We have chance to be 1st province to modernize elections
This fall, B.C. voters are getting a chance to change the way we vote. Most of us have received an envelope in the mail from Elections B.C. containing two questions, the first asking if we want to change to a proportional system, and the second giving a choice of three types. There is a postage-paid return envelope and a deadline of Nov. 30 for this mail-in ballot. The results are binding for the government to implement, and there will be an all-party committee to fine-tune the system chosen, should the YES side win. We also have the option of returning to the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system after two election cycles by means of another referendum if we are not satisfied.
The advantages of proportional representation are indisputable. No party will get 100 per cent of the power with less than 40 per cent of the vote. Almost every voter will help elect an MLA, so there will be few wasted votes. Voting negatively (or strategically) to prevent a certain candidate or party from getting in will be unnecessary, so one can vote one’s conscience. Parties will be compelled to work together, and candidates will be obliged to earn their victories as there will be fewer safe seats. The political campaign board-game of targeting swing ridings and ignoring everyone else will become a thing of the past.
In addition, the attorney general of B.C. has guaranteed that in all three of the proportional systems offered, no region, including rural, will have fewer MLAs, and MLAs will still be accountable in their area. There will be no significant increase in MLA numbers beyond what is usual between elections. Ballots will be relatively straightforward, with candidates chosen by the electors not the party brass. There will be a five per cent threshold to get a proportionately allocated seat.
So what are the disadvantages — what is the NO side saying, and why?
It is too complicated. Well, the truth is you might have two x’s to fill in, one for the local rep and one for a regional party one. You might also have to rank your choices from a list of different party candidates, nothing you have not seen before in any club or organization, and certainly not rocket science.
It hurts rural voters. Well, with pro-rep, no party will be able to sweep a region and leave many voters without their own party’s representation.
Instability and paralysis in government. Well, 80 per cent of OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, that is richer, developed countries similar to ours, use pro-rep and report no greater frequency of elections as well as much success in parties having to work together to solve problems.
Leads to an explosion of fringe parties with extremists getting elected. Well, there is that five per cent threshold to cross, and all fringe parties together now only make up about one per cent of the vote. As for extremism in government, one only has to look at the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., Steven Harper in Canada, and Doug Ford in Ontario, all elected under FPTP to…well I rest my case.
The current first-past-the-post system reduces the role of the average citizen to that of betting on a winner-take-all horse race. It discourages cooperation, disillusions voters so that they do not see the point of voting at all, and is a relic of the 19th century British empire. It is advantageous only to those that seek unchallenged power and to corporate lobbyists who prefer dealing with one party that serves their interests. We in B.C. have an opportunity to be the first province in Canada, with Quebec and PEI not far behind, to modernize our electoral system.