Premier John Horgan says he’s not altering the rules of his government’s referendum halfway through, because the change he is making to proportional representation is one all three B.C. political parties agree on.
Horgan said last week he is personally opposed to “closed lists” chosen by parties to select MLAs to fill out their province-wide share of the vote, after an election under proportional representation. This week, with voting half over, he added that he will instruct NDP MLAs to support open lists, which allow voters to choose MLAs directly by whatever system emerges.
Closed lists are opposed by all three parties in the B.C. legislature, Horgan said.
“So I don’t believe I’ve amended anything other than to put forward what is self-evident,” he said. “Closed lists aren’t in the interests of British Columbians.”
Horgan also shrugged off concerns about the low response to more than three million mail-in ballots, which had reached only 7.4 per cent by Thursday with less than two weeks remaining for them to be received at Elections B.C. He said there was some impact from rotating strikes by Canada Post employees, and avoided the question of how high the turnout needs to be to be legitimate.
“Certainly I want to see as much participation as possible,” Horgan said. “We’ve had mail-in referenda in the past that have seen in the neighbourhood of 40 to 50 per cent response.”
The No B.C. Proportional Representation Society, the official ‘no’ group funded by the government, cited postal lags and low turnout in its call Thursday to extend the deadline and declare a minimum turnout. Elections B.C. has the option of moving the deadline past Nov. 30 if the postal dispute affects the result, and the NDP cabinet retains control over what happens after the result is in.
“Surely a turnout of at least 50 per cent plus one of the eligible voters actually casting ballots must also be accepted before such significant change can be introduced,” said Bill Tieleman, president of the No society.
B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said the low turnout is a signal from the public.
“British Columbians have not been persuaded by John Horgan’s little game to change our voting system, and they’re showing that by not returning their ballots,” Wilkinson said. “Horgan needs to understand that British Columbians are smart enough to know they’re being taken to the cleaners.”
Wilkinson said ruling out “closed lists” after 200,000 people have voted is just one of the indications that the NDP and B.C. Green Party will control the committee that decides how the referendum result will be implemented.
“John Horgan is pretending to do us all a favour by revealing one of his 23 cards, when he actually controls the whole game,” Wilkinson said. “If he would be more candid in what he’s doing, people would have more trust in this process, and the wise people of British Columbia would be able to make an informed decision.”
During their televised debate Nov. 8, Wilkinson repeatedly pressed Horgan to give details such as the total number of MLAs, the number for each multi-member constituency and how extra MLAs would be selected and distributed.