SensibleBC says they met target in riding, but Revelstoke lagged

Sensible BC referendum organizer Dana Larsen visited Revelstoke to campaign this summer.  - Aaron Orlando/ Revelstoke Times Review
Sensible BC referendum organizer Dana Larsen visited Revelstoke to campaign this summer.
— image credit: Aaron Orlando/ Revelstoke Times Review

By Aaron Orlando and Art Harrison/Black Press

Organizers of the Sensible BC cannabis initiative petition were admitting defeat a few days ahead of the Dec. 9 deadline to get signatures in to Elections B.C.

The B.C. initiative petition would amend provincial rules to limit police enforcement of marijuana laws.

Referendum campaign organizer Dana Larsen said they only had about 220,000 signatures, short of the 400,000 needed.

When contacted on Dec. 10, an Elections BC spokesperson said that since the initiative petition has failed, they will not be releasing the number of signatures collected on a riding-by-riding basis. Although the proponent may claim a certain number, some are likely to be disqualified because those who signed were not eligible. One requirement is to be a registered voter in the riding, for example. The Elections BC spokesperson said media outlets won't have access to independently-verified petition numbers and would have to rely on the numbers provided by the proponents.

In the Columbia River–Revelstoke riding, organizer Ashlee Taylor said they surpassed the mark in the final days, coming in a few hundred votes over the threshold of 2,501 – which is 10 per cent of the 25,002 voter count in this riding.

She said the local campaign went “awesome,” even though canvassers did experience hostility from time to time.

“It’s nice to hear both sides,” Taylor said. “We managed to change people’s feelings on it.”

Taylor said lack of timely organization hurt the effort. “I just received my [canvassing] package about two weeks ago,” she said.

Revelstoke was the weak link in the riding. Kimberley had 18 canvassers, Invermere had six and Golden had nine. In Revelstoke, only two volunteered; neither of them were able to go door to door.

“Everyone is really surprised that Revelstoke didn’t jump on it,” Taylor said.

Sensible BC is predicting exceeding the threshold in Columbia River–Revelstoke, but it now seems clear the initiative petition won’t pass the highest bar: getting a 10-per-cent minimum in each riding.

The B.C. referendum process has only been successful once in nine attempts to force referendums in B.C., in 2011 when it was used to compel the B.C. government to hold a referendum on the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).

Larsen said the campaign went well in numerous areas of the province, with areas such as Nelson, Creston, Vancouver Island, Penticton, and the Sunshine Coast gathering enough signatures quite quickly but areas such as the Fraser Valley, Cariboo, and Surrey presenting particular challenges.

Larsen said he was surprised by the reaction of some opponents to the legislated petition process.

“We found that, for some, stigma was an issue,” Larsen said. “Some people said they’d love to sign but were afraid the RCMP or the government would know that they had signed the petition and harass them. It was a baseless fear but that’s where some people were coming from.

Although hopes aren’t high for a successful petition campaign Larsen said that, for himself and Sensible B.C. it’s not the end.

“There’s no dates yet to start again but we learned a lot. We raised an army,” he said. “We had a lot of great canvassers out there and it really started to build momentum. If we had the momentum at the beginning of the campaign that we did at the end it would have passed by a landslide. We have to evolve, have to re-organize.”

Correction: In an earlier version of the story, we were not cautious with wording. The initiative petition, as the story explains, is the first step in forcing a referendum. In an earlier version, the description we provided interchanged the two. This has been corrected for clarity.

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