British Columbia electoral reform referendum, 2005
A referendum was held in the Canadian province of British Columbia on May 17, 2005 to determine whether or not to adopt the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. It was held in conjunction with the British Columbia general election, 2005.
Proposed changes to the electoral system
The current electoral system in BC is Single Member Plurality, otherwise known as First Past The Post (FPTP). In this system, a voter gives one vote to one candidate in one electoral district. Each political party runs one candidate in each electoral district. The candidate with the most votes in the electoral district wins and is charged with representing all voters in the electoral district.
The proposed electoral system is a customised version of Single Transferable Vote (STV) called BC-STV. In this system, each electoral district will have between 2 and 7 seats depending on its population and geographic size. The anticipated outcome would be proportional representation while avoiding the use of party lists, something the Citizen's Assembly felt would be unpopular with British Columbians.
The question asked was: Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform?
The final result of the referendum was:
|Option||Popular Vote||Districts carried|
Sixty percent of the number that voted is 1,020,681; thus, the referendum failed by 39,262 votes.
The unexpectedly high popularity of the voting reform surprised many. The referendum campaign received little media attention, as both parties were officially neutral on the proposed change. Few special interest groups likewise expressed any interest in the campaign, and as a result supportive and critical advertisements and promotions were largely conducted only by a couple of small "ad hoc" citizen groups.
Among critical voices, many argued the STV system was simply too confusing to understand. Indeed, at least two-thirds of British Columbians admitted having "little or no" knowledge of how the proposed STV system would operate in practice. Yet despite this, the measure gained a 57.6% approval in the province on voting day. Many pundits have since interpreted the high endorsement as an indication that British Columbians are simply desperate for any change to the electoral / political system in the province, and thus are likely to view any reform as being an improvement over the status quo.
Upon re-election, Premier Gordon Campbell pledged that there was a clear mandate for electoral reform, and although the STV referendum did not pass, he would explore other possible voting reform options during his second term. While some in the electoral reform community expressed concern that this might lead to the imposition of a "watered-down" and/or partisanly-stilted system by the Legislature, in the Speech from the Throne the following September, Campbell indicated that the referendum would be rerun in conjunction with the B.C. municipal elections in November 2008 with better financing and a completed set of proposed boundaries. BC-STV would remain intact as the proposed alternative to FPTP. More controversially, the 60% threshold would also remain in place. In April 2006, the date was changed so that the referendum would take place with the next provincial election in May 2009.
- September 20, 2002 — The government appoints former British Columbia Liberal Party leader Gordon Gibson to recommend the structure of the Citizens' Assembly.
- April 28, 2003 — The Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform is created by motion of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.
- December 10, 2004 — The final report of the Assembly, recommending BC-STV, is presented to the government.
- January 15, 2005 — The Democratic Reform British Columbia party is created out of a merger of the British Columbia Democratic Coalition and the All Nations Party of British Columbia. The party also boasts the support of key elements of the Reform Party of British Columbia. One of this party's main goals is the support of BC-STV.
- Ipsos-Reid (commissioned by the Victoria Times-Colonist): May 14, 2005 — Yes 47%, No 35%, Undecided 13%, Will Not Vote 3%
- Ipsos-Reid: April 30, 2005 — Yes 42%, No 38%
- Nordic Research Group: April 28, 2005 — Yes 32%, No 16%, Undecided 52%
- British Columbia Government. Final Referendum Results. Available at: http://www.elections.bc.ca/elections/ge2005/finalrefresults.htm. Accessed on: October 27, 2007.