Legislative columnist declares Wilkinson winner of electoral reform debate

By James Peters
November 9, 2018 - 12:47pm

VICTORIA — A prominent B.C. political pundit says Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson was the clear winner in his debate with NDP Premier John Horgan over electoral reform last night — but not because of Wilkinson's debating skills.

Wilkinson and Horgan sparred for 30 minutes on the province's referendum on moving to a proporational representation voting system, often times speaking over each other.

Vancouver Sun legislative columnist Rob Shaw says Wilkinson came out on top.

"Not necessarily because of how impressive he was, but because he correctly identified what a lot of ordinary people are worried about: they don't understand the three options, they can't explain what's going to happen to their vote, they don't know where they are and what's going to happen to their riding," says Shaw. 

"He hit John Horgan with those questions and Horgan just simply couldn't answer them because he doesn't know."

The feisty debate featured Wilkinson pressing Horgan for details, while Horgan evoked pseudo-modern lingo to describe proportional representation, calling it "hip" and "lit".

An event where party leaders debate electoral systems may seem to frame the referendum as a partisan exercise, but Shaw says that falls on the NDP government.

"The NDP has to own the fact that they set this process up, they picked the three options, they picked the timeline. If they can't explain to people how the three options work, that's on them."

"Sometimes you look at this process and you wonder if the NDP has been too smart by half in the way they set it up," added Shaw. "They jammed this thing through very quickly with options that, in two cases, haven't been used anywhere else in the world, and they are now unable to explain it to people."

"It's partisan, but the NDP has to own it. They have to own that this is the bed they made and they're lying in it now. If they can't explain it to you in an elevator in 15 seconds, or to your neighbour, maybe that's a reflection of the poor choices they made in setting it up."

Shaw says the debate was far from an enlightening experience for voters looking to get more information.

"As my friend Richard Zussman has said, it's a hope-versus-fear campaign at this point. You're either being told to make the great leap into the unknown with a new system and don't worry, anything we pick will be better than what we have. Or you're being told what we have is actually working okay; don't take a big chance on the unknown," says Shaw. 

"That's basically how it's filtering down and, in the absence of details, I think a lot of people are just going to pick the status quo."

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