Understanding the initiative process

About the initiative process in B.C.

Initiative is a process that allows registered voters to propose new laws or change existing laws.

Any voter registered with Elections BC can apply to have a petition issued to gather support for a legislative proposal (in the form of a draft Bill). A legislative proposal can be regarding any matter within the jurisdiction of the Legislature of British Columbia.

To begin an initiative petition, the voter must submit a completed application form to the Chief Electoral Officer with a processing fee of $50 and a copy of the proposed law in the form of a draft Bill.

If the application meets the legislative requirements, the CEO approves the initiative petition in principle and the petition is issued to the applicant (called a “proponent”) 60 days later. The proponent then has 90 days to collect signatures of 10% of the registered voters in each electoral district. The proponent may be helped by volunteers when canvassing for signatures.

When all the signed petition sheets are submitted, the Chief Electoral Officer has 42 days to verify that enough valid signatures have been collected. If the verification process shows that sufficient signatures have been collected and the financing requirements have been met by the proponent, the Chief Electoral Officer sends a copy of the petition and draft Bill to a Select Standing Committee of the Legislature.

The Select Standing Committee on Legislative Initiatives must meet within 30 days of receiving the initiative petition. The Select Standing Committee has 90 days to consider the legislative proposal. The Committee must either table a report recommending introduction of the draft Bill or refer the initiative petition and draft Bill to the Chief Electoral Officer for an initiative vote.

If an initiative petition has met the signature threshold and financing requirements, and has been referred to the Chief Electoral Officer for an initiative vote by the Select Standing Committee, the vote must be conducted on a fixed schedule according to the Recall and Initiative Act. If no initiatives have been referred to the Chief Electoral Officer, then no vote will be held. If an initiative vote is required, a vote will be held on September 30, 2023, and on the last Saturday of September in every third year after that date.

If more than 50% of the total number of registered voters in the province vote in favour of an initiative, and more than 50% of the total number of registered voters in each of at least 2/3 of the electoral districts in the province vote in favour of an initiative, the Chief Electoral Officer must declare the initiative vote to be successful and the government must introduce the Bill at the earliest practicable opportunity.

After a Bill is introduced into the legislature, the requirements of the Recall and Initiative Act have been satisfied, and any subsequent reading, amendment, or passage of the Bill will proceed as with any other Bill, with no guarantee of passage.

Guide to the Initiative Process

Understanding the initiative process

About the initiative process in B.C.

Initiative is a process that allows registered voters to propose new laws or change existing laws.

Any voter registered with Elections BC can apply to have a petition issued to gather support for a legislative proposal (in the form of a draft Bill). A legislative proposal can be regarding any matter within the jurisdiction of the Legislature of British Columbia.

To begin an initiative petition, the voter must submit a completed application form to the Chief Electoral Officer with a processing fee of $50 and a copy of the proposed law in the form of a draft Bill.

If the application meets the legislative requirements, the CEO approves the initiative petition in principle and the petition is issued to the applicant (called a “proponent”) 60 days later. The proponent then has 90 days to collect signatures of 10% of the registered voters in each electoral district. The proponent may be helped by volunteers when canvassing for signatures.

When all the signed petition sheets are submitted, the Chief Electoral Officer has 42 days to verify that enough valid signatures have been collected. If the verification process shows that sufficient signatures have been collected and the financing requirements have been met by the proponent, the Chief Electoral Officer sends a copy of the petition and draft Bill to a Select Standing Committee of the Legislature.

The Select Standing Committee on Legislative Initiatives must meet within 30 days of receiving the initiative petition. The Select Standing Committee has 90 days to consider the legislative proposal. The Committee must either table a report recommending introduction of the draft Bill or refer the initiative petition and draft Bill to the Chief Electoral Officer for an initiative vote.

If an initiative petition has met the signature threshold and financing requirements, and has been referred to the Chief Electoral Officer for an initiative vote by the Select Standing Committee, the vote must be conducted on a fixed schedule according to the Recall and Initiative Act. If no initiatives have been referred to the Chief Electoral Officer, then no vote will be held. If an initiative vote is required, a vote will be held on September 30, 2023, and on the last Saturday of September in every third year after that date.

If more than 50% of the total number of registered voters in the province vote in favour of an initiative, and more than 50% of the total number of registered voters in each of at least 2/3 of the electoral districts in the province vote in favour of an initiative, the Chief Electoral Officer must declare the initiative vote to be successful and the government must introduce the Bill at the earliest practicable opportunity.

After a Bill is introduced into the legislature, the requirements of the Recall and Initiative Act have been satisfied, and any subsequent reading, amendment, or passage of the Bill will proceed as with any other Bill, with no guarantee of passage.

Initiative petition timeline

Day 0 – Application approved

  • Initiative Petition period begins
  • Notice published in BC Gazette and newspaper
  • Opponent registration begins

Day 30 – Opponent registration closes

Day 60 – Petition issued

  • Canvassing period begins

Day 150 – Petition filing deadline

  • Canvassing period ends (petition may be submitted to Elections BC early if required signatures collected)

Day 178 – Financing report deadline

  • Proponent, opponent and advertising sponsors must file financing disclosure reports

Day 192 – Verification of valid signatures by Chief Electoral Office

The proponent may submit the petition sheets before the petition filing deadline. In this case, financial reports are required within 28 days and verification is required within 42 days of the submission.

 

: Illustration of the initiative petition timeline with key dates and time periods plotted along a line. This information is repeated in the text on this page.

Initiative financing and advertising rules

See our Guide to Initiative Financing (available soon) for more information on financial management, contributions, expenses and reporting requirements.

See our Guide to Initiative Communications for information on advertising and sponsorship rules for initiative petitions.

How to conduct an initiative petition

The application process

Any registered voter can apply to have a petition issued to gather support for a legislative proposal. Organizations cannot apply to have a petition issued; only an individual who is a registered voter in British Columbia is eligible to apply.

A legislative proposal can be on any matter within the jurisdiction of the provincial legislature. However, the proposal must not be the same as, or substantially similar to, the topic of an initiative petition currently in process or under review.

A registered voter who wants to start an initiative petition must obtain an application package from the Chief Electoral Officer. When an application is submitted, it is checked to ensure it is complete. If it is incomplete in any way, the applicant is notified immediately so any errors or omissions can be corrected.

A complete application consists of the fully completed and signed application form, the legislative proposal in the form of a draft Bill, and a non-refundable $50 processing fee.

The processing fee may be paid by cash, money order, traveller’s cheque, or certified cheque payable to the Minister of Finance. Uncertified cheques will be accepted, but will result in a delay in processing the application until the cheque has cleared.

The application form (910) requires the applicant’s name, residential and mailing addresses, telephone number and signature. This information will be available for public inspection at the Elections BC office in Victoria and on our website.

A draft Bill must be written in a clear and unambiguous manner and the subject matter must fall within provincial jurisdiction. If a draft Bill appears to be unacceptable due to problems in drafting or constitutionality, the petitioner is notified and given an opportunity to correct the problems before the draft Bill is forwarded to the Chief Electoral Officer for formal review.

If the application and draft Bill meet the requirements of the Recall and Initiative Act, the Chief Electoral Officer notifies the proponent that approval in principle will be granted and that a petition will be issued. Approval in principle of an application is officially granted at the time a notice of petition is published in the British Columbia Gazette. Notice is also published in at least one daily newspaper circulating in the province.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 3]

Opponents of an initiative petition

An individual or organization who wishes to oppose an initiative petition and intends to incur expenses in their opposition campaign must apply to register as either an opponent or as an initiative advertising sponsor.

Potential opponents must apply to the Chief Electoral Officer within 30 days after the day on which notice of approval in principle for the petition is published in the British Columbia Gazette.

The Chief Electoral Officer appoints the financial agent for initiative petition opponents and opponent groups. An opponent or opponent group must not act in that capacity until given notice by the Chief Electoral Officer that they are registered and that an individual has been appointed as financial agent.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 31]

The initiative petition period

The Chief Electoral Officer must issue the petition to the proponent 60 days after notice is published in the British Columbia Gazette.

The initiative petition period begins on the day a petition application is approved in principle, and ends 90 days after the petition is issued, or when the petition sheets are submitted, if earlier. See the Initiative petition timeline page for more information.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 4]

Initiative petition sheet requirements

When a petition is issued, the Chief Electoral Officer provides the proponent with a cover sheet and a separate petition sheet for each electoral district. The cover sheet and petition sheets provided must not be altered in any way. Only signatures gathered on copies of the official petition sheet will be considered for petition verification purposes. Signatures gathered on other forms or sheets will not be accepted.

It is the responsibility of the proponent to duplicate petition sheets and cover sheets in sufficient quantities for signature gathering.

Petition sheets must be printed on white 20 lb. bond paper. This is the paper used in most printers. Petition sheets must be printed individually on only one side and must not be photocopied from an original printed sheet. This is to ensure that the imaging system used during verification can accurately read each petition line.

Petition cover sheets contain the summary of the draft Bill, and information regarding the proponent and financial agent of the initiative. Cover sheets may be photocopied on any colour or weight of paper. A cover sheet must be attached to the petition sheets while they are in circulation.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 4]

Who may sign an initiative petition

The Recall and Initiative Act requires that an initiative petition be signed by 10% of the registered voters in each electoral district in the province. The proponent is provided with the total number of registered voters in each electoral district as of the date on which the petition is issued. It is this number that is used to determine the 10% threshold.

An initiative petition can only be signed by a registered voter who was registered to vote on the date the petition was issued.

A person may only sign the petition sheet for the electoral district in which they are a registered voter at the time of signing. A signature on a petition must be accompanied by the residential address at which the individual who signed is registered as a voter and must be witnessed by the individual who canvassed the signature (a registered canvasser). Signatures that do not include the residential address of the voter who signed the petition will not be counted. A mailing address (e.g. PO Box) is not acceptable as a residential address.

It is recommended that considerably more signatures be gathered than the threshold to compensate for any invalid signatures that may be inadvertently collected.

The voters list is not available to the proponent or opponents of an initiative petition.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 5, 7]

Who may canvass for signatures

Canvassers must be registered voters in B.C.

To register to vote, you must be:

  • a Canadian citizen,
  • at least 18 years old, and
  • have lived in B.C. for the past six months.

To become a canvasser, contact the proponent of the initiative petition. The proponent will coordinate recruitment of volunteers, manage the canvasser application process and forward canvasser applications to Elections BC.

All canvassers must be approved by Elections BC prior to collecting signatures.

To be approved by Elections BC, send a completed Initiative Petition Application for Canvasser Registration (911) to the proponent. The proponent must sign and submit the form. Elections BC will check that the applicant meets the eligibility criteria and, if so, register the applicant as a canvasser. Following the registration, Elections BC will issue a Canvasser ID card to the proponent. The proponent is responsible for distributing the Canvasser ID cards to the canvassers and the canvassers must sign their card. Canvassers may only canvass after the effective date on the canvasser ID card and within the canvassing period.

Signatures gathered by unregistered canvassers will not accepted during the initiative verification process.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 6]

Responsibilities of the canvasser

Canvassers must: Canvassers must not:
witness every signature they collect leave petition sheets unattended
be volunteers allow voters to sign a petition more than once
canvass only during the initiative period. Canvassing is not permitted after the close of the petition period, regardless of whether or not the full 90 days has elapsed alter, in any way, the cover sheet and petition sheets provided. Only signatures gathered on copies of the official petition sheets will be considered for petition verification purposes. Signatures gathered on other forms or sheets will not be accepted
attach the petition cover sheet to the petition sheets while being circulated for signatures knowingly make any false or misleading statements about the petition or the subject of the petition
carry the identification card issued by Elections BC and produce it upon request draw a diagonal line across the unsigned portion of a page or make any unnecessary lines or marks on petition sheets
inform signatories of the eligibility requirement. Signatories must be registered voters in the electoral district for which they sign a petition remove, cross out or interfere with a signature on a petition
ensure the petition sheets are signed in ink on the pre-printed side accept initiative contributions of money, goods or services unless appointed in writing as an assistant financial agent to the proponent
collect only residential addresses from signatories. Mailing addresses will not be accepted make petition sheets and voters lists available for scrutiny by the public. These documents contain personal information and must be protected
submit only valid petition sheets with original signatures. Photocopies will not be accepted use information obtained while canvassing for signatures for any purpose not authorized by the Recall and Initiative Act or any Regulation, including information contained in the voters list


[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 6]

Information collected on an initiative petition

A registered voter is required to give their name, residential address and signature. They are also asked for their phone number.

Although providing a phone number is voluntary, it is important to the initiative process. The voter may be called by Elections BC to confirm that they signed the petition, or the proponent may need to contact them to ensure their information is correct so that the signature can be counted. A work or personal number can be used.

If a phone number is missing or unreadable, but the name, address and signature are valid, the signature will be counted.

The voter can request to have their address and phone number obscured on the public inspection copy of the petition. To do this, they must check the box to the right of their signature line.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 6, 168(4)]

Removal of signature from a petition

Canvassers and Elections BC cannot remove signatures from a petition. If asked, a proponent may agree to remove a signature from a petition before it is submitted, but proponents are not required to do so.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 6, 168(4)]

Access to private properties

The Recall and Initiative Act does not require a landlord or owner to provide access to canvassers. It is common to canvass locations such as malls, grocery stores, recreation centres, churches, etc. The proponent or canvasser is responsible for obtaining permission from the property owner or manager.

Learn more about canvassing in our Guide to Initiative Petition Canvassing.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 6, 168(4)]

Submitting a petition

The proponent must submit, at one time, all of the petition sheets containing signatures to the Chief Electoral Officer. The petition period ends when the proponent submits the petition to the Chief Electoral Officer, regardless of whether the full 90 days has elapsed.

No late submissions or partial submissions will be accepted.

It is therefore recommended that proponents be fully satisfied that they have gathered enough signatures in all electoral districts, including a surplus to compensate for any invalid signatures, prior to submitting a petition for verification.

Original signed petition sheets must be submitted to the Chief Electoral Officer. Photocopies and faxes of signed petition sheets are not acceptable. Petition sheets must be bundled by electoral district. A single summary sheet showing the proponent’s account of the number of sheets and signatures for each electoral district must be submitted with the petition. If it is apparent from review of the summary sheet that there are insufficient signatures, for any electoral district, the initiative petition will fail.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 7]

Verification by the Chief Electoral Officer

The verification process ensures that the people who signed a petition were entitled to do so. A preliminary review of petition sheets is conducted to obtain a manual count of petition sheets and signatures. Each signature is then assessed to ensure that it is signed in ink and witnessed by an authorized canvasser. The manual count of sheets and signatures is adjusted accordingly.

Next, the eligibility of signatories is assessed. Petition sheets are scanned and signatory data captured. The Recall and Initiative Verification System searches for a match between each petition line and a record on the initiative petition voters list. If more than one voter record matches a petition line, an operator reviews the data to make a determination. If no match can be found, the petition line is rejected. If a matching voter record is found, the petition line is considered valid and is counted toward the threshold for that electoral district.

Voters who signed the petition may also be contacted by Elections BC during the verification process to ensure the validity of the signatures.

The initiative petition proponent and initiative petition opponents and opponent groups, or their designates, are permitted to observe the verification process, and are notified by the Chief Electoral Officer of when and where verification will be conducted.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 7, 8]

Public inspection of initiative petitions

After the Chief Electoral Officer has completed verification of a petition, the petition must be available for public inspection in the Chief Electoral Office for one year.

Signatories who wish to have their residential address and telephone number obscured from public inspection may indicate this by checking the box to the right of their signature line on the petition sheet at the time of signing.

Individuals wishing to view a petition must first sign a declaration that they will not use the personal information they view for any purpose not permitted by the Recall and Initiative Act or Election Act.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 168]

Consideration by the Select Standing Committee

Referral of initiative to the Committee

If the verification process shows that the threshold has been met in every electoral district, and the financing requirements have been met by the proponent, the Chief Electoral Officer sends a copy of the initiative petition and the draft Bill to the Select Standing Committee on Legislative Initiatives.

The Select Standing Committee must meet within 30 days of receipt of the initiative petition and draft Bill. From its first meeting, the Committee has 90 days to consider the legislative proposal. Within the 90 days, the Committee must either table a report recommending introduction of the draft Bill, or refer the initiative petition and draft Bill to the Chief Electoral Officer for an initiative vote.

If the Committee recommends introduction of the draft Bill, the government must introduce the Bill at the earliest practicable opportunity. After the Bill is introduced to the Legislative Assembly, the requirements of the Recall and Initiative Act have been satisfied, and any subsequent reading, amendment and passage of the Bill will proceed as with any other Bill, with no guarantee of passage.

If the Committee refers the initiative petition and draft Bill to the Chief Electoral Officer, an initiative vote must be held. If an initiative vote is declared successful by the Chief Electoral Officer, the government must introduce the Bill at the earliest practicable opportunity. In the event of a successful initiative vote, once the Bill is introduced to the Legislative Assembly, the requirements of the Recall and Initiative Act have been satisfied, and any subsequent reading, amendment and passage of the Bill will proceed as with any other Bill, with no guarantee of passage.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 10, 11]

Initiative voting

Initiative voting schedule

If an initiative petition has met the signature threshold and financing requirements, and been referred to the Chief Electoral Officer for an initiative vote by the Select Standing Committee, the vote must be conducted on a fixed schedule according to the Recall and Initiative Act. If no initiatives have been referred to the Chief Electoral Officer then no vote will be held. The next initiative vote, if required, will be held on September 30, 2023, and on the last Saturday of September in every third year after that date. Initiative votes are conducted according to Regulations established by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. Several initiatives may be voted on at one time.

A notice must be published in the British Columbia Gazette by the Chief Electoral Officer at least 90 days before General Voting Day for an initiative vote. Notice is also published in at least one newspaper circulating in British Columbia.

For an initiative vote to be successful, more than 50% of the total number of registered voters in the province must vote in favour of the initiative, and more than 50% of the total number of registered voters for each of at least 2/3 of the electoral districts in the province must vote in favour of the initiative.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 14, 15]

Proponents of an initiative vote

An individual or organization who wishes to be a proponent for an initiative vote must apply to the Chief Electoral Officer within 30 days after the day on which notice of the vote is published in the British Columbia Gazette. The Chief Electoral Officer must designate financial agents for proponents and establish proponent groups as soon as possible after the end of the application period.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 60, 62]

Opponents of an initiative vote

An individual or organization who wishes to be an opponent of an initiative vote must apply to the Chief Electoral Officer within 30 days after the day on which notice of the vote is published in the British Columbia Gazette. The Chief Electoral Officer must designate financial agents for opponents and establish opponent groups as soon as possible after the end of the application period.

[Recall and Initiative Act, s. 63]