Group opposing change to B.C.'s voting system seeks court injunction

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association is in B.C. Supreme Court arguing for a delay of the referendum on electoral reform, saying the process is rushed and complicated.

Business group wants to delay referendum on electoral reform

If a court challenge to the electoral reform process fails, voters will cast their ballots by mail in late October. (CBC)

Lawyers for the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) were in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday arguing for a delay of the province's referendum on electoral reform, saying the process is rushed and complicated.

The group has sued the government in an effort to get the court to force a new set of ballot questions and longer timeline, but before that court hearing can take place, ICBA lawyers are asking for an injunction to put the referendum and its campaigns — both for and against — on hold.

The business group's refrain, both by its lawyers inside the courtroom and by its president, Chris Gardner, is that the three options people will be given are complex and confusing.

"The process has been rushed. The questions are confusing. None of this really makes sense," he said. "The government has limited the debate. There needs to be more discussion, more debate."

ICBA, which represents more than 2,300 businesses, according to Gardner, doesn't oppose a referendum in principle, though he said the group does favour the current first-past-the-post electoral system rather than the three proposed options.

"We're concerned that if we do go down the path of proportional representation without considering it fully, it could lead to instability and uncertainty in government policy," he said, adding that Italy's hybrid system that includes proportional representation leads to frequent elections.

Chris Gardner, Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president, says B.C.'s referendum on electoral reform is too complicated. (Paul Prefontaine/CBC)

Gardner said he would support a process modelled after the 2005 or 2009 referendums on electoral reform. In both cases, voters were given a simple question essentially asking whether they would prefer the existing system or a change to a Single Transferable Vote system.

In the upcoming referendum, voters will be asked whether they want to change the electoral system, and then they'll get a secondary question about which of three choices they prefer, Dual Member, Mixed Member, or Rural-Urban.

The government's lawyers will make their submissions in court on Wednesday.

If ICBA's bid to pause or significantly derail the referendum fails, voters will cast their ballots by mail Oct. 22-Nov. 30.


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Rafferty Baker

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker