Voters have until Nov. 30 to return ballots in the proportional representation referendum. —Image: Black press file

Proportional representation not proving popular with voters in Central Okanagan

With three weeks to go, fewer than 9,400 referendum votes cast in three area ridings

Proponents of proportional representation say a switch to that system of electing MLAs will increase voter participation.

But, while that may or may not be true, it’s clear the process to decide if a new system is wanted has not prompted a large number of eligible voters to cast ballots.

Since voting in the mail-in referendum started Oct. 22, only 3.7 per cent of eligible voters B.C. have mailed in their ballots, according to Elections B.C. Province-wide just 121,888 of the just under 3.3 million eligible ballots have been returned

And the low numbers are reflected across the Central Okanagan as well.

In Kelowna-Mission, only 8.6 per cent of voters have mailed in their ballots, in Kelowna-Lake Country, 6.9 per cent and in Kelowna West, 3.8 per cent.

All three ridings are held by Liberal MLAs who have spoken out publicly against changing from the current “First Past The Post” system of electing MLAs to one of three proposed proportional representation election/appointment methods proposed in multi-part referendum question.

The total number of ballots cast in the three local ridings so far is 9,395. A total of 146,913 residents in the three ridings are eligible to vote.

RELATED: Lack of public response threatens B.C. referendum credibility

Following a televised debate between Premier John Horgan, who supports a switch to proportional representation and B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, who does not, Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick appealed to voters to let their voices be heard—no matter which side of issue they are on.

Letnick said it’s important that everyone vote in the referendum, saying he feared if a change being madeby a small minority of voters.

In the leaders’ debate last week, Horgan said with voter turnout dropping in recent provincial elections, it’s important to show that “every vote counts.” And he claimed a switch to proportional representation would do that.

Opponents, however, fear proportional representation would take away accountability of MLAs to their constituents, transfer power in election to parties and not voters, open the door to small extremist parties being represented in the Legislature and create what they say would be unstable minority governments.

During the debate, Wilkinson pointed to the fact many aspects of proportional representation in B.C. are still unknown and accused the Horgan and his government of asking voters to “sign a blank cheque” by approving a change without knowing all the details. Some of the unknown information includes the size of future ridings, and how many MLAs would represent a single riding and how many MLAs there would be in total.

A report released when the referendum question was announced said there would be no more than 95 MLAs. Currently there are 85.

Proportional representation would reward parties with seats in the B.C. Legislature based on the proportion of the popular vote they receive in the election. By doing that, Horgan argued that would make more people want to vote because their votes would mean something.

Under all the proposed new versions of electing MLAs, ridings would be enlarged and become multi-MLA ridings, with some MLAs elected as they are now—by winning the most votes in that riding in the election—and others appointed in order to make representation in Victoria proportional.

The referendum question asks voters if they want to change the current system and if so, to rank three versions of proportional representation.

Voters have until Nov. 30 to mail in their referendum ballots to Elections B.C.

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