The B.C. government has pushed through a plan to spend $250,000 on a provincial senate election that may never happen.
The all-party legislative finance committee voted this week to authorize the funding, so Elections B.C. could begin planning a provincewide senatorial election that has yet to be authorized by law.
The move brought howls of outrage from Opposition NDP MLAs who called it nonsensical to spend money on a hypothetical situation.
But the NDP was outvoted by the committee's B.C. Liberal majority on Tuesday.
Chief electoral officer Keith Archer told the finance committee he needed $250,000 to create a senate election program within Elections B.C.'s computer system.
Elections B.C. will need another $768,000 to set up the actual mechanics of a vote, if and when the province passes enabling legislation, he said.
"I believe my responsibility as a Chief Electoral Officer is to ensure we can offer events when those events are demanded by government," Archer told the finance committee Tuesday.
"Frankly, it's unusual to be asking for funds to offer an event that is not already supported by legislation, yet I need to be mindful of statements that have been made publicly."
Senate appointments are decided by the federal government, though Ottawa has followed the recommendations of some provinces, such as Alberta, that elect their own nominees.
A B.C. senate seat is set to become vacant in November when Gerry St. Germain retires.
MLA John Les introduced a private member's bill in March to begin B.C. senate elections, but the bill never passed and appears doomed because the Liberals cancelled the fall session of the legislature.
Archer said he received a letter from Justice Minister Shirley Bond in August saying the government still intends to introduce legislation sometime in the future.
"Our government has been clear in its position that we want to pursue the opportunity for British Columbians to elect their senators," Bond said in a statement Wednesday.
"We are currently working on the legislation necessary for this process to begin in our province."
The earliest B.C. could pass a law would be in February, only three months before the scheduled general election in which a senate vote could be included on the ballot.
Elections B.C. has to be prudent and plan for such an event, Archer said.
The NDP, which believes the senate should be abolished, chastized the Liberal government for leaving Archer in an awkward predicament.
"I sympathize with the position of the chief electoral officer," NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston told the finance committee.
"He's simply trying to read the tea leaves here, but it's a waste of money as far as I'm concerned."
Despite the disagreement on senate elections, Liberal and NDP MLAs did unanimously agree to approve $7.1 million so Elections B.C. can update the voters list, as well as $420,000 to pay for a panel of experts to study the security risks of Internet voting.
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