B.C. to choose between 4 systems for electoral reform referendum

The question was announced by Attorney General David Eby after months of speculation.

Ballot will have 2 questions: whether to stick with status quo, and which of 3 PR models they prefer

Attorney General David Eby announced Wednesday he has recommended to cabinet that voters be asked whether they would like to keep the current first-past-the-post voting system, or move to a proportional representation voting system. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

British Columbians will likely choose between four options, spread over two questions, in a referendum over what electoral system they would like to use in the future.

After months of feedback and deliberation, Attorney General David Eby has recommended to cabinet that voters be asked whether they would like to keep the current first-past-the-post voting system, or move to a proportional representation voting system.

People will also be asked in a separate question which of three models of proportional representation they would prefer:

  1. Dual Member Proportional, where most ridings in B.C. are doubled in size, and people are asked to vote for a pair of candidates from each party. The first seats in each district are won by the first candidate of the party that receives the most votes, while the second seat is allocated based on province-wide voting results. 
  2. Mixed Member Proportional, which combines the current method of electoral districts with MLAs chosen by parties based on the proportion of the vote in different regions. Most electoral districts would increase in size.
  3. Rural-Urban Proportional Representation, where MLAs in urban and semi-urban areas of the province are chosen using the single transferable vote (a ranked ballot system), and MLAs in rural areas of the province are chosen by a mixed member proportional system. 
Eby is recommending the vote take place by mail-in ballot between October 22 and November 30. (CBC)

If more than 50 per cent vote in favour of proportional representation on the first question, whichever of the three systems has the most support on the second question — where people can vote for their first, second and third preferences — will be adopted.

Eby is recommending the vote take place by mail-in ballot between October 22 and November 30, with advertisers having a donation limit of $200,000 once the campaign begins on July 1. Elections BC would be in charge of all education materials in the referendum, and $500,000 each would be given to groups for and against the referendum. 

Independent commission to decide boundaries

A number of the design elements and details will be determined by an all-party legislative committee if British Columbians vote to change their electoral system. The boundaries of new electoral districts would be determined by an independent boundaries commission. 

Eby said that was due to the number of options British Columbians were being provided with, along with the government's self-imposed deadline of having any new electoral system ready by 2021.

"The realities of that work, in terms of having a system in place, we could not have an electoral boundaries commission complete that process … and meet that timeline," he said.

"If people feel they have enough information to vote [for PR], they will, and if they feel they don't have enough information, they will vote accordingly as well.

However, under any system, there would be no more than eight extra MLAs, and no region of B.C. would have fewer seats. No political party would win seats unless they got more than five per cent of the province-wide or region-wide vote, depending on what system is chosen. 

The recommendations will need to be approved by cabinet, but Eby was confident it would happen in short order.

"It's very clear to me that [both groups] are ready to go," he said. 

"I would like this process … to begin as soon as possible." 

About the Author

Justin McElroy

@j_mcelroy

Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.