B.C. Says “No” to Electoral Reform in Third Referendum

The electoral reform hopes of the nation were disappointed yesterday when the results of the British Columbia referendum were announced, and the status quo was overwhelming endorsed by the electorate.

As reported in the Tyee, Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman announced Thursday that the results of the mail-in referendum were 61.3 per cent in favour of keeping First-Past-the-Post (FPTP), while 38.7 per cent were in favour of reform. Out of 3.3 million eligible voters, 1.44 million returned their ballots for a 42.6 per cent voter turnout.

By comparison, voter turnout in the 2017 general election in British Columbia was 61.2 per cent.

“This referendum was held because we believe that this decision needed to be up to people, not politicians,” said Premier John Horgan in a statement. “While many people, myself included, are disappointed in the outcome, we respect [the] people’s decision.”

“While we are disappointed with this result, we respect British Columbians’ decision to retain the current first-past-the-post system,” added Green Party leader Andrew Weaver. Electoral Reform is one of the Green Party’s six core principles.

Another disappointed party was Fair Vote Canada, an advocacy group that has been pushing for years for Canada to adopt some form of Proportional Representation.

“Advocating for change is always the greater challenge. Proponents have to convince people to take a plunge into the unfamiliar, and people are reluctant to do that when the issue is complex and they have never experienced the alternative,” said Fair Vote BC in a statement. “This result underlines that referendums are not the best way to make decisions on all topics.”

This was the third referendum on Electoral Reform for B.C. in the last 13 years.

A 2005 vote saw 57.69 per cent of voters support a Single Transferable Vote system, but that referendum required a super-majority of 60 per cent to become binding.

A subsequent 2009 referendum saw just 39.09 per cent supporting a change to STV from FPTP. With the 38.7 per cent voting for change in this most recent referendum, it seems like Electoral Reform has been losing support over time.

The 2018 referendum asked two questions. It asked voters if they wanted to keep the status quo, or reform the electoral system, and if they wanted reform, then what kind of reform would they like: Dual Member Proportional, Mixed Member Proportional and Rural-Urban Proportional. If it matters, according to the results, MMP won out as the preferred option.

Meanwhile in Guelph…

The news from B.C. will likely be a disappointment to Electoral Reform advocates here in Guelph, who were still pushing for the Federal government to act when they protested in front of MP Lloyd Longfield’s office back in January.

For what it’s worth, in the 2007 Ontario referendum on Electoral Reform, Guelph voted 44.6 per cent in favour of MMP, which was better than the provincial average of 36.8 per cent.

Perhaps because the time of year, official reaction from Guelph to the referendum results in B.C. wasn’t plentiful, but there was some strong reaction from a couple of Guelph politicians.

In terms of local electoral reform, the City of Guelph is presently seeking feedback on the the 2018 Municipal Election, and that includes thoughts about whether or not Guelph should follow London’s example and enact ranked balloting. You can take part in the survey by clicking here.

On the Bright Side… (?)

“We are confident that proportional representation is coming to Canada soon” said Gisela Ruckert, President of Fair Vote Canada BC.

“It would have been a feather in our cap for BC to lead the way, of course, but pro rep will get here eventually,” she added. “Once folks see it in action somewhere else in Canada, the benefits of pro rep will start to outweigh the obstacle posed by unfamiliarity.”

Prince Edward Island, where the provincial Green Party is running neck-and-neck with the Liberals in opinion polls, will hold another referendum on Electoral Reform at the same time as their provincial election in 2019. It will be a simple yes or no question: “Should Prince Edward Island change its voting system to a mixed member proportional voting system?”

The 2016 referendum, which used a preferential voting system for voters to decide between five different options,  saw MMP beat FPTP 52.42 per cent to 42.84 per cent on the fourth round. However, Premier Wade MacLauchlan said that the low turnout could not “constitute a clear expression of the will of Prince Edward Islanders.”

Meanwhile, the new Coalition Avenir Québec government under Premier François Legault has promised to reform the electoral system in Quebec, although no timeline or details have yet to be proposed.

Stay tuned.

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