Could seven per cent of B.C.’s voters carry the referendum?

Premier John Horgan and the NDP caucus may have a tough decision coming up.

As of Wednesday morning, only 215,187 of the 3,293,435 registered voters in the province have returned their electoral reform referendum ballot. Granted, there’s still two weeks to go and with rotating strikes at Canada Post it’s a guessing game as to how many ballots are ‘in the mail.’

The 215,187 ballots represent 6.5 per cent of the eligible voters. Even if we’re halfway there, that would mean a voter turnout of 13 per cent. Let’s be generous and say we’re not halfway there yet. Could we see voter turnout at 15 per cent? If we’re at 6.5 per cent now, it’s unlikely we will get much higher than 15 per cent by the end of November.

Is that enough? Is a 15 per cent voter turnout enough to change our electoral system? Remember the threshold is a simple majority … 50-per-cent-plus-one. If voter turnout is 15 per cent, a majority would be only 247,008 votes. Should we change the electoral system for 3,293,435 people based on the wishes of 247,008 those voters?

The No side certainly doesn’t think so and is crying foul over the low ballot returns.

However, there is an irony to their position. Our democracy is based on majority rule. Get the most votes, you win. That is, in its purest sense, the first-past-the-post system. The No side wants to keep the first-past-the-post system but is unwilling to accept the will of the majority if the plurality is not to their liking.

There is irony in their position, but that’s not to say it isn’t without merit.

If the referendum passes, Horgan could take a page out of the handbook of many a majoritarian government with 39 per cent of the vote and say “we have a mandate” and push ahead, with a “mandate” from six or seven per cent of the electorate. They could simply say “majority rules” and be done with it. In some ways, that would be fitting because if the electorate doesn’t like it, they should get out and vote against it, and vice versa. Here in Prince George we recently elected a mayor and council based on 24 per cent of the electorate showing up, so we’re used to majority rules even if it’s a minority.

Sitting on your thumbs means you can’t control what you’re being fed.

However, accepting a low voter turnout is completely contrary to what proportional representation is supposed to remedy … having a minority number of voters determine issues for the majority. Do the ends justify the means?

Horgan has some tough decisions to make.

At the very least, the deadline for receiving ballots should be extended, due to the postal disruptions. But that’s a minor issue compared to whether to accept such a low turnout.

The decisions ahead for Horgan are going to be difficult, but your decision is easy. If you don’t want six or seven per cent of the population deciding this for you, fill out your ballot and send it in … today.