Maria Dobrinskaya ad Bill Tieleman and spoke for and against proportional representation respectively last month in Kelowna at a meeting of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Proportional representation vote continues to draw low numbers

Only 6.5 per cent of eligible voters have cast ballots so far in B.C. referendum

New figures released by Elections B.C. show the response to a provincial mail-in ballot referendum on changing the way British Columbians vote their MLAs is continuing to draw little interest.

As of Tuesday only 6.5 per cent of eligible voters had returned ballot packages in the referendum asking voters if they want to switch to proportional representation from the existing “First Past The Post” method of electing MLAs.

With just over two weeks to go before the deadline for voting, only 215,187 of the 3.3 million eligible voters across B.C. had mailed in their ballots. In Kelowna-Mission 12.3 per cent of voters (5,883) have now returned ballots, according to Elections B.C., while the number in Kelowna-Lake Country is 10.5 per cent (5,168) and in Kelowna West 7.1 per cent (3,528).

In most ridings across the province, the return rate is less than 10 per cent., with 26 of the province’s 85 ridings recording less than a four per cent return rate.

Last week, Elections B.C. said during the first two weeks of voting only 3.7 per cent of eligible voters had returned ballots in, including 8.6 per cent of voters in Kelowna-Mission, 6.9 per cent of voters in Kelowna-Lake Country and 3.8 per cent of voters in Kelowna West. All three ridings are held by Liberal MLAs who have spoken out publicly against changing from First Past The Post to proportional representation.

RELATED: B.C.’s proportional representation referendum: The case for switching to PR

RELATED: B.C.’s proportional representation referendum: The case against switching to PR

Premier John Horgan, who supports a switch to proportional representation, and B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, who does not, debated the issue on television last week but their exchange turned into less-than-helpful shouting match where the two party leaders continually talked over one another and did not answer questions directly.

Following the debate, Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal MLA Norm Letnick appealed to all voters participate in the referendum—no matter which side of issue they are on.

He said an issue as important as how we elect out political representatives shouldn’t be left to a small number of voters.

The NDP government has said the referendum only requires a simple majority—50 per cent plus one—to pass.

In the leaders’ debate, Horgan said with voter turnout dropping in recent provincial elections, it’s important to show that every vote counts and proportional representation would do just that.

Proponents also claim it would also be a more fair way to divvy up seats in the B.C. Legislature, create better government where more voices are heard and compromises would have to be made instead of one party making all the decisions because it has a majority in the legislature.

But opponents fear it would take away accountability of MLAs to their constituents, transfer power in elections to parties rather than voters, open the door to small extremist parties being represented in the legislature and create what they say would be unstable minority governments.

B.C. voters are being asked if they want to change how MLAs are elected and if so, which one of three proposed proportional representation methods do they favour. But details about how any of the three methods would work in B.C. has yet to be determined.

Both sides agree there would be fewer agree riding, the ridings would be larger and in many cases would have multiple MLAs. Some MLA would be appointed to create proportionality in the legislature based on the percentage of the popular vote a given party receives. A report released when the referendum question was announced said there would be no more than 95 MLAs in B.C. under any new system.

RELATED: Proportional representation means more B.C. parties, coalitions

Proportional representation rewards parties with seats in the B.C. Legislature based on the proportion of the popular vote they receive in the election. Because of that,proponents say more people will vote in future because “their votes would mean something.”

Under all the proposed versions of proportional representation MLAs would be elected and also appointed based on the percentage of the popular vote their party receives in an election.

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

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