What happens when regular citizens come together to look at which voting systems are best for B.C.? Answer: Proportional Representation (Pro Rep) wins by a landslide.
I was one of the randomly chosen citizens on the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform who spent 2004 consulting with British Columbians and learning about voting systems. We voted 146 to 7 to recommend a proportional voting system.
We heard a united message at public hearings, in written submissions, and from thousands of hours of conversations in our communities.
British Columbians had three reasonable requests.
Request 1: Make local representation more effective. Citizens knew their MLAs worked hard and helped constituents navigate government agencies. However, they felt our system, First Past the Post (FPTP), prevented MLAs from truly representing their community in the legislature. Parties are incentivized to focus on only a few swing ridings they need to retain or win back. We overwhelmingly recommended a proportional system because voters want their MLA to become a true community champion.
Request 2: Give voters more choice. We heard, “Whether I’m ‘right’ or ‘left’ if there’s only one option that’s not choice”. With no viable alternatives, you don’t have an effective means to hold politicians to account. When politicians know that, they’re free to serve vested interests. We overwhelmingly recommended a proportional system because voters want to hold politicians accountable.
Request 3: Deliver accurate outcomes. FPTP delivers extreme swings with small changes in voting which leads to false majorities, wrong winners, missing representation and instability. So often governments claim a mandate for sweeping change, but is that legitimate if it comes from distorted outcomes? We overwhelmingly recommended a proportional system because voters want the outcome to reflect their vote.
On the referendum ballot, voters have the same two decisions as the members of the Citizens’ Assembly had.
First: Will Pro Rep serve B.C. better than FPTP?
Since 2004, the perils of FPTP have become even clearer. A system that gives 100% of the power with only 39-40% of the vote is open to manipulation and extremism. When minor changes in voting lead to major shifts in power it is too easy and too tempting to sway the outcome through gerrymandering, data hijacking, voter manipulation or fraud. FPTP makes us too vulnerable.
Second: Which proportional system?
BC voters have three good options to choose from. They all work well; the mechanics have all been used successfully elsewhere. They will work for B.C.; each has been designed with our geography and population in mind. And, all three options will deliver the benefits of Pro Rep.
The BC Citizens’ Assembly found that FPTP fails to meet British Columbian’s requirements for a successful voting system, and that Pro Rep systems would. It’s simply up to my fellow citizens to choose which of the three best delivers on their reasonable requests.
Shoni Field was one of the BC Citizens’ Assembly members for Vancouver-Hastings. She’s continued to be involved in voting reform through Fair Voting BC, Fair Vote Canada and Unlock Democracy, and served as chair of Vancouver’s Independent Election Task Force.