File photo/Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

File photo/Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

75% of voters in Cariboo North chose first-past-the-post system

While 61% of participating voters province-wide chose to keep current election system

The B.C. government’s options for proportional representation have been rejected by voters in a mail-in referendum.

Just over 61 per cent of participating voters opted to stay with the first-past-the-post system, Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman reported Thursday.

In the Cariboo North electoral district, just over 75 per cent of voters chose first-past-the-post.

In total, 8,582 people from Cariboo North submitted their ballots. There are 19,949 eligible voters in the riding, making the turnout for Cariboo North – 43 per cent – consistent with the province’s 42.6 per cent turnout.

The referendum offered a choice between the traditional first-past-the-post voting system, essentially a separate election for each of B.C.’s 87 provincial seats, and three variations on proportional representation to make the number of seats match more closely with the party’s share of the province-wide vote.

Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes said the results are a decisive recognition of the concerns people had about changing first-past-the-post.

“I’ve certainly heard from lots of people who were supporting first-past-the-post. There was huge nervousness about a change in rural British Columbia. Our ridings are already geographically so challenged by the size of them that looking at these mega ridings did create a lot of concern,” she told the Observer.

“I think first-past-the-post, while it’s not a perfect system, it is about accountability and it’s about making sure you know who your MLA is,” she continued.

Oakes pointed out that the numbers voting for change in urban B.C. were perhaps not as high as expected.

“Sometimes we focus a lot on rural/urban divide. I think today what I see is a fact that a lot of urban British Columbians recognized concerns that rural voters had about the system, and they reflected it in the vote.”

Oakes believes much analysis will be conducted of the referendum process. She and the B.C. Liberals have criticized the current government for a lack of clear information on the options for proportional representation.

“This was a close to $15 million budget for this process. That’s a huge amount of money for taxpayers. … I’m confident the NDPs and the Greens will be evaluating how effective their process was, and I think there will be some pretty unhappy people because of some of the flaws. They were pretty self-serving through this process and I think the voters rejected it in a very high number. By going out to voters and saying, ‘Just trust us, we’ll figure it out in a back room’ … I think [the referendum result] was a clear rejection, and that people expect transparency from their government.”

READ MORE: MLA urges locals to seek out missing referendum ballots; get educated

Opposition critics blasted the NDP for giving Attorney General David Eby the task of developing the options, rather than a citizens’ assembly as was the case with referenda in 2005 and 2009 that offered a single transferable ballot system and were defeated.

This referendum also differed from earlier ones by having no minimum turnout and no regional weighting to ensure that urban areas in the southwest didn’t decide the issue.

Premier John Horgan promoted B.C.’s electoral reform options as a way to improve voter participation. In a year-end interview with Black Press, Horgan said the referendum turnout of just over 40 per cent is a valid response to a proposal to change the system for at least the next two provincial elections.

“Democracy is about showing up,” Horgan said. “I’m pleased that we got 41-42 per cent voter turnout for a mid-term mail-in referendum.”

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver wanted the province to legislate a change without a referendum. B.C. Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson has attacked the referendum, saying it was concocted by the NDP government and leaves too many questions unanswered until after the result is known.

“I campaigned to have a referendum,” Horgan said. “My Green colleagues preferred to just implement proportional representation. I wasn’t prepared to do that, and I have every confidence in the wisdom of B.C. voters and will live by the decision that they send us.”

READ MORE: B.C. referendum rejects proportional representation