Just about everyone in the glorious city of Vancouver is blissed out by a long stretch of sunshine. Yet, despite the beauty around them, my progressive, vegetarian, bike-riding friends here still wear the shell-shocked look they’ve had since Gordon Campbell’s Liberals came to power.

It’s the same baffled, “who-voted-for-this-guy” face I’ve caught on news reports these past few days about France, where people on the political left and in the centre are still reeling from the second-place finish of anti-Semite and all-around xenophobe Jean-Marie Le Pen in preliminary presidential race in France.

As a survivor of back-to-back Tory Premier Mike Harris wins, I’ve offered what sympathy I can to my friends, but it’s little comfort. In office less than a year, Campbell is poised to make Harris look like first New Democratic Party (NDP) leader, Tommy Douglas.

The big issue is the British Columbia government’s referendum on treaty negotiations, a CDN$9-million exercise pollster Angus Reid has called “one of the most amateurish, one-sided attempts to gauge the public will that I have seen in my professional career.”

The mail-in ballot was sent to more than two million British Columbians earlier this month. It consists of eight yes-or-no questions that have ostensibly been designed to inform the government’s direction on negotiations with aboriginal communities.

However, as critics like Reid have pointed out, the questions are either leading, confusing or broad, and all are designed to manipulate results to support the government’s position.

For instance, one reads: “Parks and protected areas should be maintained for the use and benefit of all British Columbians.” Who could say no to that? And what does a “yes” response to that question really mean?

Clearer questions might yield more useful answers, but the Campbell government isn’t interested in public input. The Liberals have already made their position clear on treaty negotiations and, in particular, on native self-government, the issue on which all this turns.

In 1999, while leader of the opposition, Campbell and his now Attorney-General Geoff Plant brought a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Nisga’a Treaty to the B.C. Supreme Court.

They argued that First Nations have no inherent right to self-government, but instead should have their powers delegated to them by the federal and provincial governments.

Campbell and Plant lost. And ironically, as Thomas Berger, who was lead counsel for the Nisga’a Nation, explained recently in The Vancouver Sun, the case actually clarified aboriginal self-government as a constitutionally protected right.

So, the referendum ballot is confusing and the question of self-government has been asked and answered. Why then spend the CDN$9-million on this pointless exercise at the same time the Liberals are slashing programs and crying poor?

For one, cheap politics — read, playing to the racists — and, for another, it’s a stalling tactic. If the Liberals get the answers they want, the already snail-like treaty process will grind to a halt.

Under the Referendum Act , the results will be binding, but only binding for a “yes” response. How’s that for stacking the deck?

So a “yes” result on question number six — “Aboriginal self-government should have the characteristics of local government, with powers delegated from Canada and British Columbia” — would put the government in an impossible position to negotiate with aboriginal groups.

While the Constitution and Ottawa recognize the inherent right to full self-government, the binding referendum results would not allow the B.C. government to do so.

The whole notion of putting a minority community’s rights up for a vote is a repugnant, arrogant and demeaning attack on aboriginal people, and the ham-fisted management of the referendum is an egregious corruption of a public consultation process.

A growing resistance movement is calling for people to boycott or spoil their ballots. To that, the Liberals have smugly responded that even if as few as five ballots are returned, the results will still stand.

And that’s what passes for democracy in beautiful B.C. these days.