Total Recall! Not so fast....
A viewpoint on political recall from those who would use it.
Fall 2018: Constituents in Vancouver - Point Grey are frustrated with MLA David Eby’s tone-deaf and divisive approach to the so-called school tax, which disproportionately and significantly increases property taxes there.
As the earliest opportunity to file a recall petition drew near, David Eby, who serves as Attorney General, introduced and rushed through Bill 53, making it all but impossible to recall a sitting MLA.
The threat of recall for David Eby was real but ultimately stymied by Bill 53. What follows is the perspective from a group of taxpayers and who were ready to take on David Eby. This is their story:
To save his own seat, David Eby undemocratically pushed through legislative changes that make it nearly impossible to recall an MLA.
Recall was hugely difficult to begin with. Since its implementation in 1995, only 26 petitions have been approved. Of these, 6 were returned, 5 were not validated and one was halted as the MLA in question resigned.
The threshold for recall was already extremely high. Applicants must obtain signatures - on paper - from more than 40% of registered voters in the riding. In 2017, only 63% of registered voters cast a ballot in Eby’s riding. Before the restrictive changes, a petition would have needed signatures from two-thirds of those who voted in that election.
So why did David Eby feel it was necessary to hurriedly make extensive changes to the Act?
Discomfort with Eby’s performance as an MLA was building in Vancouver - Point Grey. Sure, Eby had come across in the past couple of election campaigns as a progressive, popular politician. A former civil rights lawyer and activist, certainly many of the 14,000 who voted for him in 2017 thought that he would ably represent them in Victoria.
Once in power, the BC NDP wasted no time in showing their true colours - ideological to a fault, and tone deaf to constituents, families and small businesses, while pandering to unions, extreme environmentalists, and the radical wing of their party. David Eby championed many of the most harmful measures in their first Budget.
The school tax surcharge is a case in point.
This tax came out of the blue in Budget 2018. Voters in Vancouver - Point Grey did not vote for a cash grab surcharge on selected homes. It’s a targeted attack on imaginary “windfalls” when no such thing exists. A tax of this kind on assessed values is unheard of in Canadian tax policy. This policy is unfair, and wholly ineffective for any purpose other than filling the NDP’s coffers to fund their pet projects.
And Eby wore it proudly.
The earliest possible date for recall was approaching quickly. Voters in Vancouver - Point Grey were talking - loudly - about filing a recall petition. A website had been set up. People were angry, talking to each other, and getting organized.
So, Eby did what any reasonable Attorney General with a reputation as a civil rights leader would do: he hastily assembled a suite of sweeping changes to the legislation, used Parliamentary tricks to limit debate in the Legislature, and forced a vote in the eleventh hour, to protect himself.
The Results: 1) The recall time period was limited even further. Voters must wait until 18 months following an election to start the recall process, and can act no later than 6 months before the next fixed date election.
2) Only one recall petition may be active for a given MLA at any one time. It wouldn’t take too much of a tactical mind to file a fake petition and sit on it for 60 days until it expires.
3) Financial contributions to recall campaigns became strictly limited, to a maximum amount per individual, within a specific time frame, and donor information must be released to the public. Fundraising events and loans are tightly regulated.
4) If you support the recall effort and want to spend a few dollars to say so, you are severely limited. Third-party advertisers can only spend up to $5,000, which is less than in a by-election. And their donors are subject to the same disclosure rules as the campaign. Unlike contributions to a political party, there’s no tax deduction.
Let’s put this in perspective: a billboard in the westside would cost about $30,000. 500 lawn signs costs about $3,500. A single print ad in a community paper costs about $500; radio and television much more.
5) Just talking about recall before a petition is filed is subject to the same limitations as during the actual campaign.
As commentator Les Leyne said:
“In more tranquil times, there would be a reasonable debate about the changes.
But they’re introduced by a minority government that has one less seat than the opposition. They passed a week before recall season opens with the attorney general as a prime target. And they arrive in the midst of continuing resentment about the referendum rules.
...One test of fairness is to flip the picture and imagine a Liberal government jamming this past an NDP Opposition.
They would be in a seething rage.”
Eby took action to ensure that recall efforts are now absolutely futile. He used his power as an elected official to shut down the efforts of his constituents who are legitimately concerned with his performance as an MLA. He effectively excluded third-party community groups from having their say in the democratic process.
If Mr. Eby is so enamoured with the new taxes his government has thrust on his constituents, why was he so worried about recall?
David Eby prevailed in thwarting a likely recall effort and protected his position… for now. Voters, taxpayers, and homeowners will ultimately have their say at the ballot box. As powerful as he is, even Mr Eby can’t legislate a favourable election result in his own riding.