We could make elections in B.C. a whole lot more fair

The race is on.  Starting today, canvassers from the Pro Rep committee in Kamloops have 90 days to come up with signatures of  B.C. voters who will support electoral reform.  They need 10 per cent of the voters on their petition.

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The Pro Rep committee doesn’t want to throw out the old, they want to add proportional representation. The new system would be half proportional representation and half the system we now use, called “first past the post.”

Why fix something that isn’t broken?  The advocates of proportional representation think that our current system is broken and needs repair.  It’s not a radical idea.  Thirty-two countries around the world use a form of proportional representation, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Sweden.

The problem with the current system is that the winner takes all, the losers’ votes count for nothing.  In the last election, the B.C. Liberals got 97 per cent of the seats in the legislature with only 58 per cent of the popular vote.  The remainder of the voters got two NDP seats.  They may not have even voted NDP, but that’s what they get.

“The current system is a travesty of democracy,” Denis Walsh, spokesperson for the Kamloops Pro Rep committee told me.  Walsh ran for the Green party in the last provincial election.  But despite his affiliation,  he says that this petition is something that all parties can support, even the Liberals.  After all, the Liberals say they are in favour of electoral reform.  One of the Liberal New Era promises is to “Appoint a Citizens Assembly for Electoral Reform that will be responsible for assessing all possible models for electing MLAs including proportional representation, preferential ballots and first past the post.”

Proportional representation alone is not a solution.  Countries that use only that system have difficulty forming governments because too many parties are elected.  Notably, Israel and Italy have pure proportional representation but their governments are made up of splinter groups and don’t last.

First past the post systems have the advantage of clear outcomes and stable governments.  They also produce a MLA that represents voters in a riding, someone you can go to for help (at least in theory) on local issues.

The Pro Rep committee proposes a combination of both.  One half of the MLAs would be chosen by proportional representation and one-half by the first past the post system.  It’s the kind of system used in Germany and New Zealand, a kind of Goldilocks solution — not too proportional and not too rigid — it’s just right.

It would work this way.  The number of seats in the B.C. legislature would be reduced from  79 to 68.  One half of those MLAs would be chosen from existing ridings and another 34 would be chosen from party lists.  The party lists are prepared in advance of the election by each party according to who they think would represent a winning team.

Each voter gets two votes.  One vote for a local candidate of their choice and one vote for the party of their choice.  The party vote elects MLAs from the list in the order that they appear and according to the popular vote.

The nice thing about this system is that it allows for creative voting because local and party votes need not match.  For example, you might like Kevin Kruger as a local representative but you also like the platform of the Marijuana Party.

If this system was applied to the last election, there would be 43 Liberals, 16 New Democrats, and 9 Green Party MLAs in Victoria now.  The Liberals would still win, but there would be an effective opposition.  The threshold to elect anyone from the party list is 5 per cent of the vote.

Walsh plans to have official canvassers at each of his two Moviemart stores and hopes that other places in Kamloops will officially register so that voters can sign the petition.  If you want to help out, phone 319 8418, or email kamloopsprorep@hotmail.com

Proportional representation gives a chance for more voices to be heard in government.  But it also increases the chances of minority governments, which means that political parties must be less adversarial.  That’s something that we could use in B.C. politics — a little more light and little less heat.

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