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5 Times the BC Liberals and Their Wealthy Allies Tried to Obstruct British Columbia’s Electoral Reform Referendum

BC's rich and powerful elites are using every means at their disposal to undermine and delegitimize the referendum

British Columbia’s entrenched interests have used every trick in the book to try to stop the province from reforming the province’s electoral system.

With only two days left for British Columbians to decide whether they want to keep the province’s outdated first-past-the-post voting system or switch to proportional representation, BC’s rich and powerful have tried everything from lawsuits to misinformation campaigns to try to undermine the referendum.

That’s not surprising, studies show first-past-the-post voting makes life much easier for big business and corporate lobbyists looking to influence government policy.

But rather than defending BC’s dysfunctional voting system, BC Liberal MLAs and their wealthy allies have instead attempted to discredit the referendum itself.

Here’s a reminder of the failed tactics that the BC Liberals and other anti-reform campaigners have pulled out of their pockets to try to obstruct, undermine and delegitimize the referendum:

1. They tried to claim the ballot was too “confusing” for British Columbians to understand

Before the referendum even began, right-wing millionaire Jim Shepard, a BC Liberal donor and close ally of Christy Clark, bankrolled an anti-electoral reform campaign calling itself “Fairreferendum.com.” The group purchased ads and sent out robocalls telling voters the questions on the referendum ballots were too “confusing” and “complex” to understand.

Elections BC – an independent, non-partisan body of the legislature – seemed to think voters were smart enough to understand the ballot box questions.

The independent body issued a report in June stating that the questions on the ballot are “simple and clear enough for voters to understand.”

2. The BC Liberals claimed the referendum process was “rigged” in favour of electoral reform

After claiming the ballots were too confusing, the BC Liberals tried to suggest the referendum rules were “rigged” in favour of electoral reform.

The BC Liberal caucus released a short video falsely claiming electoral reformers  were allowed “three times” the advertising budget of the anti-reform side, and even suggested “$200,000” of the Yes campaign’s budget would be given to communists.

As the Elections BC website clearly states, both the official referendum campaigns are subject to the same advertising limits, with $500,000 coming from the province, and up to $200,000 in additional funds from registered third party advertisers.

The BC Liberals needn’t have worried about the No campaign’s advertising budget, however, since wealthy elites and powerful corporate executives stepped in to cut cheques for the anti-electoral reform side.

The No campaign has raised $94,500 so far from 97 donations, an average donation of $974, while the Yes side has received a total of $55,840 from 168 donations, an average of $332 per donation, indicating fewer people with deeper pockets want to maintain the status quo.

3. A big business lobby group tried to sue the BC government over the referendum

While everyone else was busy campaigning, the Independent Businesses and Contractors’ Association, a big-business lobby group, quietly mounted a legal challenge to try to bring the referendum to a halt.

The lobby group claimed the referendum posed a threat to its members’ private interests, and even tried to resell the line that the referendum is “rigged” in favour of electoral reform

Unfortunately for the ICBA, BC’s supreme court dismissed the lobby group’s case, with a top judge ruling that the group had engaged in “conjecture, rhetoric and exaggeration.”

4. The No side called the referendum a “sham” because Premier John Horgan ruled out selecting MLAs from closed party lists 

Members of the No campaign falsely claimed local representatives will be replaced by politicians chosen from secret party lists if BC adopts proportional representation.

In September, BC Liberal MLA Shirley Bond told voters they should “do their homework” and “make an informed decision” about the referendum, because, she suggested, “MLAs” will be selected from “a party list” if BC implements a new voting system.

But after Premier John Horgan promised to veto any form of proportional representation that included closed party lists, Bond complained Horgan was “interfering” in the process, before suggesting the referendum had “zero credibility.”

5. BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson said the referendum may not be “legitimate” unless he’s satisfied with the turnout

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson recently said he might disregard the referendum results if a low turnout produces a vote in favour of proportional representation.

Speaking in a telephone town hall, a caller asked Wilkinson if he plans to be an “advocate of throwing (the referendum outcome) in the garbage” if he’s not satisfied with the referendum “turnout.”

Wilkinson said this was “a very important question,” before suggesting a low voter turnout might cast doubt on the “legitimacy” of the referendum.

BC’s referendum has no minimum voter turnout required for the results to be considered legally binding. In any case, the number of returned ballots is currently at 40%, already reflecting a higher turnout than seen in Vancouver’s recent local elections, and an above average response rate when compared with previous referenda in BC.


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