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Pique n your interest

The no-win, no-solution referendum

It's too late to turn back now. The papers have been folded, the envelopes have been stuffed and over 2 million stamps have been stuck on top.

And now many registered voters in B.C. are at a complete loss at what to do with the provincial ballot on native treaty negotiations.

To vote yes or no to eight very complex and poorly worded questions. To spoil the ballot by sending it back blank. To send it to the native band offices. To send it back to the province. Or to just toss it aside and ignore it completely.

Who could blame anyone for choosing the last option? At the moment it all just seems too overwhelming and confusing.

Registered voters have been asked to fill out the eight highly contentious questions, then put the questions into a "secrecy ballot." From there they must sign an official declaration and stuff that into a "certification envelope." And then both envelopes must be put into a third envelope and mailed back by May 15.

From the get-go the process is flawed and doomed to fail because it isn't simple enough.

Thousands of these ballots will be tossed aside in recycling bins throughout the province once residents decide they don't know enough about the subject to accurately respond.

Still more will be thrown out as voters decide that they simply don't have the time.

Others will be ruined in protest.

One thing is for certain. This referendum will hardly be a measure of the popular vote as much as Attorney General Geoff Plant claims it will be.

He says the results of the referendum will be binding if more than half of the voters check off the yes box – no matter if those voters number 20, 200 or 2 million – hardly the definition of a referendum.

Despite the huge backlash about the referendum, the government is forging blindly ahead.

And in doing so, the so called cash-strapped province, which is sucking the life out of the provincial health care system and the education system, is wasting another $7.5 million, at least.

Of course, $7.5 million is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to tallying up the dollars that have been put into native treaty negotiations with no result.

In the past decade alone, federal and provincial governments and natives have invested $500 million in treaty negotiations with nothing much to show for the massive amounts of time and money.

So what makes the Liberals think that the average Joe British Columbian has the answers or indeed, should even be asked for input?

This referendum can just be chalked up to another exercise in futility – mere Liberal lip service to age-old questions.

This time the questions have their own distinct slant.

In the Vancouver Sun on Friday, Angus Reid of polling fame said:

"...the British Columbia aboriginal referendum is one of the most amateurish, one-sided attempts to gauge the public will that I have seen in my professional career."

Strong words from a man who has seen his fair share of public polls in his professional career.

Voters will be asked to agree to the phasing out of the native tax exemptions. They will be asked to decide if private property should not be expropriated for treaty settlements. They will also be asked if they think hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities on crown land should be ensured for all British Columbians.

"One of the fundamental rules of polling is that there is little to be gained in asking a question that almost everyone will answer the same way," said Reid.

As the time to fill out the ballots fast approaches, the calls to boycott the referendum are getting louder and louder. Joining in on the protest are dozens of labour and community groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation, the bishops of the Anglican Church and the B.C. Federation of Labour.

Many will boycott out of principle, believing a largely uninformed majority should not decide the fate of treaty negotiations. Others will boycott because the eight questions are too confusing and have been called misleading and unfair.

So in the long run the government will be taking an opinion poll of a select group in the province – hardly the way a referendum is supposed to work.

If this government were serious about a resolution on treaty negotiations, they would have abandoned the referendum long ago.

Because after all is said and done and the referendum ballots have been filled out, spoiled or tossed aside, there will still be no resolution on native treaty negotiations. There will be no greater understanding on where the people of B.C. stand on the issue. And, more importantly, there will be no direction on where to proceed from here.

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