What is a Referendum?

A referendum is a popular vote used to obtain elector assent on a matter being proposed by a legislative body or a public initiative. Typically the electorate is presented with a single question on a matter in which the legislative body or the public initiative has the authority to act.

A referendum can be binding or non-binding depending on the matter at hand. If a referendum is binding, a government must carry out the decision of the electorate; if a referendum is non-binding, the government can take the ruling of the electorate into consideration in making its decision.

In British Columbia, a binding referendum must be held on a significant issue such as incorporation, certain bylaws and disposal of public assets. A non binding referendum can be held on important matters where a municipal council may be interested in knowing how a community stands on a particular issue and where the results may be helpful to elected officials looking to make a final decision on a pressing or polarizing issue.

What are the Rules for Holding a Referendum?

In British Columbia, a municipality or regional district must abide by Part 4 of the Local Government Act when holding a referendum:

The elector guidelines for a referendum are the same as those that apply in a Local Government Election:

Assent of the electors is obtained when a majority of valid votes are found to be in favour of the bylaw or question. If the bylaw or question fails to obtain the majority assent of the electors, then a local government must wait six months before it is permitted to hold another referendum on the same question or bylaw, provided that the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development approves.