EDITORIAL: The move (or not) to electoral reform in BC

Sara Golling
By Sara Golling
November 29th, 2017

Why fill out the government’s questionnaire?

The BC government’s questionnaire, seeking public input on electoral reform, is intended to find out what features of an electoral system are most highly valued by voters, so the government can decide which system or systems to offer. Go ahead — express yourself!  Tell them what you want.  

But the questionnaire is problematic

Unfortunately, the government is collecting public input by means of a multiple-choice questionnaire, and some of the choices are incomplete or even misleading. However, citizens are able to make additional comments at the end of some sections of the questionnaire.

One example of  misleading questions are those implying that proportional representation would somehow result in less accountability for government decisions.  That’s misleading because votes in the legislature are matters of public record.  Voters who care can check to see how any MLA has voted on any topic.

Another example of a misleading question is one that fails to acknowledge two forms of proportional representation that have been designed specifically to  address some of the concerns raised by the Liberals and others: local proportional representation and rural-urban proportional representation.

Falsehoods circulating

Meanwhile, the BC Liberal Party is waging an all-out campaign against proportional representation.  Some Liberals are publishing outright lies on the topic, such as their claim that proportional representation would  lead to inadequate representation for rural areas. Why is that a lie, you ask?  Because there are ways to tailor proportional representation to ensure that rural areas are well-represented.  There is also a claim that it would lead to less local representation, and that is misleading for the same reason.  See the above links for details on these.

No particular form of proportional representation has been chosen  at this point, so fear-mongering claims about what it would (or would not)  do are simply not true.

What is true?

What is true is that proportional representation would give numbers of MLAs in the Legislature that better reflect the number of votes cast for each party, so the Legislature would better represent the values of the voters.  It is also very likely that proportional representation would lead to more collaboration, civility and co-operation among the parties that have MLAs elected, because there is far less likelihood of false majorities and parties would need to work together.  That would be a good thing, because it would lead to greater consensus on decisions; legislation would better reflect the intentions of a higher percentage of the electorate.

 It is also true that a party could no longer win 100% of the legislative power with, for example, 39% of the vote.  There would probably be no more expensive “pendulum effect” from one election to the next, with successive governments expending precious time and effort undoing what the previous government did.

Some help with that questionnaire

It may be a good idea to check out the Fair Vote Canada guide to the BC Government’s questionnaire before responding to the questionnaire; it helps readers better understand how their answers will be interpreted, and how to make their views more clear by using the comment boxes.  The page also contains a link to the government questionnaire itself.

BC’s Attorney General, David Eby, has begun the public consultation, and has stated that he thinks it’s not a bad thing for the parties to have differing views on electoral reform. But I think it’s a bad thing to promote divisiveness and  confuse voters by publishing falsehoods and misleading claims. If one’s opinions can be supported only by falsehoods, there’s probably something wrong with those opinions.

Fair Voting BC is another non-partisan advocacy group for electoral reform.  Its president, Antony Hodgson, points out that Fair Voting BC “has conservative roots.” The group was founded in 1997, after the election which gave the NDP a majority of seats with only 39% of the popular vote, while the Liberal party won a greater share of  the popular vote.  One of its founding members was Nick Loenen, a former Social Credit MLA.

Changed their tune:

The Liberal Party was, at that time, highly supportive of proportional representation ― probably because in the most recent election at that time, proportional representation  would have given the Liberals  the greatest number of seats in the Legislature.  Now the party has changed its tune and is busy campaigning against electoral reform. I find this puzzling, as the Liberals are just as likely to benefit from a form of proportional representation now as they were then ―  they certainly would have benefited in 1996.  

In BC’s 2005 and 2009 referenda on electoral reform, Fair Voting BC campaigned for a Single Transferable Vote system, which results in better proportionality than our current first-past-the-post system. Others think that some other system of proportional representation would be simpler and possibly more proportional than STV.

This time around, Fair voting BC has not come out in favour of a particular system, but provides materials, and links to other sites, describing the various systems.

One of those links is in the Library of Parliament Research Publications, and describes many systems.

If you’re interested, there’s a wealth of material out there published by non-partisan organizations.  If you want electoral reform but are baffled by the finer points of difference between one system of proportional representation and another, you only need to  decide  whether you think that an improvement in proportionality is a good thing. If so, there’s no real need to agonize about the complexities ― just vote in the fall 2018 referendum for whatever system of proportional representation comes out on top after the government consultations. Simple!

Getting the vote out, including youth

What about young people who don’t vote, who don’t inform themselves about political choices?  A youth organization called “Apathy is Boring” aims to improve the level of youth involvement in how we’re governed. Hint:  the personal approach works well. 

Maybe it works well for other age cohorts too. So talk to people about electoral reform, and discuss what values should be represented in our governments! Just maybe not at the dinner table.    

 We have until February 18 to fill out the government’s questionnaire.

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