Les Leyne: It takes more than money to reach people

Les Leyne mugshot genericA traipse through the financial reports from the referendum campaign raises even more questions about how proportional-representation advocates managed to lose the vote.

It looked at the outset as if they had every advantage. Opinion polls at the start — before any details — suggested that the idea had majority support.

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The premier and the governing party wanted the change and campaigned ardently. The government’s partner in power was equally enthusiastic about a new voting system. Rallies got the segment of the population who cares about the issue energized.

The rules were slanted at every opportunity toward a Yes vote. As someone who thought the fix was in and Yes would win, I am startled to learn the Yes side had a financial edge, along with all the other advantages.

Reports released this week by Elections B.C. show the Yes side had a lot more money at its disposal to swing the vote.

That just compounds the surprise about the result, announced last December. The Yes side went down to defeat, losing by a convincing margin, 61-39 by percentage of the overall vote.

In the battle for hearts and minds, they wound up more than 300,000 votes behind the no-change side.

It wasn’t for lack of funding.

Both sides got $500,000 in taxpayers’ money to make their cases. And both camps were free to raise more money. The No side was more successful in that effort, but not by much.

The No side listed $196,000 in donations, while the Yes side posted $148,695.

Where the Yes side outdistanced the No camp was in the funds raised by interested entities outside of the two officially designated groups. They all had to register as advertising sponsors and file reports.

All three parties in the house registered and contributed heavily. The NDP put in $196,000 and the B.C. Greens listed $176,000.

Regardless of how cavalier Green Leader Andrew Weaver was about the loss, the contribution suggests how important the vote was to his party. The amount represented about a quarter of the party’s total donations last year.

That’s $372,000 for the Yes campaign from the two parties that control the legislature, compared with the $173,000 the B.C. Liberals donated to the No camp.

There were several other big-budget entities that backed the Yes side. The B.C. Government Employees Union donated $84,000, FairVote Canada B.C., a national voting-change lobby group with a B.C. address, donated $192,000.

The LeadNow Society, a political advocacy group, filed a report saying it collected $66,000 in sponsorship contributions, although it spent less than that.

B.C. Liberals are keen to support the impression they were underdog winners of last year’s contest. So party executive director Emile Scheffel said it was “shocking” to learn they were outspent almost four to one.

Bill Tieleman, one of the leaders of the No campaign, criticized the other side’s tactics during and after the campaign. On Tuesday, he said the financial reports back that criticism.

He said the Yes side was much more interested in getting out the votes from people who were committed to proportional representation, rather than bringing new supporters into their camp.

On the other side, the campaign to maintain the status quo concentrated on reaching as many voters as possible with its message, which was one full of suspicion about the effect of changing how we vote.

People turned out to be receptive to that message.

The Yes side also took an enormous hit at the start. The strong support for proportional representation in opinion polls lasted only until people started seeing details.

When the two-question ballot with one three-part multiple-choice question was released, doubts started to arise.

The financial data released this week resurrect a bit of the argument over tactics and strategy that was running hot months ago.

But it also suggests that all the money in the world spent trying to persuade people won’t swing the vote if the idea is a confusing proposition that leaves many questions to be decided later.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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