‘Electoral reform is finished’: referendum defeat dooms reformers’ hopes for foreseeable future

With all the votes counted, the answer was clear — and it wasn’t close.

With 42.6 per cent of registered votes casting a ballot, the final tally in B.C.’s referendum on electoral reform found no appetite for a switch to proportional representation (PR).

A strong majority, 61.3 per cent, voted to retain the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system.

That result prompted Deputy Premier Carole James to declare the concept dead in the water for the foreseeable future.

“I think electoral reform is finished,” James told reporters Thursday.

“I think people have engaged in the process. As I said, we committed to making sure the public had a voice, and from our perspective we move on.”

While Thursday’s result was decisive in itself, it comes on the heels of two previous failed referendums on changing the voting system in scarcely more than a decade.

In 2005 and 2009, B.C. voted on adopting a system known as the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which was selected by a non-partisan citizens’ assembly.

In 2005, a majority of voters (57.69 per cent) voted for the change — not enough to meet the minimum 60 per cent threshold the province had required for it to pass.

In 2009, voters were emphatic in rejecting the system, with 60.9 voting to keep first-past-the-post — a result that virtually mirrored 2018’s results.

Political scientist Stewart Prest said that three-peat suggests voters have had their fill of the debate over how politicians are elected.

“This is the third time we’ve had this question asked, and it’s possible people have thought it over and settled on an option and are ready to move on,” Prest told Global News.

“It seems like the question did not capture the interest of a lot of people, particularly in the Metro area.

“It’s a pretty definitive result for the first-past-the-post option.”

While there were pockets of strong support for proportional representation, particularly on Vancouver Island, and in parts of Vancouver and the Kootenays, elsewhere in the province there didn’t appear to be much division over the matter — suggesting the debate is settled for the time being.

“The results are actually fairly consistent all across the province,” said BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson.

“They vary from extremely strongly supportive (of FPTP) in the northern part of the province to very strongly supporting in parts of Surrey and Richmond through Vancouver, so this is a province-wide conclusion.”

Even the BC Green Party, the strongest champions of proportional representation who had made the vote a condition of its power-sharing deal with the governing BC NDP, were philosophical about the loss on Thursday, acknowledging their dream was dead — at least for now.

“We are not going to be raising this issue anytime soon. The issue of PR clearly has had three different attempts here in B.C.,” said Green Leader Andrew Weaver.

“The message clearly right now [is people] do not want another referendum on this topic in the near future. We will see what happens in the rest of Canada, and maybe at another date well into the future there might be a revisit. But certainly not in our cards anytime soon.”

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