Talking about the mixed-member proportional electoral system or debating the finer points of first-past-the post is not exciting the electorate in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
With 10 days left to go, only 6.4 and 6.5 per cent of voters in Maple Ridge-Mission and Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows, respectively, have bothered to mail in their ballots for the 2018 Referendum on Electoral Reform. Only six other ridings in B.C. have shown less interest.
The turnout, valid as of Monday, is better than from a few days ago when only 2.5 per cent of voters in the ridings had voted, but still below the current provincial total of 11 per cent. Ballots have to be mailed to Elections BC by Nov. 30 in order count in the process that will determine if B.C. stays with its first-past-the-post system or adopts some form of proportional representation.
About 2,700 people in each of the two ridings have mailed back their ballots to Elections B.C.
However, Peter Tam, with Fair Vote B.C., is OK with the low numbers.
Tam, who missed being elected on to Maple Ridge council in October by two spots, said that regardless of how few people vote in the referendum, the results should still be valid.
“I don’t think it really matters,” he said.
“A low percentage, I think, it’s acceptable either way it comes in.”
Tam said there should be no minimum number of votes required in order for the government to honour the process and the results. He said those who didn’t bother to vote, don’t care about the issue.
“If they didn’t vote, they’ve got nothing to complain about.” he said.
“I think it’s valid for the people who cared to make their opinion heard.”
He compared the low turnout to civic elections, where a low percentage of voters decide who will be mayor and council.
Tam held an information meeting this past week on the proportional representation in the Maple Ridge library, which drew about 25 people. Most who attended were in favour of some kind of proportional voting system, he said.
He admits a lot of questions remain, but that’s because a particular system hasn’t been selected.
B.C. Premier John Horgan said Wednesday that he’ll tell his MLAs to oppose a version of mixed member proportional system that uses party lists of political appointees who will become regional MLAs in order to create proportionality.
Instead, voters will be able to choose who the regional MLAs will be. People will also vote directly for their district MLAs who will be chosen via first-past-the-post.
NDP representative for Maple Ridge-Mission Bob D’Eith said that people could have been waiting to vote until after the Nov. 8 debate on the issue between Horgan and Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson.
D’Eith said he likes the mixed member proportional system because it’s already in use in Germany and New Zealand.
“Quite frankly, any of the three would be better than first-past-the-post.”
The ballots ask voters if they want to stick with the current first-past-the-post system, in which the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins a riding – or if they want to opt for one of three forms of proportional representation, in which the number of MLAs elected reflects the actual numbers of people who voted for them.
Former Liberal MLA Doug Bing said that a Supreme Court ruled that a significant number of people had to vote in order for a Quebec referendum on separation to be valid.
With a turnout of 10 to 20 per cent, someone could challenge the vote on proportional representation in court. Bing said a turnout of 40 per cent would be reasonable.
“But I doubt we’re going to get that.”
Ex-Liberal MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission Marc Dalton said that the poor turnout is a result of the questions and the confusion people feel. He said the NDP introduced the referendum when people were distracted by the civic election.
“Even now, there’s very little information.”
Dalton added that the ballot offers three types of proportional representation from which to choose, but no way for voters to say that they reject all of those options.
“I believe first-past-the-post has served B.C. and Canada for the past 150 years and this is really a concession to the Green party.”