Friday, 29 July 2011

Plain language (not!) - the BC referendum question

Recently, I answered the BC referendum question. I won't tell you how I voted, but I will comment on the wording of the question. Here it is.

Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST and reinstating the PST in conjunction with the GST?

The referendum package was sent to all BC  residents eligible to vote, around 40% of whom, according to the latest adult literacy survey, have low reading skills. The problem with the question is the use of the words "extinguish", "reinstate" and "conjunction". (And why say "extinguish" rather than "eliminate"? Is the HST a fire that needs to be put out?) 

People tend to write at the educational level they have reached. In this case, the words in question would have flowed naturally from the pen of the government researcher who wrote the question, but they are not appropriate for an audience which includes many who have not finished high school.

A referendum question that more BC residents would be able to understand would read like this.

Do you want to get rid of the HST and bring back the PST and the GST?

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