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Vote’s in the Mail: BC Elections Referendum Coming Fall 2018

Wording and campaign funding for electoral reform vote remain undecided as government pledges public consultation.

Andrew MacLeod 4 Oct

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The promised referendum on electoral reform will be held via a mail-in ballot in the fall of 2018, according to legislation the British Columbia government introduced Wednesday.

The Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act says the chief electoral officer will conduct the referendum, similar to how the HST referendum in 2011 and the Metro Vancouver transit plebiscite in 2015 were held.

“The bill we tabled today is enabling legislation,” Attorney General David Eby said. He added the exact question to be put to voters and how to fund campaigns for and against the proposal must still be decided. “There are many questions that are not answered.”

The government wants to hear from interest groups and the public on what they want on the ballot, Eby said. “Beginning this fall, there will be extensive consultation with British Columbians.” He said he hopes a consensus will emerge, but added, “I don’t want to pre-judge that process.”

Eby said the government chose a mail-in ballot because it would likely have larger participation and be cheaper to administer than the previously proposed option of holding a vote in conjunction with municipal elections.

The announcement of the legislation said: “Government will promote active debate and discussion by providing information about electoral systems to voters through public engagement in the months ahead. All British Columbians will be encouraged to engage in this process, including political parties, organizations and individuals.”

According to a government backgrounder, specific details of “the engagement process will be announced in the coming weeks in a formal launch.”

The results of the feedback will be provided to Eby in a report that will include a recommendation for a question or questions to include on the referendum ballot. If the referendum passes with a vote of at least 50 per cent plus one, the new system will be put in place for any election held after July 1, 2021.

After the May election, the Green Party held the balance of power and made moving toward a proportional representation electoral system a condition of its support. The NDP had campaigned on holding a referendum on changing the system.

“The important thing is people want their votes to count,” said Sonia Furstenau, the Green Party MLA for Cowichan Valley and critic for electoral reform. “People want to be able to vote with hope and optimism, instead of what’s been happening in B.C. is people vote out of fear.”

Interim Liberal leader Rich Coleman said last week in a speech to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention that he opposes changing the voting system.

A second piece of legislation introduced today reduces the number of seats required for official party status from four to two, which will give the Green Party caucus official status. It also moves the fixed election date to the third Saturday in October.


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