Bernard, how could municipalities permit citizens to force referendum questions? As I understand it, there's no procedure in the Community Charter for citizens to initiate
referenda; we're only allowed to oppose
the actions of council by counter-petition.
One place that did try to give citizens referendum power was Rossland. In 1990 it passed a bylaw allowing citizens to force questions onto the ballot if they got 20% of voters to sign a petition. The bylaw was rescinded in 2005 because it was deemed illegal under provincial law:
Constitution Bylaw given boot by Rossland:[Final Edition]
Raymond Masleck. Trail Times. Trail, B.C.:Sep 22, 2005. p. 1 / Front
Rossland's 15-year experiment with direct democracy came to an end Wednesday morning with the repeal of its Constitution Bylaw at a special meeting of city council.
The much-heralded attempt to more fully engage citizens in the local government, which was approved by 80 per cent of voters in a November 1990 referendum, was killed by council virtually without public debate.
Council decided to repeal the constitution at its Sept. 12 regular meeting and then scheduled a series of unadvertised special meetings to speed the process along. The issue was also discussed at closed meetings on Sept. 12 and Aug. 31.
"Council unanimously felt that this was not good to have on the books and we want to get rid of it," Mayor Greg Granstrom told the Times following the meeting.
The city has received two legal opinions indicating that the citizen-initiated referendum process in the bylaw is beyond the powers of council to enact.
This has been well-known since the constitution was adopted, but concerns that the bylaw would be used to challenge the controversial Redstone Resort proposed for the golf course -- and possible legal action that could follow from the developer -- spurred council into action.
The constitution required council to advertise bylaws after third reading and hold them in abeyance for a month before adopting them.
This would allow citizens to petition for a referendum on the issue, a process that required the support of 20 per cent of eligible electors.
Electors could also petition council to initiate or amend a bylaw on any city manner, excluding zoning.
"Whatever the majority opinion (in a referendum) was, would bind council," said city administrator Ross McPhee. "Council wouldn't have any clout. That is one of the key points that makes it invalid under provincial law."
McPhee previously suggested council could amend it to fix the legal concerns. This would involve excluding voter challenges of changes to the Official Community Plan and all issues where council is legally required to act, and adding wording indicating the referendums were advisory rather than binding.
"If you get rid of the binding part, what is the point of having it?" Granstrom said, when asked about this alternative.
Despite the speed of the process, council received 10-11 letters from citizens on the issue.
"I object to the repeal of the Constitution Bylaw without consultation with the community," wrote Raymond Gaudart, while Leslie Beatson complained about the "covert" repeal process.
McPhee said citizens can always lobby council for a non-binding vote on any issue. Recent changes to provincial legislation provide for petitions to force referendums on borrowing bylaws, boundary expansions, and parkland closures with a lower 10 per cent voter threshold, he added.
The constitution received nationwide attention when it was adopted and was followed by other municipalities. Then-mayor Bill Profili and administrator Andre Carrel were invited to speak at a number of conferences on governance.
UBC professor Paul Tennant, one of the province's most prominent political scientists, wrote that it was "clear" the referendums would not be legally binding. But that was really irrelevant to the fact that the "Rossland model" would "add a significant and meaningful element of citizen participation."
"The constitution would be moral and political, in the best sense of the term, in its providing standards and procedures through which the civic community could better govern itself."
Over the years, the constitution was only used twice by electors to force referendums, both on bylaws increasing council stipends.
Last summer, Profili successfully petitioned for a referendum and a borrowing bylaw for the Ophir Creek reservoir project, but council chose to abandon the bylaw instead.
All members of council except Don Vockeroth were present and voted in favour of repealing the bylaw. Vockeroth previously spoke in favour.
A referendum on boundary expansion to include the golf course lands will not be affected by the constitution's repeal and will proceed in November as part of the local government election.
I agree, if you got enough signatures on any petition, you could press councillors to either put a question on the ballot, or face the electoral consequences. But that's not the same thing as having a mechanism that would put the question on the ballot automatically.