Vancouver has used both at-large and ward systems since it became a city in 1886. The first civic election in 1886 was an at-large vote. Then Vancouver split into five wards, and as the city grew, so did the number of wards. By the 1930s, the city had gone from wards to proportional representation, then back again to wards. In 1935, Vancouver moved to an at-large system, which is still in place.

In 1978 52% voted in favour of reinstating a ward system. However, the provincial government’s amendments to the Vancouver Charter, the legislation that governs the city, specified that Vancouver’s electoral system could only be changed with a 60% majority vote in a referendum. Again in 1988 a 56% majority voted in favour of wards. Again the 60% rule prevented the return to wards. Then in 1996 59%t voted in favour of keeping the at-large system.

No problem with the 60% rule there, or in 2004 when 54%voted against adopting a ward system.

This time the vote was 45.99% in favor of Wards and 54% opposed. These results, however, were based on a voter turnout of only 22%. Detailed information about this wards referendum, including a map of the proposed wards in Vancouver, is still available at the Vancouver City Clerk’s website: Another site with detailed information is

This latest result was hardly a ringing endorsement of the present at large system or overwhelming rejection of wards. In light of this and the preceding votes it is obvious that the million dolllars the city spent on the plebiscite was not money well spent. As Churchill is credited with saying, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

While I generally favour proportional representation voting systems, I am inclined towards a mixed system such as that suggested by Charles Campbell in the Tyee, both for reasons he sets out in his article at and because it doesn’t require us to spend another million dollars on a plebiscite that might not meet the 60% rule imposed by the province.

That’s because the current Vancouver Charter under section 138 says, “The Council may, by by-law, provide that all or some of the Councillors be elected on a neighbourhood constituency basis.”

And since this is an election year, with the election almost 300 days away, there is lots of time to mount a broad based campaign and petition our Mayor and council to pass just such a bylaw.
A mixed system may not be perfect, but it is a lot better than what we have now. More importantly, it is achievable without the risk of another expensive and likely failed vote to reform the current at large system.

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