By BRIAN SMALLSHAW
I’m eagerly looking forward to receiving my ballot for the Referendum on Electoral Reform and hopefully by the time you are reading this we’ll have them in our hands. This is a historic opportunity for British Columbians to take a big step forward in advancing democracy in our province.
In our democracy every citizen who is 18 or older has right to express their political preferences by voting, but under our electoral system, often referred to as First Past The Post (FPTP), their views may not be well represented in the Legislature or Parliament. If the candidate they voted for gets more votes than anybody else, AND if that candidate’s party wins more seats than any other, a citizen will likely be fairly well represented in the Legislature. If their preferred candidate loses, or if their candidate’s party loses, they likely won’t be well represented at all.
This system is especially problematic in a multi-party democracy such as Canada’s, because it means that a candidate can win a seat and a party can form government with far less than 50 per cent of the vote. It’s common for parties with considerably less than 40 per cent of the popular vote to win a “majority.” Even worse, because many people don’t bother voting because they feel there’s little hope their preferred candidate will win, most of these ‘majorities’ are in fact nothing of the sort.
You might ask what’s wrong with that? The candidates with the most votes win. The winners can’t behave too egregiously or the voters will throw the bums out the next time around. The problem with this is, at any given time the government will likely only be representing the views—and enjoying the support of — a minority of the electorate (who showed up on election day). So parties govern in the interest of the people that voted them in and everybody else must wait until the next election to try to throw them out. If they succeed, the new party in power is likely to impose its views on everybody else, leading to the sharp policy swings you get when we lurch from one false majority to another.
It’s sometimes argued that the current system prevents extremist candidates and parties from gaining power. First of all, I would say that the governments of Donald Trump and Doug Ford show this to be manifestly false. Secondly, it’s easy enough with a PR system to set a minimum threshold a party must reach to gain representation, and this is exactly what is being proposed for British Columbia. And finally, if a party gains more than a minimum threshold and is still not represented, or is seriously underrepresented, can you even call the system a democracy, “a system of government by the whole population?”
We have the opportunity to change all that and create a system of government where elected representatives must compromise to find solutions that work for everybody and where all citizens are eager to exercise their franchise because they know their views are being represented in government. Your ballot contains two questions: whether you want adopt a Proportional Representation system or stick with FPTP; and which of three proposed PR systems you prefer. Please know that you can answer either question or both but I would urge you to at least vote in favour of PR. Also know that your ballot must be received by Nov. 30, so don’t wait until the last minute to mail it in.
There are lots of people as excited as I am to be voting to reform our electoral system, so we’re doing what Salt Springers always do, we’re having a party! We’re going to meet at 11 a.m. on Saturday in front of the library to celebrate, fill out our ballots and walk to the post office to mail them in. Come and join us!