Top 5 reasons the BC referendum rules are fair

It’s on! BC’s Attorney General David Eby has just announced the proposed rules for the upcoming postal referendum on voting reform this fall between Oct. 22nd - Nov. 30th.[1]    

After months of waiting, we finally know what the question on the ballot will be, when we’ll get to vote, and how the whole thing will be funded.

How referendums are designed really matters.  
If we’ve learned anything from working on electoral reform nationally, its that process matters, and a fair process is key to having a shot at winning proportional representation.  

The Leadnow community has engaged with the BC government’s process since day 1.  Together, thousands of us, along with a record number of British Columbians, filled out the government’s online survey.[2]  We consulted with experts, movement allies, and Leadnow members to craft recommendations that we submitted to the government.   

Now, we’re ready to hit the ground running to help win proportional representation for BC.  It’s not going to be easy, but we think we have a shot.  

Here’s our take on the top 5 reasons why the BC referendum rules are fair.

1) Two questions on the ballot
Voters in BC will be mailed a ballot in October, with two questions on it.  The first question will ask if we want first-past-the-post or proportional representation.  The second question offers 3 credible options for possible proportional systems we could have if the majority of us vote for PR in question 1.  

Voters can leave the second question blank, or rank their favorite voting system from first to third, and will be calculated with an instant runoff.

The questions will look like this [3]:

  1. Which should British Columbia use for elections to the Legislative Assembly?
    • The current First Past the Post voting system
    • A proportional representation voting system
  2. If British Columbia adopts a proportional representation voting system, which of the following voting systems do you prefer?
    • Dual Member Proportional (DMP)  
    • Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
    • Rural-Urban PR

By giving voters two optional questions, this referendum will engage both voters who just want to vote for change (the first question), and build consensus among voters who want to weigh in on what that change should look like (the second question). It takes the decision of choosing a new voting system out of the parties’ hands, and puts it directly into the hands of British Columbians.

2) Banning big money
The referendum will be subject to the same rules as the Elections Act, which means there will be a ban on union and corporate donations, and a cap on individual donations at $1,200.[4]  Third parties will have a spending cap of $200,000, and Elections BC will select a designated pro-PR and anti-PR organisation that will be given $500,000 to run their campaigns.

Considering the NO side is backed by political elite interests and backroom lobbyists whose pockets run deep, having clear spending limits will help level the playing field for both sides.

3) Indigenous representation recommendation
73% of indigenous respondents who participated in the government’s online survey said they didn’t feel adequately represented in the Legislature.  

The Attorney General has made a specific recommendation on Indigenous Representation:

That, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, a legislative committee be appointed to examine ways to improve the representation of Indigenous people in the British Columbia Legislature, including issues of accessibility and inclusion and the issue of creating one or more designated seats for Indigenous people in the Legislative Assembly. [5]  

This helps to ensure that regardless of the outcome of this referendum, addressing the underrepresentation of Indigenous people in the BC government will be addressed.

4) A chance to try before we buy 

If we win proportional representation for our province, voters will get a chance to ‘try out’ the new system over 2 election cycles before we buy it. After two election cycles, we’ll get to vote in a second referendum on whether or not we want this new system. The best way to understand a voting system is to actually use it in an election, and this second referendum gives us a chance to do just that, and make tweaks or changes along the way.  

5) Three good options to choose from

All three systems proposed for the ballot are great options.  They are proportional systems that:

  • retain local representation so no region loses their MLA
  • require that a party receive at least 5% of the vote province wide to be able to win a seat, which will prevent fringe parties from getting into the Legislature
  • will maintain roughly the same amount of MLAs that we currently have now

No matter which system BC voters choose, the amount of seats and power a party gets will depend on how many votes they get - no party will be able to have 100% of the power with less than 40% of the vote.

One key piece missing in the proposed rules, is how voting in the referendum will be accessible to all British Columbians. Having only a mail-in option privileges people with stable housing, and this could leave lower income people, students and young people out.  We look forward to hearing from the BC government and Elections BC on how they plan to ensure voting is as accessible as possible.

Want to get involved with Leadnow’s people powered plan to help win this referendum? Take the pledge to vote for proportional representation in BC: and we’ll be in touch with updates, resources, and ways to take action in your community.