B.C. prop rep reaction varies

Referendum shows British Columbians favour current voting system

Three strikes, you’re out.

Vernon-Monashee Liberal MLA Eric Foster used the baseball analogy in reacting to the failed proportional representation mail-in referendum as results were released Thursday.

More than 61 per cent of participating voters opted to stay with the current first-past-the-post system.

RELATED: B.C. referendum rejects proportional representation

The referendum offered a choice between the traditional first-past-the-post voting system, essentially a separate election for each of B.C.’s 87 provincial seats, and three variations on proportional representation to make the number of seats match more closely with the party’s share of the province-wide vote.

Of the three proportional representation options, mixed member proportional was supported by 41.24 per cent of those who chose to answer question two on the mail-in ballot. Dual member proportional and rural-urban proportional each received just under 30 per cent.

Voter turnout was 42.6 per cent.

RELATED: Voting set to start in B.C. proportional representation referendum

It’s the third time such a referendum has failed and Foster believes the issue is now dead in the water.

“I would think so,” he said. “Listening to both the deputy premier and finance minister, when she was asked, she said it’s a done deal and (B.C. Green Party leader) Andrew Weaver said ‘we won’t be visiting it again in the near future,’ so I’d say three strikes you’re out.”

Foster was happy with the outcome.

“We were certainly pleased and appreciative of all the hard work people put into it,” he said. “I guess it tells a story that as much as there was a lot of discussion about this, the people of B.C. just aren’t ready for it.”

Shuswap Liberal MLA Greg Kyllo watched the results come in at his office and let out a loud cheer when he saw the final numbers.

“It’s great news for Shuswap and for B.C., for sure, we are elated,” said Kyllo. “We’ve had three referendums in 13 years now, so hopefully we’ve put this question to bed. It doesn’t appear there’s going to be much interest in looking at another referendum for a long time now.”

Kyllo said the referendum process was tainted from the outset.

“Premier (John) Horgan made three very specific promises prior to last election and subsequent to that,” said Kyllo. “He promised there would be an all-citizens assembly to take the politics out of the question that would actually be put forward. He made a commitment prior to the election that if there was a referendum going forward, it would be simple yes-no question, and, of course, that didn’t happen.

“The other piece is that the premier also committed that the regional threshold would remain in place, which is so important for rural ridings across the promise and, of course, all of those promises were broken. It appeared in order to appease our Green leader, Mr. (Andrew) Weaver, that they stacked the deck in favour to try and push forward for an outcome that would be favourable for the Green Party. I think that’s what most people were offended about.”

The referendum cost about $15 million to stage, with more than four million ballot packages mailed out to registered voters.

Fair Vote Vernon, in conjunction with Fair Vote Canada BC, congratulates the 1.4 million B.C. voters who participated in the referendum.

“While the result is not what we were hoping for, we are pleased that so many voters exercised their right to have a voice on this important decision,” said Gisela Ruckert, president of Fair Vote Canada BC.

“We also recognize the thousands of volunteers who dedicated so much time and energy to talking to their fellow citizens about proportional representation. We are extremely proud of the evidence-based, grassroots campaign we ran and the positive message of a better democracy that we brought to British Columbians.”

Ruckert said the desire to improve democracy in B.C. and in Canada remains strong. Quebec is set to introduce legislation for proportional representation in the spring, PEI voters will have a second referendum, and the federal NDP and Greens are committed to electoral reform.

“We are confident that proportional representation is coming to Canada soon,” said Ruckert. “It would have been a feather in our cap for B.C. to lead the way, of course, but pro rep will get here eventually. Once folks see it in action somewhere else in Canada, the benefits of pro rep will start to outweigh the obstacle posed by unfamiliarity. There are solid reasons why most modern democracies are choosing not to use first-past-the-post — the comparative research is clear, compelling and consistent in favour of pro rep.”

Vote PR BC spokesperson Maria Dobrinskaya said her group is disappointed with the results, but “incredibly proud” of all British Columbians who came together to fight for a more positive politics, and how much impact her organization collectively had.

“We ran a campaign that focused on presenting a positive vision of fairness for all voters, and on showing how a new way of voting would work better for everyone,” said Dobrinskaya. “We’re proud of the positive information campaign we ran. We didn’t resort to fear tactics or distortions, as our opponents did. Instead, we focused on a respectful, positive debate based on facts.

“We knew it would be challenging to help the public learn enough about Pro Rep to feel confident in giving up the status quo, especially with three systems on the ballot. In the end, a majority of voters chose to stick with what they knew. We respect their choice.”

Vote PR BC president Antony Hodgson said the result is clear that many voters continue to feel disenfranchised from and excluded by the current system.

““People have real and legitimate concerns with politics as usual, and it’s incumbent on those who have defended the status quo to work with all the citizens of B.C. to make our democracy more responsive to the needs and will of the people,” said Hodgson.

The BC Conservative Party welcomes the choice of British Columbians to reject electoral reform and maintain the first-past-the-post system.

The system, said Conservative interim deputy leader Justin Greenwood, has sustained British Columbia’s strong democracy for nearly 150 years.

“We firmly believe we will still be a major player in the next election,” said Greenwood. “It is our goal to give British Columbians a true conservative choice on the ballot.”



roger@vernonmorningstar.com

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