When BC votes on electoral reform this fall, there will be two questions on the ballot.
The first will ask which system British Columbians want to use to elect our MLAs: the current first past the post system, or a proportional voting system. This is a straightforward question on the key principle at stake in this referendum—whether all voters should have equal influence on which MLAs are elected. Anyone who believes in equal treatment of all voters should support proportional voting.
The second question is entirely optional. It invites us to express our preferences for three proportional options, should the first question pass. Everyone is welcome to weigh in here, regardless of how they answered the first question, so collectively we will all determine the final outcome if we do move to more proportional voting.
Reform opponents are arguing that two of these options shouldn’t even be considered because they can’t be found anywhere else in the exact form that’s being proposed.
But if we think of our voting system as a suit or a dress, it’s clear their objection is nonsense. In effect, they’re saying we should only consider voting systems that are like off-the-rack clothing, and it would be somehow dangerous to tailor a voting system to better fit BC’s circumstances.
These naysayers clearly don’t understand what they’re talking about. Even the option that’s closest to an off-the-rack suit—mixed member proportional—is different in its details in the various places it’s used: New Zealand, Scotland, Wales, and Germany.
Similarly, while all the Nordic countries (Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Denmark) use systems that have similarities to the urban part of the rural-urban option, each has adapted the core idea of having more than one elected member representing each small region to its own unique circumstances. A good analogy would be that each country has chosen a dress of the same general style, but they’re all different when you start looking at the colours, patterns and other details.
Reform opponents dramatically overstate the case when they argue the rural-urban model has never been used. Rural-Urban simply uses two well-known, but different, approaches for the rural and urban areas. It’s as if instead of only being allowed to choose a one-piece dress, we could instead pick a skirt and blouse combination. The rural areas would use the mixed member approach, while the urban areas would use the same multimember approach used in Ireland and some Australian states, amongst others.
Even the third option—dual member proportional—is simply a variant of mixed member, more akin to choosing a striped dress instead of one with two blocks of colour.
In our view, tailored clothes will always fit better than off-the-rack options. We shouldn’t be at all concerned about going with any of the options on the ballot—all will serve B.C. much better than the ill-fitting and outmoded ‘suit’ we’re currently wearing.
Antony Hodgson is the President of Vote PR BC