Citizens’ Initiative FAQ

Here are some answers to common questions we hear about Dogwood’s initiative strategy, the upcoming election and the prospect of a B.C. referendum on oil tankers.

Q. What is a Citizens’ Initiative?

The initiative is a unique way to introduce a provincial law that is only available in British Columbia. Under the Recall and Initiative Act any B.C. voter can write a bill and take it to their fellow citizens. If at least 10 per cent of registered voters sign a petition in support, the bill can be brought to the legislature – without the support of the governing party.

  • The proposed law must fall under provincial jurisdiction
  • If it qualifies, Elections BC oversees an official petition process
  • The proponent has 90 days to collect signatures in support
  • Victory requires 10 per cent of registered voters in each B.C. riding

If an initiative petition is successful, the government then faces a choice: introduce the bill in the legislature or put it back to British Columbians for a province-wide vote.

Q. How has Dogwood prepared to win an initiative?

Dogwood staff and volunteer organizers have been preparing for a potential initiative scenario since 2013, in the event that politicians try to force a heavy oil pipeline and oil tanker project on British Columbians without consent from citizens. Above all, we believe this decision must be made by the people who have to live with the consequences.

So far First Nations and B.C. voters have succeeded in defending the coast in the courtroom and at the ballot box. However, the initiative is a backup strategy if those two avenues fail. We’ve built digital infrastructure, trained organizers and recruited canvassers in the majority of ridings across the province. If the need arises, Dogwood and our partner groups will be ready.

Q. When will Dogwood be launching an initiative petition?

Prime Minister Trudeau promised in the last election that he would overhaul the National Energy Board and send Kinder Morgan back to the drawing board. Instead Ottawa kept the rigged review process left in place by Stephen Harper, issuing federal approval for the new Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker terminal in November 2016. In January 2017 B.C. Premier Christy Clark reversed her opposition to the project – after collecting more than $771,000 in campaign donations from Kinder Morgan and its oil patch backers.

In May 2017, British Columbia held an election in which Clark was the heavy favourite to win, thanks to an overwhelming fundraising advantage fed by unlimited campaign donations from corporations and wealthy investors all over the world. But she wasn’t able to buy her way back to full power. If Clark remains Premier with a majority, or if the NDP and Greens don’t step up to protect British Columbians, we will launch an initiative to block this Texas oil tanker proposal – supported by Dogwood and partners.

Q.What power does British Columbia really have to stop a company like Kinder Morgan?

Federal and provincial politicians have always acknowledged that B.C. has the power to deny pipeline permits and stop construction on a project like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion. In fact that’s what Premier Christy Clark promised to do … until Kinder Morgan lobbyists met hundreds of times with her government and donated more than $771,000 to her party.

If our government continues to give its approval to Kinder Morgan’s project, we have a plan to give British Columbians a democratic say over oil tanker expansion – regardless of who is Premier. By using B.C.’s unique initiative legislation, citizens can write a bill blocking pipeline construction. If we succeed in gathering signatures in support from 10 per cent of registered voters in every riding, the government has a choice: introduce our bill in the legislature or put it to the people for a vote.

Q. Is an initiative the same as a referendum?

An initiative can force a referendum (like with the successful Fight HST campaign in 2011), but they are separate processes governed by two different pieces of legislation. Any citizen can launch an initiative, but only the provincial government can decide to call a referendum.

Politically, the impact of a full-scale petition drive is impossible to ignore. A successful initiative carries hundreds of thousands of signatures from voters in every corner of the province. That’s why the Gordon Campbell government agreed to hold a referendum on the HST, which citizens won.

Q. What if the province put the Kinder Morgan project to a referendum?

If a vote were held today, it’s our estimation that Kinder Morgan would lose badly. Historically, referenda have a low turnout rate (50 to 60 per cent) which means only the most motivated voters bother to mail in their ballot. Strong opponents of oil tanker expansion in B.C. outnumber strong supporters at least 2 to 1. Plus we have a ground game and big voter lists. Oil companies don’t. That’s why they prefer to cut backroom deals with politicians, rather than asking the people of B.C.

Q. Initiative or referendum, won’t the oil industry unleash the mother of all ad campaigns?

There were no campaign spending limits in Kitimat, but Enbridge still lost a plebiscite vote there in 2014. In either a referendum or an initiative there are strict province-wide advertising limits. These limits are actually below what Kinder Morgan has been spending already. But even if Kinder Morgan found a way around the spending limits, they’ve already saturated B.C. with ads for years, with little effect. We trust most British Columbians to see through the industry’s spin.

Q. Getting 10 per cent of voters in every riding in 90 days? Isn’t that too hard?

The Fight HST initiative proved it’s not impossible. They also started with 0 canvassers and 0 people in their database. Dogwood and its allies learned from the HST campaign and have spent the last few years building local teams, far ahead of any possible launch. So far we’ve trained hundreds of canvassers, and have a database of more than 263,000 Dogwood supporters. We are prepared to run a modern field and digital campaign – with time on our side.

Q. Even if an initiative succeeds, isn’t the legislation pretty much toothless?

The initiative process is deliberately clunky because the government doesn’t want citizens telling them what to do between elections. The government could choose to introduce our bill and vote it down, or use procedural delays to try and shelve the bill. But any attempt to thwart the democratic will of British Columbians would have painful political consequences.

The initiative is one of the most powerful tools we have as citizens. It’s a tough mountain to climb, but Dogwood organizers feel we have an obligation to exhaust all peaceful, democratic options to give British Columbians a say on this issue. 

Q. Can’t the federal government override the province?

Both the provincial government and federal government have responsibilities when it comes to reviewing and regulating inter-provincial pipelines. British Columbia has jurisdiction over things like health care, emergency management and freshwater crossings – as well as an independent duty to consult affected First Nations. It’s our view that Premier Clark failed to stand up for British Columbians to the extent possible under provincial law.

If our initiative bill becomes law either through the legislature or a referendum, the federal government could try to assert “supremacy,” likely triggering a multi-year showdown in the Supreme Court of Canada. However, there would be serious political risks if Ottawa tried to unilaterally crush a province for following its own laws – especially on behalf of a foreign corporation.

Q: What legislation are we bringing forward?

We are working with some of the best lawyers in the province to come up with a strong bill, solidly within B.C.’s jurisdiction, that would stop this project if passed into law. We’ll unveil the draft bill in 2017.

Q. Could the initiative infringe on First Nations’ title and rights, or undermine legal cases?

Because we control the wording of the legislation, we can consult affected First Nations and legal experts to ensure the bill does not conflict with title or rights. Under no circumstances would we introduce a bill that weakened the legal positions of First Nations opposing this pipeline. This is not about putting minority rights up to a majority vote. It’s about bringing our laws more closely in line with Indigenous laws, through the power we hold as B.C. citizens.

Q: How do we fund initiative efforts?

Thanks to the ongoing generosity of more than 8,000 individual Dogwood supporters, we’re confident we can run a professional, province-wide campaign powered entirely by small donations from British Columbians.

Q: Who can be a canvasser?

Canvassers must be volunteers, and can accept no compensation. Canvassers must be also be registered B.C. voters. That means you have to be:

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

Canvassers must also be registered with Elections B.C. Sign up today and we’ll contact you when it’s time to get ready! If you don’t meet the qualifications to be an initiative canvasser but would like to help out in other ways, send us your contact info at and click the box that says “I’d like to volunteer”.

Q: What happens after I sign up to be a canvasser?

After you register to become an official canvasser a Dogwood organizer will get in touch to let you know about events and training in your community.


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