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Proportional representation backers outspent opponents by nearly $500K in failed B.C. referendum

Voters were asked if they wished to keep the current first-past-the-post system or switch to one of three systems of proportional representation.
Voters were asked if they wished to keep the current first-past-the-post system or switch to one of three systems of proportional representation. Simon Little / Global News

Newly released financing reports regarding B.C.’s failed referendum on proportional representation (PR) show that opponents of the change were outspent by nearly half a million dollars.

According to Elections B.C., the official No side in the campaign actually spent $695,909 — more than the Yes campaign, which spent $652,729.

Registered third-party opponents — including the B.C. Liberals, who spent $173,050 in advertising during the campaign — brought total spending in opposition to PR to just over $870,000.

READ MORE: British Columbians reject proportional representation, vote to stay with first-past-the-post

However, while the official Yes campaign — known as the Make Every Voter Count Society — may have been directly outspent by its opponents, its spending, combined with advertising by a variety of other independent pro-PR groups, amounted to more than $1.33 million shelled out in support of the initiative.

That included $175,472 in spending by the B.C. Greens, $196,146 by the B.C. NDP, $192,385 by Fair Vote Canada B.C. and $84,143 by the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.

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Under Elections B.C. rules, those registered third-party advertisers were banned from co-ordinating with the official Yes and No sides in the referendum.

WATCH: B.C. voters overwhelmingly reject proportional representation

BC voters overwhelmingly reject proportional representation
BC voters overwhelmingly reject proportional representation

The financing reports also detail how the No campaign out-fundraised its opponents.

The No B.C. Proportional Representation Society was able to raise $196,348 from donors, compared to $148,695 brought in by the Yes side.

READ MORE: British Columbians reject proportional representation, vote to stay with first-past-the-post

The No campaign dominated when it came to higher-value donations, with more than $172,000 coming from donations over $250, many of them the maximum $1,200 contribution, versus just $24,000 in donations under $250.

The  Yes campaign was more successful in soliciting small donations, with just under $80,000 coming from donations under $250, while just $68,000 came from larger-value donations.

Both groups were awarded $500,000 of public money and spent nearly all of it.

READ MORE: ‘PR is lit’ or ‘a dog’s breakfast’: Feisty debate on electoral reform offers no clear winner

The reports also give an inside look at how each official group spent to promote its cause.

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Both campaigns focused heavily on internet advertising, spending more than $350,000 each.

WATCH: Proportional representation for dummies

Proportional Representation for Dummies
Proportional Representation for Dummies

The No campaign also bombarded the airwaves, spending nearly $180,000 on radio and television ads and a further amount of nearly $50,000 on newspaper and magazine ads.

The Yes campaign, in comparison, spent a meagre $1,890 on radio and TV and less than $8,000 on print ads.

READ MORE: Proportional Representation for Dummies: A electoral reform referendum cheat sheet

By contrast, the Yes campaign put more than $80,000 into canvassing in person and by phone, while the No side dedicated about $11,700 to canvassing.

B.C. voters definitively rejected a switch to proportional representation in the fall mail-in referendum, with 61.3 per cent voting to keep the current system.

About 42 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the referendum, the third vote asking B.C. about changing its voting system since 2005.