MLA promoting online petitions

Burnaby-Lougheed MLA Jane Shin has now seen more of northern B.C.'s backroads and whistlestops than many longtime regional residents. She's got the dust on the Fiat to prove it.

She's driving the highways of the north, but also heading onto the gravel byways, to reach the residents who would most benefit from a bill she introduced in the Legislature.

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It seeks to allow online petitions instead of just the paper ones, as many other jurisdictions in Canada and internationally have already done. It would speed up delivery of such petitions, be more accountable (it's harder to fake a name on an online petition and easier to verify questionable signatories), and let rural people be in touch with petitionable causes better than the current system, which indirectly insists on people signing their name on a piece of paper. This means petitions have to be made door-to-door or in public places like retail stores and info tables at social gatherings.

"This is non-contentious, non-controversial, and all it aims to do is make governing the province better, by being in better touch with the people of the province," the NDP MLA said during a quick stop in Prince George before heading off to Mackenzie, Chetwynd, Dawson Creek and beyond.

Bill M-211 is called the Electronic Petitions Act. She has introduced it three times in the past series of House sittings, but so far it has died on the schedule before reaching completion when the session closed.

"It is about people far away from Victoria having an equal say, an equal chance to engage in public discussions that matter to them," she said. "It will also get more people involved in those discussions more often. People have families to look after, they are volunteering in their communities, they are working long hours, and that doesn't leave you much time or energy to get into public issues. This way, you can get involved right at home, with a few clicks. On the surface of things, it looks like people are more and more disengaged from the issues of the day and aren't participating in government, but people care very much. There are barriers. I want to remove one of them, and it is so cheap and easy to do. And it benefits everyone, it doesn't matter what your political stripe might be."

Southern and urban people have computers too, so the electronic petition concept isn't exclusionary of them, but Shin said the more rural the resident or the more distant the community from Victoria, the more the technologies of today are supposed to be a tool. Even the flickering bars on her cell phone tell her this is not the reality, as she drives through large zones of dead air where no mobile phone or internet coverage exists. The electronic petition legislation is no antidote to these gaps in coverage but it does help underscore these ironic holes in the communications infrastructure of the province.

"Rural communities are expected to cough up the resources and do all the heavy work to pay the bills for B.C. to live, but then they should also get services like cell phone coverage and high-speed internet at the very least in exchange for that. Education, safety, business, public discussion, contact with the general world is done so easily in these ways, and it is the rural resident who is best served by those tools. So where are they? It is very disrespectful to not address that problem. Again, this is not a partisan issue, it is about all of us who are elected to govern paying attention to the issues that affect us all, and provide solutions."

Shin is not a single-issue traveller, either. She is happy to discuss another bill she has on the books in Victoria.

She introduced Bill M-215, the Business Practices and Consumer Protection (Money Transfers) Amendment Act. This seeks to cap the fees a money broker can charge for international money transactions, and insists they mark that fee as a line item so consumers can tell who has the best (and worst) rates. Right now those fees are being called predatory, and the actual amount is sometimes hidden inside an overall transaction record.

"I'd love to hear from anyone remitting money on a regular basis," she said, and added, as she lives up to her online communication challenge, "I'm just an email away."

She can be reached at J.Shin@leg.bc.ca.

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