Costly recall campaigns need to be turfed

If ever there was a case to be made for throwing the baby out with the bathwater it is now and its name is “Recall.”

If ever there was a case to be made for throwing the baby out with the bathwater it is now and its name is “Recall.”

Acting chief electoral officer Craig James has called on the Legislature to clean up recall regulations. His report on the matter was prompted by the failed campaign to recall Kamloops-North Thompson Liberal MLA Terry Lake. For starters, James was irked by the fact that the recall organizer, Chad Moats, refused to return signature sheets when it became clear the recall attempt would fail.

Moats thumbed his nose at Elections BC and, for the amusement of local reporters, fed 1,000 petition sheets into a shredder. Was his goal populist and noble? Hardly. It was simply a profile building exercise to position him for a run for the local NDP nomination.

In raising the issue, James has shined the torch of accountability on one of the most flawed electoral concepts to find its way into B.C.’s Great Book of Laws to Live By.

Recall, made law by the Mike Harcourt New Democrats in 1995, is an abuse of populist privilege and should be stricken from the legal ledgers. Sadly, there is enough political cowardice about to ensure its survival for many decades.

Anyone who thinks recall is a noble concept in need of tweaking needs their head examined. It was born of political expediency, is used — mostly by the NDP — as a blunt political instrument and survives by virtue of populist mythology.

Former Premier Bill Vander Zalm introduced the idea of recall in his April 1990 Throne Speech. He did so only because Reform was on the rise and was fanning populist flames on the right flank of Social Credit.

In October 1991, when the Socreds were receiving their walking papers at the polls, the recall and initiative referendum received 80 per cent voter support. Premier Harcourt, feeling bound by the vote, introduced recall into law in 1995.

Liberal MLA Paul Reitsma (Parksville-Qualicum) was the first politician to feel its sting. Reitsma was caught writing letters to newspapers under fake names, praising himself and attacking his enemies. He resigned his seat in 1998 when it appeared that a recall petition would garner enough signatures to succeed.

While we can chalk up one MLA resignation to the threat of recall, there has not been a single resignation because of an actual successful recall campaign, and there have been about a dozen so far.

From 2001 to 2003, there were seven attempts to recall a member of Premier Gordon Campbell’s new government — all failed. Here on the Island targets included Jeff Bray, Judith Reid and Mike Hunter.

The current HST fiasco spawned a slew of recall bids in the wake of the remarkably successful initiative campaign organized by Vander Zalm.

Most notable on the Island were the failed attempts to get rid of Ida Chong (Oak Bay-Gordon Head) and Don McRae (Comox Valley).

Make no mistake, not one of these campaigns had anything to do with the failings of an individual MLA or the HST. They were all motivated by Vander Zalm’s unquenchable self interest — spurred on by the opportunist NDP.

NDP President Moe Sihota summed it up perfectly in an internal party memo: “Below the surface … it is a partisan effort.”

By the way, each failed recall attempt costs taxpayers at least $500,000. M

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