British Columbia

NDP announces B.C. referendum on proportional representation

Attorney General David Eby says voters will receive their mail-in ballots in fall 2018. A vote of 50 per cent plus one will be needed to approve change from first-past-the-post system.

Attorney General David Eby says voters will receive mail-in ballots before November 2018

B.C. Attorney General David Eby, right, campaigning in May, 2017. His party promised to hold a referendum on a new voting system for the province. (David Eby/Twitter)

Delivering on a promise to give British Columbians a choice in how future elections will be decided, Attorney General David Eby has announced plans for a referendum on proportional representation.

"Today we have taken the first step toward asking British Columbians if they want a change from the current voting system," said Eby.

"We are taking steps to modernize our democracy today, while giving people the power to decide the future of our most fundamental democratic institution."

Under proportional representation, voters elect representatives in proportion to the way they voted, not the current, first-past-the-post system where the candidate with the most votes wins.

Mail in referendum

Legislation introduced on Wednesday will have voters submit their referendum ballot by mail.

The ballots will be sent out in fall 2018, for a vote completed before the end of November.

Approval for a change will need 50 per cent plus one vote province-wide and if the referendum passes, the new system would be enacted before the next provincial election, scheduled for 2021.

In the meantime Eby says the government hopes to engage voters with debate and discussion about the potential change to how they elect MLAs.

"All British Columbians will be encouraged to engage in this process," said a release from Eby's office.

All feedback received through the engagement process will be summarized and put in a report that will include a recommendation of suggested questions for the referendum ballot.

During the election campaign, the NDP promised to hold a referendum, saying the current system, "gives all of the power to make decisions to a party that doesn't even get 50 per cent of the votes."

The Greens campaigned on a promise to introduce a system of proportional representation. Party Leader Andrew Weaver said the exact form of electoral change would be a matter of negotiation.

Seats for party status, election day

On Wednesday, the province also introduced legislation to amend the Constitution Act to reduce the number of seats required for recognized political party status from four to two.

The legislation will also change the fixed date election to a Saturday in October from a Tuesday in May. Eby says the change will allow for a January budget to be debated and passed.

In 2005, 57 per cent of people voted in favour of a single-transferable vote system of proportional representation, which fell short of the 60 per cent threshold established by then-premier Gordon Campbell.

Four years later, voters were asked to vote on electoral reform but the provincial government actively campaigned against the proposal. The initiative received only 39 per cent support.

There are several formats of proportional representation voting.

They include elections where voters rank candidates (single-transferable vote) or where a vote is cast for an individual and a second vote is cast for a party (Mixed-member proportional).

Eby says regardless of the referendum results, any election called before July 1, 2021 would be conducted using the current first-past-the-post system.