The day after an election, a majority — usually six out of 10 voters — effectively find themselves with a government in Victoria they didn’t choose.
The result? The majority must live with what the minority has chosen. Not terribly representative or democratic.
Since last May’s provincial election, public opinion polls have shown time and time again that most British Columbians think we need a new way to elect our government. That’s hardly surprising.
For more than half a century voters in B.C. have gone back and forth between parties on the left and right. Yet only one of these governments was elected with the support of over half the people.
It’s no wonder voter apathy is on the rise. Fewer and fewer people feel motivated to exercise their democratic right, staying home on election day. If the trend of the last few decades continues, we are in danger of a majority of British Columbians refusing their vote.
Among those voters who do make it to the polls, many feel pressured to vote for the lesser of two evils. They feel compelled to vote “strategically.”
Instead of voting for someone they believe in, they vote for a different candidate to prevent the election of yet another. Not coincidentally, a growing number of people feel cynical about politics.
When you have a voting system that is based on a winner-takes-all outcome — what is commonly called first-past-the-post (like it’s some kind of horse race) — the real losers are the majority of B.C. voters.
Entire regions of the province have no voice in government. Just look right now at most of the Interior and the north, as well as the Fraser Valley.
Plus, by giving so much power to the leader of a single party, the first-past-the-post system means MLAs feel pressured to toe the party line and not advocate publicly for local concerns. We lose local accountability.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Later this year, British Columbians have an historic opportunity to vote in a referendum to put an end to the electoral horse race. We can choose proportional representation, a more democratic and fair way of voting that ensures every voter counts.
Through proportional voting there will be no more elections where a party supported by a minority of voters can wield total power over the majority. Instead, if a party’s candidates get 40 per cent of the vote, they’ll win 40 per cent of the seats. That’s it. Simple and fair.
The majority of British Columbians have repeatedly said they want a better way to elect their MLAs. Since late November, thousands have already voiced their opinions about how the referendum on voting should proceed.
Enthusiasm is clearly building to bring in the change citizens want. But we can’t take this moment for granted. Already, vested special interests are trying to undermine the broad public support for a better democracy by raising outrageous fears and spreading misinformation.
These opponents of fairer elections are unwilling to acknowledge that most people aren’t well-served by our current system. Why? The current first-past-the-post system works for these forces of no, as they fear losing control over government, party backrooms and policies that shape our society. We think it’s time to bring government back to the people.
Over the next several months individuals and organizations that support PR will be building a grassroots movement to win the referendum. From Fort St. John to Tofino, and from Creston to Richmond, our movement will seek to unite British Columbians, not divide them.
When we think back on our province’s history, it’s easy to see that our first-past-the-post system has been broken for a very long time. It’s well past time for a change. And that change is to make every voter count through moving to proportional representation.
Terry Dance Bennink, Maria Dobrinskaya and Antony Hodgson are members of Make Every Voter Count, a new electoral-reform organization founded to support proportional voting in the upcoming referendum.