VICTORIA – Premier Gordon Campbell made the following statement today in the Legislature regarding the date of the referendum on electoral reform:
(Check Against Delivery)
“I rise to inform all British Columbians of an important change with respect to the timing of the referendum on electoral reform. That referendum will give all voters in British Columbia a second opportunity to choose between two models for electing their MLA – the current ‘first past the post’ model, and the ‘single transferable vote’ model, recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.
“As all members know, the government had announced in the throne speech last September that it intended to hold that second referendum in conjunction with the municipal elections, in November 2008. The timing of that referendum had been proposed to enable the newly created Electoral Boundaries Commission to complete its work and present two electoral maps – one for each voting system.
“The commission’s work and schedule in this regard will remain unchanged. Its mission is clear: to produce an updated electoral map for our current electoral system and to produce an alternate map that would enable all citizens to know how British Columbia’s electoral boundaries would be reconfigured under STV. The intent was to put those two maps clearly before the public at the same as they vote on their preferred electoral system.
“The government still feels strongly that when British Columbians next get a chance to vote on changing their electoral system, they should have a clear sense of how it would apply in practice. The STV system envisions larger constituencies, with multi-member representation. One of the lessons from the last referendum on electoral reform is that it will be important for people to know how many MLAs they would be responsible for electing under STV, and how their constituencies will be configured.
“The government had expected that it would be possible to get this work done and resolve voters’ preferred electoral model and map in tandem with the next municipal election – such that whichever model was chosen, it would apply for the next provincial election. This was a tight time-frame that left only about five months to put the chosen electoral system and map into effect for the May 12, 2009 general election.
“However, the Chief Electoral Officer has raised concerns about the practicality and cost of this timing. The Chief Electoral Officer is concerned with regard to adequacy of facilities, a shortage of trained voting officials, and differing voter eligibility requirements for local and provincial voters’ lists.
“He estimates the costs of conducting the referendum in conjunction with local government elections in 2008 at $25 million to $30 million. This is slightly more than the cost of administering the referendum as a stand-alone event and considerably more than administering a referendum in conjunction with a provincial general election, which is estimated to be from $1 million to $2 million.
“Finally, and most importantly, the Chief Electoral Officer has expressed concern about the short time between the referendum and the 2009 provincial general election. This timing would require significant duplicate advance planning and investment in order to implement either outcome of the referendum. Elections BC would also need to be prepared to implement both sets of new electoral boundaries following the report of the 2005 Electoral Boundaries Commission.
“As a result, he feels that there is a risk that preparations for the 2009 general election would be compromised, with confusion for voters, parties and candidates regarding appropriate voting procedures, electoral boundaries, candidate nomination procedures and financing limits.
“By holding the referendum in tandem with the municipal election, the government had hoped to substantially defray its cost, as compared to a stand-alone election. It now appears clear that holding the referendum as either a stand-alone referendum or together with the municipal elections would cost about 10 times more than if it was simply held in tandem with the next provincial election. The government had wanted to be able to put a new electoral system into place – if so chosen by the people – in time for the next provincial election.
“This decision may disappoint some, however the government believes it is best to heed the advice of the Chief Electoral Officer. As such, it is government’s intention to move the date of the referendum to May 2009, in conjunction with the provincial general election.
“The new electoral map for the current system that will be produced by the Electoral Boundaries Commission will apply for that general election. When British Columbians vote on STV on May 12, 2009, they will have before them the new electoral boundaries and representation plan that would apply.
“We maintain our commitment to equal funding for active information campaigns for supporters and detractors of each model. And we maintain our commitment to applying the same rules and thresholds for passing an STV system that applied during the 2005 referendum.
“If STV is chosen to replace our current electoral system in that referendum, it will now be implemented for the scheduled 2013 general election.”
Office of the Premier
For more information on government services or to subscribe to the Province’s news feeds using RSS, visit the Province’s website at www.gov.bc.ca.