The B.C. Conference of The United Church of Canada recently endorsed the proportional representation (Pro Rep) option in this fall’s electoral reform referendum. More than 400 delegates from B.C. ‘s rural and urban communities voted nearly unanimously in favour of Pro Rep.
Why is Pro Rep such an important issue for our Church?
Advocating for justice is a long-standing tradition of the United Church. The denomination is rooted in a concern for those who have been marginalized, and to give them a voice. The Church has long fought to end poverty, racism and discrimination, to help refugees and prevent war, to preserve the integrity of our ecosystems, and to pursue justice and reconciliation in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples.
B.C.’s current voting system, in which those with more voice and more power are able to act in their own interests without properly accounting for the interests of others, adds further injustice to these issues.
We have trouble imagining a more exclusionary voting system than our current First Past the Post (FPTP). To win a seat in the legislature, a candidate needs only one more vote than their competitors. In most cases, representatives are elected with a minority of the popular vote and often a significant majority of voters in a riding voted for someone other than their MLA. Under FPTP, a vote for a candidate or party that didn’t get the most votes is simply sent to the shredder.
Few of us are adequately represented in the legislature in Victoria. Supporters of the B.C. Liberals are heavily under-represented on Vancouver Island and in much of Metro Vancouver. The same is true for B.C. NDP supporters in most of the Fraser Valley and Interior. The B.C. Greens won only 3 of 87 seats (3.4%) in the 2017 election, despite winning over 15% of the popular vote. Under FPTP, political parties regularly win 100% of the power with only 40% of the vote.
This has some obvious negative effects. So-called “swing” ridings get way too much attention and hold too much power. Neighbours heading to polling stations exchange accusations of vote-splitting. Minority perspectives in a region can be completely ignored. FPTP also presents significant obstacles to electing a legislature that reflects the full diversity of our province. Women continue to be under-represented and MLAs from various ethnic backgrounds have not typically been elected until their ethnic community comprises at least a plurality.
Young voters are systematically under-represented and few politicians pay explicit attention to their concerns. B.C.’s indigenous peoples have rarely been able to elect MLAs who will represent their perspectives. Our current voting system intentionally excludes most voices in B.C., and that is simply not compatible with our faith obligation to seek justice.
The way we vote is truly a civil rights issue. A proportional voting system will not make forest fires vanish; it won’t eliminate poverty immediately; it won’t reverse the effects of racism. But as in other developed countries that have Pro Rep, B.C.’s political parties will be forced to work together to find solutions that work for most British Columbians.
It’s time for British Columbians to get a legislature that reflects how we vote. This fall, we have an amazing opportunity to say “yes” to an inclusive, proportional way of voting that makes for a more just British Columbia. Vote for Pro Rep.
Rev. Greg Powell, Minister & Chair of Kootenay Presbytery, Castlegar
Rev. David Cooke, Minister, Revelstoke United Church
Terry Dance Bennink, Esquimalt United Church, Justice Team
Robert Hart, Knox United Church, Outreach & Justice Committee, Terrace
Janet Gray, BC-Yukon Kairos, Regional Rep