A brief introduction to electoral reform

File graphic by Mary Robertson

As you may already be aware, 2018 is set to be a big year for B.C. politics. Between Oct. 22 and Nov. 30, the provincial government of British Columbia will hold a referendum on whether the province should continue with the current voting method of “First-Past-The-Post” (FPTP), or switch to a system based on proportional representation.

When the dust settled following the 2017 B.C. provincial election, the Christy Clark–led BC Liberal Party stood victorious with 43 seats in the 87-seat Legislative Assembly. This win was a tenuous one, however, as the opposing New Democratic Party (NDP) held 41 seats. In order to force a vote of confidence and be given the chance to form government, New Democrat leader John Horgan approached BC Green Party leader and former UVic professor Dr. Andrew Weaver, with whom he reached a deal in which the Greens agreed to support the NDP with their three seats in confidence and budget votes while the NDP agreed to support key aspects of the Green agenda. This is known as a Confidence and Supply Agreement. This gave the parties a combined 44 seats in the house, allowing them to pass a vote of non-confidence against the Liberals, and form government with Green support.

One of the key agreements reached between the two parties centred around the issue of voting reform. In their Confidence and Supply Agreement, both parties expressed their support for the introduction of proportional representation as the new method of voting within British Columbia. Both parties stood to benefit from the switch; a proportional method of voting would allow the NDP to form government more often in a province traditionally dominated by the Liberals, while the Greens would receive more seats due to the distribution of seats under proportional voting being based on percentage of vote received as opposed to ridings won. This would result in them having a louder voice in Parliament.

On Oct. 4, 2017, the government introduced the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act (Bill 6), which mandated that the referendum would be completed no later than Nov. 30, 2018. In February 2018, the government concluded a campaign initiated by the Attorney-General to educate the voting public — a campaign which consisted of both online and mail-out elements . The government later announced that the referendum would commence on Oct. 22, and conclude Nov. 30.

The Martlet will be releasing a series of articles describing each voting method in detail, how these various voting methods impact your personal vote, and the final results of a provincial election.

The referendum will be completed through mailed packages to all registered British Columbia voters. The ballot will contain two questions. The first will ask the voter if they would prefer to either keep the current system or to adopt a form of proportional representation. The second will ask pro-PR voters the form in which they would prefer it took: Dual-Member, Mixed-Member, or Rural-Urban.

Elections BC urges all voters to make sure that their voting information is up to date, either through their website at elections.bc.ca/ovr, or by calling 1-800-661-8683. All voters will receive referendum packages by mail around Oct. 22, which will include the ballot, a secrecy sleeve for the completed ballot, instructions on how to mark the ballot, and a certificate of authenticity.

If you are seeking further information about the choices that will be available in the referendum, please stay tuned for the next installment, which will focus on the differences between “first-past-the-post” and proportional representation, as well as for the rest of the Martlet’s continuing coverage of the referendum. We will be releasing a series of articles describing each voting method in detail, how these various voting methods impact your personal vote, and the final results of a provincial election.

Happy voting!

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