Premier John Horgan and B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson debate proportional representation, Nov. 8, 2018. (Youtube)

B.C. referendum rejects proportional representation

Voters support first-past-the-post by 61.3 per cent

The B.C. government’s options for proportional representation have been rejected by voters in a mail-in referendum.

Just over 61 per cent of participating voters opted to stay with the first-past-the-post system, Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman reported Thursday.

The referendum offered a choice between the traditional first-past-the-post voting system, essentially a separate election for each of B.C.’s 87 provincial seats, and three variations on proportional representation to make the number of seats match more closely with the party’s share of the province-wide vote.

Of the three proportional representation options, mixed member proportional was supported by 41.24 per cent of those who chose to answer question two on the mail-in ballot. Dual member proportional and rural-urban proportional each received just under 30 per cent.

The referendum cost about $15 million to stage, with more than four million ballot packages mailed out to registered voters. The final turnout was 42.6 per cent ballots returned.

Opposition critics blasted the NDP for giving Attorney General David Eby the task of developing the options, rather than a citizens’ assembly as was the case with referenda in 2005 and 2009 that offered a single transferable ballot system and were defeated.

This referendum also differed from earlier ones by having no minimum turnout and no regional weighting to ensure that urban areas in the southwest didn’t decide the issue.

“This was a flawed process from the beginning as the NDP stacked the deck to satisfy the Green Party and remain in power,” B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said.

Premier John Horgan issued a statement, and left response up to Finance Minister Carole James.

“While many people, myself included, are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the people’s decision,” Horgan said.

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver echoed Horgan’s disappointment.

“The B.C. Greens remain committed to the principle of representative democracy,” Weaver said.

Horgan promoted B.C.’s electoral reform options as a way to improve voter participation. In a year-end interview with Black Press, Horgan said the referendum turnout of just over 40 per cent is a valid response to a proposal to change the system for at least the next two provincial elections.

“Democracy is about showing up,” Horgan said. “I’m pleased that we got 41-42 per cent voter turnout for a mid-term mail-in referendum.”

Weaver wanted the province to legislate a change without a referendum. Wilkinson has attacked the referendum, saying it was concocted for political purposes by the NDP government and leaves too many questions unanswered until after the result.

“I campaigned to have a referendum,” Horgan said. “My Green colleagues preferred to just implement proportional representation. I wasn’t prepared to do that, and I have every confidence in the wisdom of B.C. voters and will live by the decision that they send us.”


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