On May 17, 2005, a referendum was held in British Columbia on whether the recommendation of the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system with single transferable vote should be adopted. It failed to achieve the supermajority required.
Problems and Purpose
BC's referendum on electoral reform was part of a 2001 campaign promise by the Liberal Government. By putting the issue to a referendum, the government sought to ensure any decision on the replacement of the first-past-the-post system was made with the support of at least 60% of the public.
Background History and Context
The referendum was the culminating event of a lengthy process of government debate and public engagement on the issue of electoral reform. The referendum was held after a 160-member citizens' assembly came to their conclusion. From January 11 to December 10, 2004, the assembly heard from experts and members of the public and concluded that single-transferable-vote was the most favourable alternative to first-past-the-post. Their recommendation was taken up by the government and was reflected in the referendum's question: "Should British Columbia change to the BC-STV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform? [Y/N]."
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The referendum was scheduled to coincide with the Provincial election so, according to Elections BC, "[v]oters could vote in the referendum at any voting opportunity at which they were entitled to vote in the general election, and counting of the referendum ballots occurred on the same days as the counting of the ballots for the election."
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The referendum was open to all registered voters.
Methods and Tools Used
The primary method used in this case was a referendum: a public vote on an issue or specific piece of legislation. Unlike a plebiscite, the government in power is legally required to act on the results of the referendum.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
57.3% voted in favour ('Yes') of a change to STV, failing to pass the 60% super-majoritarian threshold set by the Liberal government.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The referendum returned a victory for the opposition and the electoral process was not changed. Elections continue to use the first-past-the-post system. A second attempt to change the system was made in 2018, but it, too, failed during the popular voting period.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Want to contribute an analysis of this initiative? Help us complete this section!
 Pilon, D. (2010). The 2005 and 2009 Referenda on Voting System Change in British Columbia. Canadian Political Science Review 4(2-3). https://ojs.unbc.ca/index.php/cpsr/article/view/251/301
 Elections BC. (2005, May 17). Statement of Votes: Referendum on Electoral Reform. http://www.elections.bc.ca/docs/rpt/SOV-2005-ReferendumOnElectoralReform...
 communica. (2015, Mar 13). Referendum vs plebiscite — not to be confused! http://communica.ca/referendum-vs-plebiscite-not-to-be-confused/