December 21, 2018 6:47 pm
Updated: December 22, 2018 1:52 am

COMMENTARY: Why the NDP should be worried about the electoral reform referendum results

WATCH: B.C. voters overwhelmingly reject proportional representation


A deep dive into the results of the referendum on electoral reform shows just how big a defeat it actually was for those advocating a change in our voting system.

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The idea of moving to some kind of proportional representation (PR) model not only lost on the province-wide vote — 61.3 per cent voted to retain the current first-past-the-post system and just 38.9 per cent voted for PR — but it also lost in almost every region of the province.

In fact, just four ridings outside of the City of Vancouver and the Capital Region voted for PR. That’s right: four (out of the 69 ridings that exist outside those areas).

Further to that, when the 16 ridings overall that supported PR are factored out, the gap in the vote in the rest of the province widens to about 70 per cent to 30 per cent.

WATCH: What does the PR referendum defeat mean for the Greens and BC NDP?

Another measuring stick: PR got the support of a little more than 16 per cent of all eligible voters.

As well, the NDP government has to be more than a bit troubled by the depth of this defeat. Just 13 of its MLAs (out of 40) were able to deliver their ridings to the pro-PR side.

Even more unsettling for the NDP, perhaps, is the fact that it lost particularly badly in the very ridings considered most responsible for delivering them it into power: support for PR in Delta North, Maple Ridge-Mission, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows and Surrey Panorama was below a paltry 32 per cent.

READ MORE: ‘Electoral reform is finished’: referendum defeat dooms reformers’ hopes for foreseeable future

It is clear that many NDP supporters are not supporters of PR and are, in fact, decidedly against it. Which raises the question: why did the party support this referendum in the first place?

The answer lies in the CASA, or the “confidence and supply agreement,” signed between the NDP and the BC Green Party that allows the NDP to form a government. That agreement stipulated that a referendum on whether to switch to proportional representation had to be held this fall.

So the NDP hitched its wagon to a decidedly cranky horse that bolted downhill. It had best unyoke itself from this issue as fast as possible. Finance Minister Carole James pretty much did that after the results were announced, declaring that electoral reform was essentially “dead” in this province.

WATCH: Proportional representation defeated in referendum

But while the NDP licks its wounds over this debacle, it will no doubt recover to the point where this referendum will not be much of a doorstep issue during the next election campaign.

However, there is a lesson for the party here: be careful how close you get to the Green Party and some of its positions (there is a reason why the party only got a measly 17 per cent of the popular vote in the last election: its platform is not that popular with the vast majority of voters).

Meanwhile, the Greens have been left gasping for air. They are decidedly on the wrong side of an issue that has little support, and its political future remains hazy at best.

Switching to a PR system would have been manna from heaven for the Greens. Their seat count would undoubtedly have increased significantly, likely to the point of having real political power in a coalition government.

WATCH: B.C. votes to keep FPTP voting system

That’s now not going to happen. The first-past-the-post system generally leads to an election outcome that rewards so-called “big tent” political parties like the B.C. Liberals and the NDP, which are essentially coalitions of competing interests.

It may have its flaws and there are clearly areas in need of improvement, but FPTP is here to stay. British Columbians have made that point, loud and clear.

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