What's a majority?
Well, on Monday night a two-thirds majority of councillors agreed that the bottom line was 50 plus one per cent.
"I think it's common sense it should be 50 plus one," said Mayor Bob Turner during Monday night's council debate about the upcoming community opinion vote about the national park. Council had agreed to follow the wishes of the majority of islanders following the vote but had not yet decided what would constitute a majority.
Fifty plus one is the number that was accepted for the referendum on whether to form the municipality, Turner said. Corporate officer Kathy Lalonde said it's the legally binding number for referenda.
"That really is completely independent of the outcome," Turner said over the debate about what is a majority. "What threshold is a credible threshold? If not majority, what alternative could there be or should there be?"
Councillor Cro Lucas said, "I would think Parks Canada would want a substantial enough majority to put this through. I think it should be no less than 60 to 65. Any less would be counterproductive to the establishment of a national park. I wouldn't vote for anything less than 60 per cent."
Councillor David Wrinch agreed with Lucas. "I'd be happier if it was at least 60 per cent. But people feel we're committed to 50 per cent plus one."
I think we'd be in serious trouble if we say 60/40. I think we're committed to 50 plus one."
Councillor Peter Frinton said, "This is community opinion. This is not an election where there's a winner or loser. What you want is a clear indication of what public sentiment is. A clear yes or a clear no will be self-evident."
Frinton said the community opinion vote was a gatepost in a series of gateposts that must be cleared before the park is ever created. The vote in June will be asking if there is public support for the concept plan that would go to the negotiation phase. "There are checks and balances all along the way. In the middle area there's a band of uncertainty. While I support 50 plus one, a provisional yes or no tells me we don't have strong community agreement."
A split vote would be noted by Parks Canada, he said.
Councillor Nerys Poole said, "I think Councillor Frinton has it absolutely right. Bowen goes first. What we are doing is indicating to Parks Canada whether we want to enter the next phase. It's quite conceivable Bowen Island would vote 51 and Parks Canada's executive director could decide that's not enough. There's always the potential for Parks Canada to say we don't have enough support. I don't think our decision will be the end of it....
"Whether someone decides that majority is not enough is beyond our control. I think a 51 per cent majority is insufficient for Bowen. I want to see a significant majority to show there's strong desire to move forward or strong resistance to it. If we only get 51 per cent one way or another, I don't think that's a good outcome for Bowen Island.
Councillor Allison Morse said "it's hard to decide without knowing what the question will be. I think it's more appropriately discussed when we have the question in front of us."
Lucas and Wrinch voted against the motion to accept a 50 plus one majority. The others were in favour. Councillor Doug Hooper was not present.
However, it was noted that the vote was taken during a committee of the whole meeting. That means it must be discussed and ratified at a council meeting.
Before Monday's meeting, the Undercurrent polled members of council to ask them what they think constitutes a majority.
Bob Turner, Mayor
"Fifty-plus-one per cent was good enough for the Quebec referendum so I think it's good enough [to define a majority vote on the national park]," he says. "The majority rules and it's a standard. Minorities don't wag the tail of democracy."
The problem with not using 50-plus-one to define a majority is that you have to come up with another number, and how do you do that? "Once you depart from 50 it becomes arbitrary what number you pick."
He's talked to people on both sides of the majority-number divide and likes the clarity of 50-plus-one. However, he thinks it's likely that there will be a big difference between the number of people for and against the vote.
Peter Frinton, Councillor
"What I want is a clear idea of whether there's support and what the concerns are," he says. "There has to be a clear idea that this is what people want or don't want."
He didn't want to predict what number council will end up with. "Council will talk and hash it out. I just want to know the vote reflects the will of the people."
Of course a 90/10 split would be clear, "and even 60/40 gives a clear indication. If it was 51/49, I'd feel more uncomfortable. It would make me want to do more and revisit it. If we've got a divided community, it's not good for the community."
Doug Hooper, Councillor
"The national park question should be a clear yes/no, based on firm and well-defined conditions. Thus, 50 per cent plus one will be sufficient to define the majority will of the Bowen electorate. With my council vote, I will uphold the will of the majority."
Cro Lucas, Councillor
"Fifty-one per cent is definitely not a desirable outcome for this vote," he says. "If 51 per cent vote or against it, the remaining 49 per cent are going to be angry. They'll have a tough time getting over it and it will cloud a lot of things."
The consequences of having a national park on Bowen are too far-reaching to be satisfied with a vote that would, let's say, be 51 per cent in favour, he says. "It will affect our day-to-day aspects of life and maybe our property values. The park is going to affect everyone and every property in one way or another. There's going to be a huge potential impact and I think that 51 per cent outcome will split the island in half and I don't think the island would get over it.
"I'm not even sure if 65 per cent is significant enough," he says.
That said, his sense is that the vote will have a decisive outcome. "I don't think it will be a split vote."
Alison Morse, Councillor
"If it was 999 votes versus 1,001 votes, or something like that, I'd be concerned because it indicates the community is split," she says. "I'm still trying to figure out how we gauge community support for a park and the type of national park."
Nerys Poole, Councillor
She says that a majority of 50-plus-one is the standard for referendum. "If you don't apply 50 plus one then you get into the question of people who want 60 per cent, or 80 per cent. You need a dividing line."
Poole recognizes that there are people who want a resounding yes or no but says that on both sides you need a cut-off point for what constitutes a majority. The municipality used 50-plus-one for the referendum on incorporation and also the purchase of surplus lands.
"The spirit and intention is to represent the wishes of the voters," she said. "This is a huge land-use decision and it will affect the island, but so do lots of things."
The key is to make sure people have enough information on which to base their vote.
David Wrinch, Councillor
"If it's a straight-forward yes or no question and everyone agrees on the question, it's 50-plus-one."
He thinks the response will be very clear one way or another. And he stresses that it will be the people of Bowen Island who decide the issue. "I get one vote just like everyone else."