With concerns growing over low voter engagement in B.C.’s ongoing electoral reform referendum, Premier John Horgan won’t set a turnout number that would make the process legitimate.
Horgan never specifically answered when asked multiple times Thursday about setting a threshold.
“Certainly I want to see as much participation as possible. We have seen referenda in the past that has seen turnout of 40, 50 per cent,” he said. “There were some Canada Post issues at the beginning. Now that the debate is over I am confident the votes will be flooding in.”
Latest numbers from Elections BC show that so far 7.4 per cent of ballots have been returned province-wide. No matter what the turnout, all it will take is 50 per cent of the votes plus one to change or keep the electoral system.
Before posting the numbers online, Elections BC must receive and process the ballots. There are some areas with low turnout numbers — like Delta, Surrey and the Tri Cities — that just started receiving their ballots last week.
“During election campaigns people start focusing their minds at the end of the campaign. And I think that is what is happening here,” Horgan said.
The low turnout and the ongoing postal dispute have led the No BC Proportional Representation Society to ask Elections B.C. to extend the deadline to return ballots. Currently, ballots must be returned by 4:30 p.m. on November 30.
“We are voting on a fundamental aspect of our democracy – the system by which we choose our elected representatives and our government – that should not be changed by a tiny fraction of voters in a close result,” No PR Society head Bill Tieleman said.
“The last two referenda on electoral systems in 2005 and 2009 and the Harmonized Sales Tax referendum in 2011 all had turnouts above 50 per cent – but we are nowhere near that with just two weeks left to go.”
Tieleman says Elections BC has the right to extend the deadline on its own authority and should do so immediately.
The electoral systems referendum in 2005 had a turnout of 61.4 per cent, the electoral systems referendum in 2009 had a 55.1 per cent turnout, the Harmonized Sales Tax referendum in 2011 had a turnout of 54.7 per cent and the Metro Vancouver transit funding plebiscite in 2015 had a turnout of 48.6 per cent.
“We’ve had rotating Canada Post workers strikes and an abysmal turnout to date. Perhaps it’s time for Elections BC to exercise its authority and ensure a reasonable return rate in this referendum,” Tieleman said.
This comes as the campus coordinators for ‘Pro Rep is Lit’ — Vote PR BC’s province-wide youth campaign — are urging students who haven’t received their electoral reform ballot to order one online by November 16 and get it in the mail no later than November 23, to ensure their votes are counted.
“Young British Columbians are overwhelmingly in favour of proportional representation, but that won’t matter unless we get our ballots in to Elections BC by the November 30 deadline,” said Simka Marshall, Vote PR BC field director for Pro Rep is Lit and a student at Douglas College.
“At this stage, our campus campaign is all about mobilizing the youth vote, and that means making sure young Pro Rep supporters have a ballot in their hands and in the mail before it’s too late.”
Some students still don’t have a ballot because they aren’t on the voters list or are away at school and didn’t receive the ballot sent to their home address.
“Young people are turned off by politics as usual, and for good reason,” Vote PR BC spokesperson Maria Dobrinskaya said.
“They don’t see themselves reflected in government at all, and they don’t see politicians effectively dealing with the complex issues they’re facing, like finding a good-paying job, or overwhelming personal and student debt. Pro Rep will change that, and give young people a stronger voice in government than they’ve ever had before.”
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