British Columbia’s “virtual”, not virtuous, “direct democracy”

In theory, the Province of BC has some elements of direct democracy. In reality BC’s “direct democracy” works as a “clever” way to may it look like direct democracy. BC’s “direct democracy”; referendums and initiatives are not worth the paper they are written on.

Let us look at BC’s “direct democracy” in relation to Switzerland’s, or to direct democracy in any Swiss canton.

BC has about 5 million people, Switzerland 8.5. In most respects Switzerland is a better organized, more prosperous society that BC, but Switzerland is number one in the World, so it is not surprising. BC is also a highly developed society and a very stable representative democracy.

This is how direct democracy works in Switzerland (or any of its cantons) and how it “works” in BC.

Switzerland: If 1% of the voters request a referendum, they will hold a referendum, unless the government proposes an alternative that the committee who collected the signatures, agrees to. The 1% criteria, or close to it, is the norm in Switzerland at all levels of government.

On national laws and policies the citizens want to stop, the Swiss have to collect 50 000 signatures in 100 days.

If they want to have a referendum to change the constitution of the country, the Swiss need to collect 100 000 signatures in 18 months!

In British Columbia the requirement is 10%, but not only that, those collecting signatures must collect 10% in each of the over 70 electoral districts in BC. They have 90 days to do it.

In heavy pro-government districts, collecting 10% will be very difficult. Keep in mind that many voters may not be interested in the issue.

10% of registered voters in BC amounts to 350 000 signatures.

But there is more. In BC, there can be only one group proposing the referendum, but there can be many groups opposing it. It is obviously an unfair law. You can imagine the army of lobbyists trying to shoot the initiative down so that people will not sign. Remember the opponents only need one district that falls below 10% in signature collection to send the effort of the proponents of the referendum down the drain.

It does not end here. Even if the proponents can collect the signatures, at the last minute the legislature, the politicians can, after all the effort, say “we do not think this referendum is in the best interests of British Columbians”, and that is the end.

Even if the matter went to a vote, in BC, for the proposal to pass, they would have to vote for it half plus one of the registered voters, it is not enough that most of those who vote support the proposal.

But even if what they propose goes to referendum and most registered voters vote for it, the legislators, again, can kill it.

In Switzerland, all referendums are binding; governments must accept and put into effect the results of referendums.

In Switzerland, not even the Supreme Court can overturn the results of a referendum. The people are truly sovereign and, like the adults they are, they have to live with, or rectify with another referendum, the consequences of their votes.

There are other differences but those are enough to show BC has no direct democracy.

I am sure that the people of BC, if they really had direct democracy, just like the Swiss they would vote responsibly, they would have to, they could not blame the politicians because they decided the issue, not the politicians.

By the way, some people believe that proportional representation, instead of the first-past-the post system we have in BC and Canada, will address some representation issues. It may, but the key issue is not this or that way of electing politicians, the key issue is that without direct democracy, the politicians will still have all the decision-making power and the people none.

I am not against proportional representation; the Swiss have it, but many other representative democracies have proportional representation, some of them pretty lousy ones. What makes Switzerland different, and far more democratic, is direct democracy, because the people decide, not proportional representation. In your country, insist on direct democracy, leave proportional representation for later.

I hate to say this because I am Canadian, but the way direct democracy measures are set up in BC could be copied by any banana republic or totalitarian one party system state.

In the rest of Canada there is nothing about direct democracy at all. That is no good, but at least the system does not offend the intelligence.

In my next blog I will outline how Canada would look like, territorially and administratively, if it adopted direct-representative democracy like the Swiss.

Victor Lopez

How the people of Canada, and other stable representative democracies, could calmly, peacefully, introduce and generalise direct democracy institutions and practices.

I like to start with Canada because it is a stable country with a rich tradition of representative democracy, a country raised in the British Isles tradition of compromise, a country not given to extremes, it is also the country where I live.

I know the Canadian people can make direct democracy work because they have the political temperament for it. Canadians have a political culture of tolerance, of pragmatism, not given to ideological extremes of the left or the right.

Direct democracy in a country like Canada does not mean revolution or riots, direct democracy is only the natural next step to advance democracy in all stable representative democracies.

I will make now make several observations about what turning to direct democracy would mean for Canada and, for other countries too:

Canadian voters will continue to elect representatives at the national, provincial, territorial and local governments, just like they do now.

Elected representatives will continue to form the government; the executive and parliament.

Politicians in the executive and the legislative, in all levels of government, will continue to develop policies, legislation and regulations.

The executive and the legislative will continue to be able to start changes to the Canadian Constitution.

It will be necessary to revise the Canadian Constitution and the laws that govern the Canadian provinces (the Canadian provinces do not have constitutions) will have to be changed. Local laws will also need revision.

Besides voting in elections, voters will also vote on the policies, laws and changes to the constitution the elected politicians propose. But they will only vote when the people decide it is necessary to stop a policy, a law, a regulation or a change to the constitution. Most of the time the people will not intervene because in direct democracy, and precisely because of it, the executive and the legislative will govern in tune withe will of the people, as it must be in a democracy, specially in matters of importance.

To trigger voting by the people, at all levels, on policies, laws, regulations and the Constitution will require that signatures be collected first. The number of signatures required for a decision by the people would be 1% of eligible voters. They will have to collect the signatures in a practical period.

The results of the referendums will be binding for the executive and the legislative; these are not consultative referendums or plebiscites.

The executive and the legislative may not call referendums. Referendums will take place because the people start them, but political parties, unions, citizen’s groups and other may also start them if they collect the number of required signatures. Governments should not call referendums because the control of the content and timing will be conditioned by the tactics to win the next election, not by what is best for the overall good, as we se how they are now.

Besides being able to stop the politicians, the people may also propose policies, laws and changes to the constitution if they collect the required number of signatures within the required time. Like in the case of stopping the government, these initiatives will be selective.

Canadian courts, including the Supreme Court will not rule on the constitutionality of the results of any decision by the voters. This may surprise to some, but direct democracy is about the people having the right to decide and also the obligation to face the consequences of their decisions, both go together.

In a direct democracy there must not be a Supreme Court to rescue the people from their bad political judgement, or to mess things up big time, like when the US Supreme Court make the absurd decision to give corporations the same political rights of individual citizens.

It is an absurd decision because with big, corporate and rich people, money dominating campaigns, the money contributions of ordinary citizen mean almost nothing. We could say that US political campaigns, at all levels, have turned into a game of “how to use big money to persuade voters to vote for a candidate or a party who needs the big money to get elected”.

It is obvious the US Supreme Court has created a catch 22 situation for US politicians; they have to serve the people, the average voters, but they need the money of rich corporations and rich individuals to get elected. It makes no sense because the interests of the big donors and ordinary people often are mutually exclusive, no wonder the people are turning to “the Trumps” and “the Sanders”.

In Canada, the situation with donors may not be as bad but still the lobbies and pressure groups have too much influence on politicians because of the absence of direct democracy institutions and processes.

My next blog will be about how the Canadian Province of British Columbia introduced fake direct democracy provisions.

There is also a town in British Columbia, Rossland, that introd.uced direct democracy measures at the local level in the 1990s but I am not able to come up with anything about direct democracy and Rossland now. In the towns website I am not able to see any reference to citizen’s initiatives or referendums. Perhaps direct democracy died out in Rossland. Let us know what the situation is if you can, I will try to contact the town, but that will be in a few days.

I will also write in other blogs about how Canada, in theory, practices some aspects of direct democracy, but they are not effective because “the devil is in the details” of the execution.

You should investigate what happens in your country; there may be provisions to practice direct democracy to some extent, but the elected politicians and the lobbies have managed to keep them largely irrelevant because of the details of implementation. What they do is as if you put a powerful motor in a car but, out of view, the brakes are always on, they slow the car down an the driver gives up.

Victor Lopez


Getting down to business; introduction to territorial direct democracy, and also the flawed Economist’s Democracy Index and the OECD’s PISA rankings of educational systems.

I said in my last blog direct democracy measures will only take root in stable representative democracies. I also said unstable democracies do not yet have the political culture to become direct democracies, but there could be exceptions.

As for no-democratic countries, their political cultures are still alien to democracy, and more so to direct democracy. Often, most of the people in of those countries do not appear to believe in democracy. But I have no doubt that, like the Western Europeans did,  they will develop the necessary values and skills to realise and execute democracy because it is the most humane, civilised, fair system ever devised by humans, and direct democracy is even more so.

It is too bad that since Greek democracy died over 2000 years ago, even the Europeans, the people closest to the Ancient Greeks, mere only able to resuscitate democracy in the 18th century (not fully even now, not even the Swiss). The rise of Christian-Jewish beliefs in the West, and the World, did little for democracy…

Let me take Canada as the first example of a country with a stable representative democracy, and how it could organise itself to add direct democracy measures and institutions and reap the “collateral benefits” of having them

This subject, adapting the Swiss mixed system of direct and representative democracy to other countries, will extend for several posts.

I use Canada to illustrate, how a stable representative democracy, can add direct democracy institutions to be more democratic, even more stable and more efficient, bringing to its people a higher standard of living, better educational system, better universal health system, more trust in government, more political and social stability, more civic engagement, better control of the lobbies who by-pass voters, etc.

First, I will give some details about Canada to help visualise how Canada, and perhaps your own country, would look if it adopted or adapted the model of territorial organisation of Switzerland.

In other posts I wrote about the direct democracy institutions, in the coming posts I will write about the territorial organisation that favours direct democracy and why they do.

Canadians reading the post may already know some, or much, of the information I will use about their country, on the other hand, they may be interested in how Canada could look under direct democracy.

I believe Switzerland’s territorial organisation, together with direct democracy institutions, are the root cause of Switzerland’s success, unmatched by any other country. This is why want to bring them up.

Canada has a huge extension; 10 million square kilometres; 3.9 million square miles, and a population of 38 million. This means many of its 10 provinces and territories are very large in extension, and population too.

Canada is organised Canada as a representative democracy federation of ten provinces and three territories. I will round up many figures to facilitate visualisation.

Ontario, 1 million square kilometres., 15 million people.

Quebec, 1,4 million sq. km., 8.6 million people.

British Columbia, 1 million sq. km., 5.2 million people.

Alberta, 650 000 sq. km., 4.5 million people.

Saskatchewan, 600 000 sq. km., 1,2 million people.

Manitoba, 550 000 sq. km., 1.4 million people.

Newfoundland and Labrador, 400 000 sq. km., 500 000 people.

New Brunswick, 71 000 sq. km., 780 000 people.

Nova Scotia, 53 000 sq. km., 1 million people.

Prince Edward Island, 6 000 sq. km., 160 000 people.

The three territories are:

The Northwest Territories, 1,2 million sq. km., 42 000 people.

Yukon, 500 000 sq. km.,  42 000 people.

Nunavut, 2 million sq. km.,  and a population of 40 000.

The major administrative difference between provinces and territories is the degree of autonomy, the provinces have more than the territories, their size and populations.

Just compare; Switzerland, 41,285 sq. km., (15,940 sq mi) and 8.5 million inhabitants. In extension, Switzerland is smaller than the second smallest Canadian province, Nova Scotia but in population it would be the second of third Canadian province.

Yet, Switzerland found, and demonstrates everyday, that the division of th  country into 26 cantons and giving each of them great autonomy, giving each great control over its own affairs, and also great say in national affairs, in both cases, more than the Canadian provinces, and has worked wonderfully for them. Canada, because of its extension has a far bigger need for further subdivision and for direct democracy institutions.

Within the cantons, the municipalities in Switzerland also have great independence in many political, economic and social matters; they can even leave a canton and join another adjacent one, or create a new canton, and they have done both.

I believe is due to direct democracy; Switzerland, with almost no natural resources is, overall, the number one country in the World, and certainly the most democratic, never mind the wrong rankings of The Economist’s “Democracy Index”.

Switzerland could not be the overall be, first country in the World if it did not have also the best educational system overall. With respect to education, we have to ignore another ranking, the OECD’s PISA rankings of educational systems; it places Switzerland as number 30 in the World. This ranking is even more ridiculous than the onne about democratic quality.

By the way, both rankings place Canada ahead of Switzerland; absurd. Canada is one of the best countries in the World but it is certainly behind Switzerland by almost any fact in the ground related to democracy, politics, economics, efficiency, technology, quality of life, health, education, etc.

In the exercise of bringing direct democracy to representative democracy I will be learning a great deal more about the uniqueness of each province, territory, state, district, autonomous regions, municipalities, institutions, etc., of several representative democracies, and about Switzerland too.

Victor Lopez

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