan. “I believe they will be able to work through this.”
The debate was underwhelming to political experts.
“I’m glad it was only half an hour,” said University of Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford. “It was not terribly informative in terms of getting more details on any kind of electoral system.
“There was just a lot of yelling over the top at each other which I think people will find irritating and frustrating.”
Telford said he thought Horgan came across as positive and optimistic, but he did struggle to answer Wilkinson’s questions.
“I think people who are having a reservations of the systems or the options would be hoping for some clearer answers from John Horgan,” said Telford. “But on the other hand when Wilkinson is insinuating this was all a Machiavellian plot, well John Horgan didn’t look very Machiavellian.”
The mail-in referendum asks voters whether they want to keep the current first past the post electoral system, or change to one of three options of proportional representation.
Ballots must be returned by Nov. 30. As of Thursday, Elections BC reported 2.6 per cent of almost 3.3 million registered voters had returned their ballots.
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