The provincial cabinet is now considering a report that recommends British Columbians vote on two things during this fall’s electoral reform referendum. The questions are:
- Which should British Columbia use for elections to the Legislative Assembly?
- The current First Past the Post voting system
- A proportional representation voting system
- If British Columbia adopts a proportional representation voting system, which of the following voting systems do you prefer?
- Dual Member Proportional (DMP)
- Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
- Rural-Urban PR
These are not the determined questions for the referendum, they are recommendations that will be decided on by cabinet. B.C.’s Attorney General David Eby wanted to release the suggested questions based on public input so that any changes by cabinet would be publicly known.
LISTEN: Provincial government unveils electoral reform referendum questions
“To maintain my actual and perceived neutrality throughout this referendum process, I have recused myself from all Cabinet and caucus debate and discussions regarding all aspects of the referendum,” writes Eby in a letter submitted to cabinet alongside the recommended questions. “To enhance the level of transparency around decision-making respecting the referendum, I have also taken the step of making this report and my recommendations publicly available prior to transmitting the report to you.”
On the first question, British Columbians can only vote for one option and the winner needs 50 per cent of the vote plus one.
On the second question, British Columbians can rank the three choices or select one, two or three options. If no voting system receives more than 50 per cent of first-choice votes, then the system that receives the fewest first-choice votes is dropped from further consideration.
If the outcome of the referendum is to stay with the current system, then the second question is moot.
The recommendations come out of an extensive public consultation that saw 91,725 questionnaires completed on the issue of electoral reform. Eby says this is the largest public consultation that the British Columbia government has ever conducted.
“The referendum legislation passed last fall requires that the result of the referendum is binding on government and therefore voters will know that if a majority support moving forward with proportional representation one of the three models on the ballot will be adopted,” said Eby.
Eby has submitted a 106 page report to the cabinet for consideration. The report recommends the referendum campaign period kicks off on July 1, with the referendum taking place between October 22, 2018 and November 30, 2018 and will be run by Elections BC.
“We are asking Elections BC to do a very specific job which is provide British Columbians with the information they need to make a choice,” said Eby. “I expect to hear from them about what they need to make this possible.”
One of the big concerns with proportional representation is that the system allows for fringe parties that carry extreme views to have influence over who governs. In order to address that concern, Eby is recommending that a political party must get 5 per cent of the vote province wide in order to qualify to win seats.
“The people who voted for that party would not be sending a representative to the legislative assembly under that recommendation,” said Eby. ”
Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson claimed the government “is stacking the deck in a rigged game” in favour of changing the electoral system.
“This is proving to be alphabet soup where they are proposing all sorts of systems that no one has heard of to confuse British Columbians away from the democracy we so value,” said Wilkinson. “You will notice they have introduced this a day before the legislature rises which is a sleazy and manipulative step they have taken to avoid public debate on this issue.”
As part of the recommendations, designated referendum proponent and opponent groups will be selected and provided with $500,000 in public funding.
Eby is also recommending that if the result of the 2018 referendum is the adoption of a PR voting system, a second referendum would be held after two provincial general elections in which voters would be asked to keep the current system or go back to the old first past the post system.
Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau is in favour of changing the electoral system and thinks the recommendations prepare the voter for the fall referendum.
“I have enormous faith in the electorate of BC,” said Furstenau. “I don’t think that when you look at 80 per cent of OECD countries operate under a proportional system, we don’t expect that citizens can’t understand things like a voting system.”