VICTORIA — Voters in British Columbia have rejected a proposal to switch to a system of proportional representation to elect members of the legislature for a third time, prompting all three parties to declare electoral reform a dead issue.
The current first-past-the-post system received 61.3 per cent of the votes cast in a mail-in referendum, while proportional representation got 38.7 per cent in the results released Thursday by Elections BC.
"I think electoral reform is finished," deputy premier Carole James said. "The public has clearly spoken. As elected officials you always know the public is right."
About 1.4 million voters cast ballots by the Dec. 7 deadline, which represents a turnout of 42.6 per cent of eligible voters.
"It'll be surprising if there's any interest in this in the foreseeable future," said Opposition Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson.
The Liberals campaigned against electoral reform, arguing the minority government New Democrats and the Greens wanted to implement a system that would have given more power to political parties than voters.
"People like to know democracy is in their hands," he said. "I think people saw through this convoluted referendum, which was set up to be confusing."
Green Leader Andrew Weaver said he was disappointed with the result but accepts it as a clear signal voters support first past the post. Electoral reform has struck out with B.C. voters, he added.
"I think we're not going to be raising that issue any time soon," said Weaver.
The deadline for ballots to be received by Elections BC was extended by one week to Dec. 7 because of the postal strike.
In the first referendum in 2005, about 57 per cent of ballots were cast in favour of proportional representation, which did not meet the threshold of 60 per cent to make it binding on the government. Four years later, 61 per cent voted in favour of first past the post.
The latest referendum was binding and the winner declared by a simple majority of votes cast.
Under proportional representation, the number of seats held by a party largely matches the percentage of votes its candidates receive versus the first-past-the-post model in which a candidate with the most votes in a district wins and then represents the riding.
In addition to asking voters which system they support, the ballot also included a second question that allowed voters to rank their preference for three types of proportional representation.
Other provinces, including Prince Edward Island and Ontario, have also held referendums on their electoral systems but neither made any changes.
In Prince Edward Island in 2016, the Liberal government decided not to honour a provincial plebiscite on electoral reform, in which only 36 per cent of eligible voters took part. Premier Wade MacLauchlan said it was debatable whether the result reflected the will of Islanders, and announced another vote will be held during the 2019 provincial election.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press