Proportional Representation: Myths & Facts
Proportional Representation: Myths & Facts

When I was young, I couldn’t wait to vote; I would get to choose who would run my country. The problem is I never voted for a winning candidate in my first four elections. It seemed my vote didn’t matter!

For years, my community of Terrace elected a BC NDP MLA. Many felt we were getting no attention from government, so we voted BC Liberal, just as voters replaced them with an NDP/Green government. Voters in communities that do not elect candidates in the “ruling-party” feel their votes don’t count, fueling disillusionment and low turn-out as people think, “Why bother voting?”

Perhaps it is not who we choose but rather how we choose that is at fault. Maybe it’s time to look at a different system.

Under our current First Past the Post (FPTP) system, whoever wins a majority of ridings forms government, no matter who wins the most overall votes. Only one BC government in the last 60 years won a majority of votes. How fair is that?

In Pro Rep, the party gets the same percentage of seats in government as they got in the vote. Now, that’s fair!

Let’s address some of the many myths about Pro Rep being circulated by defenders of the status quo.

Myth: Pro Rep is unconstitutional.

Fact: The BC Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that changing our political system is constitutional.

Myth: Pro Rep is a risky unknown.

Fact: More than 90% of the world’s democracies use Pro Rep. Only four countries still use FPTP: the United Kingdom, U.S.A, Canada and India.

Myth: Pro Rep will result in fringe parties.

Fact: To win a seat under Pro Rep, a party must win at least 5% of the vote. Political parties will need substantial support, in which case, maybe they’re not fringe.

Myth: Pro Rep will result in dictators.

Fact: FPTP concentrates power in the leader of the winning party; Pro Rep does not. Just look at the US or Ontario to see FPTP can result in dictator-like rulers.

Myth: Pro Rep leads to minority governments that can’t get anything done.

Fact: Minority governments often achieve more than majority governments.  And don’t forget that when governments under FPTP alternate between two parties, they tend to undo each other’s work. Talk about not getting anything done! 

Myth: Pro Rep is too complex; people won’t understand the ballot.

Fact: Voters in other countries are no more intelligent than Canadians and they manage Pro Rep just fine. Let’s give British Columbians some credit. We can handle this.

Myth: If we vote for Pro Rep and we don’t like it, we are stuck with it forever.

Fact: BC will hold a second referendum after two elections to see if people want to keep Pro Rep or return to FPTP. We can go back to FPTP if we don’t like it.  BTW: No country has ever gone back after adopting Pro Rep.

BC voters will receive a referendum ballot in the mail, asking two simple questions:

1) Are you in favour of current FPTP or a new system of Pro Rep

2) Which form of Pro Rep would you prefer?

Three alternative forms of Pro Rep are described:

  • Mixed-Member (choose a party and a candidate),
  • Dual Member (you elect two candidates: one with the most votes and a second candidate based on the popular vote)
  • Rural-Urban (combines a ranked ballot for urban areas and Mixed-Member for rural ridings).

You can learn more here:  https://elections.bc.ca/referendum/voting-systems/voting-systems/.

I prefer the Rural-Urban model. It’s a Made-In-Canada solution that ensures rural voices are heard in Victoria, no matter which party is in power.

Researcher Arend Lijphart has spent a lifetime studying voting systems in over 30 countries. He concludes voters under Pro Rep are:

  • more satisfied with their democracy,
  • elect more women and indigenous peoples,
  • are more knowledgeable and their turnout is higher (including youth).

Governments elected via Pro Rep are more transparent, environmentally aware and spend less time reversing the decisions of their predecessors.

And, finally, that “Proportional Representation democracies are kinder, gentler democracies.” Now, what could be more Canadian than that?