Rural Urban — Explained
Rural Urban — Explained

Rural Urban proportional voting is the third system that will be listed on the ballot in BC’s upcoming referendum. The Rural Urban system combines the approach used nationally in New Zealand, Scotland, Wales and Germany (Mixed Member) for the more rural parts of BC with the approach used in places like Ireland, Northern Ireland, some Australian state elections, and Scottish local elections (the Single Transferable Vote, which was recommended by BC’s Citizens’ Assembly) for the more urban parts. A variant of Rural Urban was used in Alberta and Manitoba for several elections in the 20thcentury.

How it Works:

With Rural Urban voting, we would use the Mixed Member approach in the more rural parts of the province. In more urban parts, we would group several single member ridings together and elect a set of candidates in each urban area who would collectively reflect the range of political perspectives there.

Candidates in more rural areas would run in single member ridings just as they do now, with the local candidate with the most votes elected. Regional seats in these areas would go to candidates from the region to ensure the seat share by party closely matches the vote share. The ballot could be the same as what we use now, or we could use a two-part ballot in which all the candidates running across the region are listed. (see sample ballot).

There could be multiple candidates on the ballot in urban areas, including possibly more than one candidate running from each party, and voters would rank their most preferred candidates, both within and across parties (see sample ballot below). The least popular candidates would be sequentially eliminated (as is done in party leadership races) and the ballots transferred to the next-named candidate until there are only as many candidates left as seats in the riding. These most-popular candidates would be elected.


Consider what could happen in the Okanagan/Cariboo-Thompson/Fraser-Nicola region. Currently, there are 12 seats in this region. Under the Rural Urban system, we might end up with a two-member riding centred on Kamloops, a three-member riding centred on Kelowna, five single-member ridings, and two regional seats (possibly one in the west and one in the east).

In the 2017 election, BC Liberal candidates earned about 53% of the vote, BC NDP candidates about 27%, and BC Green candidates about 17%. Our current system elected only BC Liberal MLAs – 12 of them – whereas a proportional result would have been 7 BC Liberal MLAs, 3 BC NDP MLAs and 2 BC Green MLAs.

Using Rural Urban, we likely would have seen Kamloops electing one BC Liberal and one BC NDP MLA, the central Okanagan (around Kelowna) electing two BC Liberal MLAs and one BC NDP MLA, and the five single-member ridings continuing to elect 5 Liberal MLAs, for a total of 8 BC Liberals and 2 BC NDP MLAs. The two regional seats might have seen 1 BC NDP and one BC Green MLA elected to balance things out. These two regional MLAs would both have run in one of the single-member ridings.

Why You Might Like Rural Urban:

If you live in the more rural parts of the province, you might like the Rural Urban option if you like the idea of retaining a single local MLA representing your riding along with access to additional regional MLAs who will provide a balance of voices for your region. If you live in a more urban area, the Rural Urban option might be appealing if you like the idea of having a group of MLAs representing the range of political perspectives in your city (especially if you also like the idea of having the ability to choose between candidates within and across parties).

 What Could Be Decided After the Referendum:

If voters decide to adopt Rural Urban voting, an all-party legislative committee will work out details principally related to the Mixed Member part as described in our last blog post. The Electoral Boundaries Commission will decide the boundaries for the new single and multi-member ridings, as well as for the regions.

As with the two other systems on the ballot, Rural Urban will deliver strong proportionality, will preserve the same number of MLAs in each region of the province as we have now, and will allow voters to vote for specific candidates. And if we aren’t happy with it, there will be another referendum after we’ve used it for two elections to decide if we want to stick with it.