British Columbia

Fight HST organizers question referendum process

Fight HST organizers say they are still hearing from voters who have not received their ballots for the mail-in referendum.
Critics of B.C.'s HST are unhappy their observers aren't being allowed into a facility where ballots are received, the CBC's Stephen Smart reports 2:40

Fight HST organizers say they are still hearing from voters who have not received their ballots for the mail-in referendum.

Bill Tieleman  and Bill Vander Zalm say they are worried thousands of voters may be out of luck.

Tieleman is asking the government to ensure Elections BC allows everyone who wants to vote to do so.

"If, through no fault of their own — they called before the deadline, the ballot arrives too late to be mailed in or taken in to one of the service centres, some people are in remote areas where there isn't one —  then they should be given an extension," Tieleman said.

"If there is no way it is going to arrive and it doesn't arrive, they should be allowed to sign a statutory declaration saying, 'I called Elections BC, I asked for a ballot, I didn't get one and I want to vote.'"

Open process

Tieleman insists there should be a way to make sure everyone who wants to vote can do so.

"We think it's incumbent on the government to direct Elections BC to ensure that every person who is a duly registered voter have the democratic right to participate in this referendum," he said."It shouldn't  be up to mail delivery. It shouldn't be up to Canada Post problems."

But Elections BC says the deadline to request a ballot has passed and it has no plans to issue any extensions.

Vander Zalm also expressed concerns Wednesday the ballots for the mail-in referendum are being stored at a secret location. Ballot-counting observers, including himself, are only permitted to be present when the ballots are actually counted.

The former premier sent a letter to the Liberal government asking for "an open process at all stages of ballot handling ... "[and] full protection of the peoples' ballots."

Vander Zalm said gathering the ballots at an undisclosed location will leave people with the perception that the observing process was not completely open from start to finish.

"There is a secret warehouse where the ballots come and they are sorted — to what extent we don't know," said Vander Zalm at a news conference outside Elections BC's offices. "We don't know what's happening at this first facility and that leaves a lot of questions for a lot of people."

'Increasingly ridiculous'

Elections BC spokesman Don Main said observers, including Vander Zalm, will have the same observer access to the process as official scrutinisers do on provincial election nights.

He said the ballots at the gathering location are being sorted by electoral riding and are not being counted.

"The acting chief electoral officer is keeping the process transparent and open and has created this process to allow both sides of the HST referendum — the Yes and No groups as well as government and the Opposition — to have representatives to observe the process as they would in an election," Main said.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon blasted Fight HST organizers, saying this is nothing more than grandstanding in the hopes of gaining more publicity. 

Falcon said he has confidence in Elections BC to oversee the vote.

"This is getting increasingly ridiculous," said Falcon. "There's not a chance in the world that we're going to interfere with their [Elections BC] independence or start telling them how they should run and oversee a referendum."

The deadline to request a ballot passed last Friday. The deadline to return them is August 5. The results of the referendum are expected in late August or early September.

With files from the CBC's Jeff Davies, The Canadian Press