FROM THE "PLATFORM"
Beginning in March 2004, after more than a year of planning, Tom Morino, the Leader of Democratic Reform BC registered the B.C. Democratic Alliance. The initial BCDA board of directors and general membership came from the former Progressive Democratic Alliance, a moderate party that had once been represented in the Legislative Assembly. In the following months an extraordinary series of events occurred. The membership of the BCDA began reaching out to other political organizations and initiating policy positions that if implemented would bring balance to the electoral, economic and social environment of Canada’s most westerly province.
In August 2004, with the advice of the leadership of the All Nations Party, the BCDA made a submission to the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform which envisioned a new electoral system based on broad proportionality, enhanced voter choice and a representative relationship between electors and their MLAs. A significant feature of the submission was a proposal for creating aboriginal representation in the Legislature in proportion to the percentage of First Nations' citizens within the general population.
In September 2004, the All Nations Party of BC, a political group with a strong commitment to First Nations’ concerns, made its own submission to the Assembly supporting the BCDA position and enhancing it by providing a rationale and description for how aboriginal constituencies might be created. The proposed aboriginal Electoral Districts were tentatively named Raven, Orca, Grizzly and Coyote.
The BCDA and the ANPBC shared a common vision of building an inclusive society in which First Nations’ voices would be ensured a place in the Legislature. They also sought to heal the divisive relationship between successive provincial governments and aboriginal peoples, which has delayed Treaty negotiations, cost the province billions in lost economic opportunities, and for over 100 years subjected First Nations peoples to unconscionable social circumstances.
September 2004 was also a significant month is other ways. The CAER selected the BCDA submission one of the top 15 submissions recommended by members to members for meritorious consideration. The BCDA changed its name to the B.C. Democratic Coalition, the result of an agreement-in-principle achieved in Langley between the leaders of three other parties—the most significant of which was the BC Moderate Democratic Movement, a party with similar roots in the former PDA. Later that month, Gordon Henderson, Leader of the B.C. Labour Party joined the coalition.
Mathew Laird, the Leader of BCMDM joined the board of the party initially as second Vice-President and later became its President. A computer scientist, Laird also played a vital role in the creating the electronic framework for sharing ideas among the various groups that were coming together. Meanwhile, new developments in the coalition building process were underway.
In October 2004, the leadership of the BCDC met in Surrey with their peers from Reform BC, a party with a 21-year history of support for electoral and democratic reform. Shirley Abraham, Leader and President of Reform BC, and Tom Morino, Leader of the BCDC, endorsed an agreement to seek an amalgamation of the two parties under the suggested name Democratic Reform BC. Later that month the two parties issued a joint communiqué which expressed support for the Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform, and the Assembly’s recommendation for a new electoral system based on a Single Transferable Vote. The Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendation concurred with the both Reform BC’s longstanding support of preferential balloting and BCDC’s commitment to greater proportionality, broad voter choice and a representative relationship between MLAs and their constituents.
On November 7, 2004, at Kamloops, a joint meeting of executives of Reform BC and the BCDC was held. Don Moses, Leader of the ANPBC, and key members of his party participated, as did an independent member of the BC Legislature. Everyone was aware that they were present at rare moment in the history of British Columbia politics. If an accord could be achieved, a new political entity could emerge with a combined historic membership in the thousands, the potential to field candidates in every Electoral District in the province, and a sitting member in the Legislature.
What marked the meeting in Kamloops, like all preceding steps along the way, was mutual respect, an equal voice for all participants, and an awareness that any agreement achieved would require the consent of the general membership of the three parties. Ultimately, after passionate debate, all present decided to pursue an amalgamation. Two landmark resolutions of the combined executives expressed unanimous support for First Nations’ representation in the Legislature and the principle of aboriginal rights and title.
Two weeks later the directors of the All Nations Party held a teleconference, and committed themselves to participating in a joint Annual General Meeting and Convention to be held in January 2005. The stage was set for the next step in bringing together the three parties—harmonizing the policies and constitutions of the three groups. Two harmonization committees were struck—one for policy, the other for seeking a new party constitution. The two committees would have equal representation from each party. Reform BC would host the Convention. The B.C. Democratic Coalition would become the custodian of the new party name.
Early in December 2004, Elections BC approved another name change for the party previously known as the B.C. Democratic Alliance and the B.C. Democratic Coalition. The BCDC would become DEMOCRATIC REFORM BC. The acronym for party DR BC (Doctor BC) would express the party’s belief that a cure was possible for the democratic deficit and for a political system dominated by special interests. Already several clear policy positions had emerged that would distinguish DR BC from others in the provincial political arena.
Unlike the Green Party, whose Leader Adrian Carr had expressed opposition to BC-STV, or the Liberals or NDP who have been officially non-committal, DR BC would support the YES side in the forthcoming referendum on Electoral Reform. Our support of the YES vote would not however be so rigid that it would stifle regional dissent or hinder a candidate’s or a party member’s constitutional right to freedom of _expression.
The party it was decided would be committed to a new kind of participatory democracy the hallmarks of which would be consultation, accommodation and respect for all opinion—the same features that had characterized our own movement towards merger. Under a Democratic Reform government the people’s wishes would not only be listened to, they would wherever possible be acted upon. DR BC candidates and MLAs first responsibility would be to freely, openly and honestly represent their constituents, not to be mere party ciphers leashed to the will of the party whip.
We would enhance democracy by strengthening recall and initiative legislation, creating First Nations’ constituencies, and calling for free votes in the Legislature. And we would strive in all things, as a Government for All the People, to act in a manner consistent with the honour and dignity of the Crown. This latter principle is no better expressed than in the party’s position on aboriginal rights and title, but it also has wide applicability to many other areas of public policy.
A voter who marks a ballot for DEMOCRATIC REFORM BC should have a reasonable expectation that we will not abuse the power of Legislature, as the BC Liberal elite have done, by jeopardizing individual privacy, diminishing the rights of women, tearing up duly-negotiated contracts, and violating international conventions on freedom of assembly and labour rights. A DR BC voter should also feel confident that we will not return to the fiscal irresponsibility that has too often been associated with the NDP, nor do we desire a socially engineered and overly regulated society. We value freedom of enterprise, freedom of choice, and the freedom to explore creativity and innovation.
Very early in the policy process, the members of policy harmonization committee determined that a majority vote would be insufficient for a policy position to be recommended to the general membership. The committee would proceed by consensus. All members, after consultation with their respective executives, would have to agree on the recommended platform. The first step was to work closely with the members of the constitutional harmonization committee to define the Mission Statement, Objective, Purposes and Statement of Principles of the Party. These elements would be incorporated within the DR BC Constitution and would be matters to which every party member would be expected to adhere. This was a tall order, but worth the effort. If two committees could achieve consensus, and the various boards of directors could arrive at a similar accord, then we had a framework for developing a platform that could be taken to the general membership and ultimately to the people with confidence.
No member of either harmonization committee sought a marriage of convenience, or a merger solely for the sake of achieving power. Our common heritage made that anathema to us. The moderate directors of Reform BC had endured a forced take-over bid by the extremists of Family Coalition Party and BC Unity that drained the party’s bank accounts and diminished its public support. None of us shared Unity’s adamant views on religion, abortion, First Nations and gay rights.
The directors of the BCDC too understood intimately the sense of betrayal that occurred from Gordon “Flip” Wilson’s abandonment of the membership of the former PDA. Interim Leader Tom Morino, a former member of the BC Liberal Party, knew all too well what had happened to the values of true liberalism when Gordon Campbell hijacked his former party. And the First Nations members of the ANPBC had a centuries-old trail of shattered hopes and broken promises to consider as we all learned to trust one another.
The Mission Statement, Objective, Purposes and Statement of Principles represent the Party’s philosophical bottom line. The “Platform for a Renaissance of Democracy,” sets out the practical policies by which the philosophical bottom line may be implemented. The elements of the philosophical bottom-line contain commitments that, if properly understood, speak to values we believe many fair-minded British Columbians could agree upon.
The Mission Statement expresses support for British Columbia’s future as a strong and equal partner in a united Canada. There are at the time of this writing 45 registered political parties in British Columbia and over the past year the leadership of Democratic Reform BC has reached out to most of them. Some of these parties are clearly separatist in their orientation, others are what might be described as “strategically separatist.” Democratic Reform BC supports neither of these positions. We support the reform of Confederation to the extent that that is achievable through changes such a Triple-E Senate, but we would achieve changes through peaceful means and we would not hold the federal government hostage through cynical referenda that contained the threat of separation.
The Mission Statement also includes support for the idea that every individual should be equal before the law and should have the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law. On the surface this may appear to be a very idealistic statement, but it also has practical application in the Party’s policies on education, health care, economics, legal aid and especially our position on electoral reform.
Under the current First Past the Post electoral system each of us is equal in our right to vote, but none of us is equal in our right to have our views or those of like-minded people represented in the Legislature. We are equal before the law, but we do not have equal “benefit” of the law. This principle is no more clearly illustrated than by the two most recent British Columbia elections. In 2001 the BC Liberals with 57.62% of the popular vote received 77 of 79 (or 97.47 %) of the seats in the Legislative Assembly while the NDP with 21.56% received the remaining 2 seats. Had the 1996 Legislature been fully proportional the Reform Party would have entitled seven members rather than the two it actually elected, while the Progressive Democratic Alliance, the parent party of BCDA and the BCMDM, would have had four seats rather than the one it actually received. The All Nations Party of BC was the sixth ranked party in 2001.
By combining forces, Reform, All Nations, BCDC and its component members and parties will speak for a broad base of the electorate currently disenfranchised by an antiquated electoral system. The historic performance of the political organizations coming together under the DR BC banner suggests we have a core electoral support, which rivals that of both the so-called major parties.
A realistic goal for DR BC is that we will wield the balance of power in the Legislative Assembly after May 17, 2005, and hold the party that forms the government to a moderate, fiscally accountable and socially responsible agenda. It is not inconceivable however that we will be the official opposition or the next government of British Columbia. This policy handbook sets forth how we will conduct ourselves as representatives of all the people, regardless of the outcome at the polls.
We begin with the Mission Statement, Objective, Purposes and 16-articles of the Statement of Principles, which summarize the Party’s position as an advocate of human rights, enhanced democracy, fair justice, human liberty, protection of the environment, entrepreneurial innovation, transparent government accounting, adequate social services, effective education, and comprehensive health care. We follow with our Platform for a Renaissance of Democracy, which provides a more detailed plan of how we will achieve these goals.
The handbook is to be submitted for the approval of the general membership of Reform BC, Democratic Reform BC and the All Nations Party of BC, at the joint annual general meeting of the three parties, on January 15, 2005.