The results are in, and B.C. has voted to keep using first-past-the-post as the method for choosing our political leaders.
Just over 61 per cent of participating voters opted to stay with the first-past-the-post system, Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman reported Thursday. Low returns dogged the referendum through most of the month of October, but the final turnout was 42.6 per cent ballots returned.
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.
In the Penticton riding, there were 20,873 valid ballots returned, with 63. 17 per cent voting in favour of keeping FPTP, mirroring the provincial average. FPTP got even more support in Boundary Similkameen, with 68.68 per cent of 15,781 votes.
“It is always hard to advocate for change, because there is always fear around that change,” said Margaret Holm, one of the core team members for Fair Vote South Okanagan-Similkameen. “A whole lot of people got involved this time and we’ve raised consciousness about proportional representation. I don’t regret how hard we worked.”
Holm said she is disappointed by the results, but hasn’t given up on the idea of the B.C. voting system “evolving.”
“It is going to come around again,” said Holm, noting that Quebec is planning to introduce proportional representation legislation and other provinces are holding their own debates.
“I think it is going to be part of that dialogue about democracy in Canada. It is not going to go away.”
Dan Ashton, Liberal MLA for the Penticton riding, said the results reflect the people of the province speaking out, and a flawed process behind the referendum.
“This is the people of B.C. getting what they fought for,” said Ashton. “If it had been run properly, perhaps the outcome would have been closer.”
Opposition critics blasted the NDP for giving Attorney General David Eby the task of developing the options, rather than a citizens’ assembly as was the case with referenda in 2005 and 2009 that offered a single transferable ballot system and were defeated.
This referendum also differed from earlier ones by having no minimum turnout and no regional weighting to ensure that urban areas in the southwest didn’t decide the issue.
The referendum cost about $15 million to stage, with more than four million ballot packages mailed out to registered voters.
Premier John Horgan promoted B.C.’s electoral reform options as a way to improve voter participation. In a year-end interview with Black Press, Horgan said the referendum turnout of just over 40 per cent is a valid response to a proposal to change the system for at least the next two provincial elections.
“Democracy is about showing up,” Horgan said. “I’m pleased that we got 41-42 per cent voter turnout for a mid-term mail-in referendum.”
B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver wanted the province to legislate a change without a referendum. B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson has attacked the referendum, saying it was concocted by the NDP government and leaves too many questions unanswered until after the result is known.
“I campaigned to have a referendum,” Horgan said. “My Green colleagues preferred to just implement proportional representation. I wasn’t prepared to do that, and I have every confidence in the wisdom of B.C. voters and will live by the decision that they send us.”
— With files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press legislature reporter