EDITORIAL – Minimum turnout should be set for ‘prop rep’ referendum

Town hall meetings on electoral reform drew some large crowds in 2016. (FairVoting BC Facebook)

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

AS LONG AS we’re going to be subjected to the proportional representation version of the old Ground Hog Day movie, we’d better find a formula for approval that’s fair to both sides — and I think I have one.

B.C. has now voted twice on prop rep, or PR, rejecting it both times.

In 2005, it fell just a few percentage points short of the 60-per-cent threshold needed for approval.

Four years later, support plummeted to 39 per cent, probably because voters were offered a clear question and a clear choice — proportional representation or first past the post. They said, thanks for asking, but we’re happy where we are.

The turnout was pretty good, 61 per cent the first time and 55 per cent the second, an indication that people take this issue seriously.

The NDP government says it will give prop rep fans their wish and set the approval threshold at only 50 per cent plus one vote in this newest referendum, which they promise will happen before the end of November 2018 using a mail-in ballot.

That’s a terrible idea — changing the electoral system should require more than half-hearted assent, but let’s make the best of it.

In 2009, in addition to the 60 per cent overall, it would have required 50 percent yes in at least 60 per cent of the ridings.

Since the new bar is to be set at only 50 per cent plus one, here are three conditions that should be added to the 2018 vote.

Besides 50 per cent plus one overall, how about we add 50 per cent plus one in at least 60 per cent of the ridings, and a mandatory minimum turnout of 60-per-cent in 100 per cent of the ridings?

Secondly, there should be a guarantee that if prop rep is approved, it must come back for reconsideration at the end of two election cycles, after we’ve seen whether it’s working.

And, thirdly, if it fails, nobody should be allowed to try it again for at least 20 years.

Even the prop-rep folks can’t argue against the fairness of that. And it’s complicated, just the way they like it.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.

Mel Rothenburger’s Armchair Mayor editorials appear twice daily Mondays through Thursdays on CFJC- TV. His Armchair Mayor column is published Saturdays on and CFJC Today. Contact him at


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14 Comments on EDITORIAL – Minimum turnout should be set for ‘prop rep’ referendum

  1. Gisela, if your polls are right and a supermajority of BCers really want to ditch FPTP, why be afraid of a similar supermajority to make the decision?

    And if turnout is an issue as Mel rightly thinks it is, why not a sliding threshold scale. The lower the turnout, the higher the threshold need to switch. A 50% threshold would have more credibility if the turnout is 80% (meaning more than just the reform activists participate).

  2. When hearing this type of argument, we first need to consider the source. Although Mel Rothenburger strives to come across as reasonable and neutral in this piece, he has been the single most vociferous opponent of PR in the Kamloops region for the past 15 years. His suggestion of creating a super-high threshold to approve PR is just his latest attempt to sabotage progress in the face of growing support for the not-so-radical notion that 40% of the vote should equal 40% of the seats.

    Yes, Mel and the rest of the “old guard” are scared that when voted on using a level playing field, PR will be approved, and rightly so. A poll done in May by Ipsos Reid found that over twice as many British Columbians support PR as oppose it ( A poll released just yesterday by Angus Reid showed that 66% of Canadians feel that federal government made the wrong decision when they abandoned electoral reform recently (

    The tide is changing, and people are becoming increasingly aware of the flaws of our current system. Mel and, not surprisingly, our Liberal MPs, show a double standard by demanding this unreasonably high level of support for a bill on PR when at the very same time that think it’s perfectly OK for governments with only 40% of the vote to pass bills which the majority of voters don’t support. They gleefully point out over and over that “that’s how our system works!” Yes, it is how our system currently works — and that’s the problem. FPTP does a disservice to all of us, which is why we need to change it.

    Trying to come across as reasonable and neutral at this point is a case of too little, too late. As a long-time and vocal opponent of PR, Mel has no credibility in suggesting how to structure the referendum process fairly. PR will create a Legislature that mirrors the diversity of the voters in BC, with each group represented fairly according to their level of support in the electorate. The only ones disadvantaged by PR are those who hope that they can continue to seize all the power with only 40% (or less) of the vote. PR would mean that the “old boys” lose their stranglehold over our politics, and that’s a good thing. As an added bonus, we will see better quality legislation that has been agreed to by MLAs representing a true majority of voters (since no single party can have all the answers), and a more stable policy environment without the back and forth swings which have become the norm in our province. That’s good for all of us, regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum.

    • Mel Rothenburger // October 15, 2017 at 3:44 PM // Reply

      Did I sound neutral? Sorry, I’m not neutral at all. I oppose PR, but since the NDP government is intent on yet another referendum on the subject, a strong majority should be required, not 40% or any other minority number. Fifty-plus-one in a low-turnout vote could mean the electoral system gets changed by a minority of British Columbians, and that’s not good enough.

      • I said you tried to sound neutral — not that you succeeded. No one has suggested a 40% approval threshold for the referendum, Mel — that would be silly, although that is all that our “majority” governments need currently in order to have carte blanche under FPTP. And yes, the future is always decided by those who turn up — we can’t speculate on the wishes of those who choose not to participate in the process. Decisions are made by a minority of people all the time. 64% of the 21% of the people who voted (which amounts to a whopping 13% of eligible voters) just chose the new mayor of Kamloops — where is your column suggesting his election was illegitimate? Double standards are hypocritical. Our electoral system has been changed multiple times in the past, without public approval, by legislation which suited the party in power. A referendum puts the power in the hands of the people, at least. By demanding a higher threshold than 50%+1, you are arguing that a minority of the people should have the right to prevent the majority from changing the system. How terribly democratic.

  3. Excellent. The only referendum ever won by the Canadian electoral reformers was in PEI where they utilized the same multiple choice structure now proposed for BC. But, in a province that normally gets 80% to the polls, this referendum attracted only 30%, despite the convenience of week long and on-line balloting. It was consequently, and rightly deemed not binding in PEI.

    If you prefer the stability, accountability and simplicity of our current voting system join our non-partisan Facebook Group: FPTP … It Works for Canada.

  4. Mel – check these out… especially the “myths”

  5. Was meaning to say that STV is not the only form of PR. The NDP and greens do not support STV.

    • Mel Rothenburger // October 13, 2017 at 11:32 AM // Reply

      The NDP were in agreement with the Liberals on the previous referenda, which specified BC-STV, but everybody’s entitled to change their minds.

  6. Donovan Cavers // October 12, 2017 at 7:46 AM // Reply

    Mel – As a generally thoughtful person I’m very surprised that you oppose a more democratic system system that accurately reflects the will of the electorate. PR is not STV.

    • Mel Rothenburger // October 12, 2017 at 8:48 AM // Reply

      Sure it is: “BC-STV is a form of the Single Transferable Vote system. It is an electoral system that produces largely proportional results, which means that the number of seats a political party wins is close to the share of the overall popular vote.” – Elections BC

    • As a generally thoughtful person he is against it, Donovan. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t fully democratic to have an adverse opinion?

  7. Ken McClelland // October 12, 2017 at 7:16 AM // Reply

    The outcome of the referendum as currently proposed will be jigged to favour the un-elected party(s) currently holding power…50 percent plus one in this province with the massive urban/rural schism we are seeing? Give me a break.

    • Under our system, we currently elect individual MLAs, not leaders and not parties. The NDP/Green coalition is in power because they were democratically elected and that is the way our system works.

  8. Lots of advertising will be directed in creating confusion and the outcome of the referendum will not be decided by rational thinking…that much should be clear to you too Mr. R.
    Our local MLA’s are the best example as to why a new system of political representation must be found.

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