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Liberal MLA questions B.C.’s new rural political party

An Okanagan MLA is drawing a connection between a new provincial political party geared to rural voters being unveiled last week and the pending referendum on proportional representation.

Norm Letnick, Liberal MLA for Kelowna-Lake Country, says while he welcomes the new Rural B.C. Party into the political fray, he questions what another party brings to the debate that the more than 20 existing political entities don’t already cover.

“I think if proportional representation passes, you will see many more parties like this start up and we believe that is going to reduce local representation for constituents. You won’t be electing an MLA, but rather one will be appointed for your area,” Letnick said.

“Compared to current first to the post system, that reduces the current level of accountability. Depending on what form of proportional representation might potentially be adopted, you end up with an MLA you didn’t even vote for by a majority in your area.”

Letnick said while he waits to see the B.C. Rural Party’s policy platform outlined in greater detail, he noted that both the party’s leader, Houston municipal councillor Jonathan Van Barneveld, and executive core team member Telkwa Mayor Darcy Repen, currently on medical leave from his civic duties, have provincial NDP connections.

Letnick pointed out Van Barneveld is a past president of the NDP provincial youth wing of the party, while Regen was an active supporter of Premier John Horgan’s election campaign.

“I’m not sure what that says, but if they are disgruntled with the NDP, I would encourage them to join the Liberals,” Letnick said.

Related: New B.C. party looks to represent rural voters

The B.C. Rural Party advocates for greater economic diversification opportunities for smaller rural communities in B.C. and reduce a reliance on mounting infrastructure debts.

The party gained official electoral status in February and hopes to field candidates in 23 ridings including Vernon-Monashee and Boundary-Similkameen within the Okanagan in the next provincial election. All their candidates would run in constituencies outside the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria regions.

Letnick doesn’t see rural B.C. taxpayers losing out to the interests of the higher populated areas of B.C. because their MLAs must strive to bring economic and cultural benefits to their constituencies.

“If they don’t do that, voters have the opportunity to give the job to someone else. When you are elected, you are the representative for all constituents in your riding, not just the people who voted for you.”

Enderby Mayor Greg McCune said he’s not sure how the B.C. Rural Party would benefit his community.

“I have not really heard much about them,” said McCune, contacted at this week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler.

“You can analyze the urban-rural split to death, but key for me is that our provincial representation is from our area and not someone appointed from another area who we don’t know.”

Like Letnick, he too made the connection of a new party as perhaps a sign of things to come should the proportional representation referendum pass.

“I think when it comes to taxpayer dollars being spent, a lot of the taxes they pay in the Lower Mainland end up contributing to transportation and other infrastructure projects that benefit our rural communities, so there is a give and take there in where the influence lies.”

Get ready for B.C. electoral reform referendum

Elections BC is encouraging eligible voters to get ready for the 2018 referendum on electoral reform by registering to vote or updating their voter information.

“If your voter information is current, you will get a referendum voting package in the mail this fall,” said Anton Boegman, BC Chief Electoral Officer.

Voters can register or update their voter information online at www.elections.bc.ca/ovr or by calling 1-800-661-8683 on Monday to Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Between now and the end of September, a Referendum Information Card will be mailed to every household in the province to raise awareness of the referendum. Referendum voting packages will be distributed between Oct. 22 and Nov. 2.

For more information, visit www.elections.bc.ca/referendum.

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Barry Gerding

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