What's in a Question?

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Here in British Columbia, the provincial Liberals much-ballyhooed treaty referendum has been getting a lot of press in the opinion columns lately. From what I read, the consensus seems to be that the government should drop this silly and wasteful exercise and save the projected $9-million that the process will cost the taxpayer.

Some editors, however, try to navigate a less decisive path when discussing the issue, as if objective observation means ignoring the fact that the emperor has no clothes. Then, of course, we have the seventy-six sycophants in the B.C. legislature who are singing in chorus the praises of whatever Mr. Campbell orders them to, whether it embarrasses them or not.

Purportedly, this publicly financed political sideshow is to involve the electorate of B.C. in the treaty settlement process. In reality, it is little more than an expensive propaganda gimmick being used by the government to validate whatever it decides to do in respect to treaty negotiations.

The people of B.C. are not really being asked for their direction on treaty issues. Of the sixteen yes-or-no questions proposed, only seven use the imperative verbs “should” or “must.” The rest simply elicit no more than a true-or-false response, and, rather than seeking direction, are merely asking the voter to guess what the government is going to do.

In addition to the sloppy phrasing, some questions are so inane as to be in the same category as “Should night follow day? Yes or no.” Others are plainly designed to arouse fear and undue alarm about the motives of First Nations.

One such question begins “Private property is not negotiable ...” Since it has been clear from the beginning of treaty negotiations that private property was not on the table, questions such as this are little more than a deliberate and provocative attempt to frighten non-natives and create a negative attitude toward the First Nations.

When the Liberal Party first proposed this referendum, making it a plank in their campaign platform, it appeared to be nothing more than a wild-eyed piece of red-neck political rhetoric aimed at racists and the less discerning, more easily manipulated voter. Something that one could expect from a George Wallace or a bunch of good old boys half tanked at the local watering hole. Now, it looks more like a government plan to manipulate public support for a First-Nations-bashing spree at future treaty tables.

Some years back, the people of B.C. voted overwhelmingly for referenda to be part of the governing process of the province. If used properly, referenda could add a whole new and positive aspect in deciding public policy. For example, there are a number of pertinent issues that the government could have put to the voter this year prior to implementing them. Tax cuts for the rich, huge salary increases for top-level bureaucrats, reductions in healthcare services and eligibility, the export of raw logs; these are all things that the people of the province no doubt would have liked to have had an active role in deciding.

The question that B.C. citizens should be asking is: If the Liberals really care about what the people of the province want, then why wasn’t the public given a chance to vote on these important issues over which the government has complete control, instead of being asked to participate in a divisive and deceptive referendum on an issue where the provincial government is but a bit player?

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