The referendum on electoral reform comes down to the question: Can we improve government, particularly the management of public funds? Yes, we can!
Conservative Senator Hugh Segal writes: “First past the post elections manufacture contrived majority governments who classically eschew compromise with other parties to impose economic policies from the right or left that do not reflect a balanced or inclusive economic policy framework. This can and has led to bad policy, excessive or inadequate tax initiatives, tilted labor relations, excessive or incompetent regulatory regimes. All of these can and have cost Canada and provinces economic slow downs, wild lurches from one economic policy to another and so on. This costs us vital time and setbacks on issues like jobs, investment, tax reform, poverty reduction, and education. These are setbacks that hurt people’s lives, aspirations and economic and social prospects.”
The truth of these words is evident when comparing Alberta (FPTP) to Norway (Pro Rep). Both have similar-sized populations and economies fuelled by oil. Alberta’s heritage fund is nearly empty; Norway’s is a bulging one trillion dollars! Why? Peter Lougheed made a good start, but subsequent Alberta governments have steadily raided the Heritage Fund. Norway had multi-party governments where a change in government tends to be modest, incremental, less polarizing, with many of the same participants. Prominent among the best performing economies are Pro Rep countries such as Germany and the Scandinavian countries.
Also, when majorities get manufactured, the governing party is tempted to ignore wide swaths of the voters and large geographic areas. For ten years, the BC Liberals froze welfare rates and support for the handicapped, because ‘those people don’t vote for us.’ Now, under the BCNDP, the Interior and the North have little representation in cabinet and on the government benches. Those regions endure taxation without representation. The Massey tunnel was shelved in favour of the Pattulo bridge. Could that be because the tunnel serves constituencies that never vote BCNDP while the Pattulo bridge serves those that do? Such lurches in public policies are not conducive to good management.
Too much power in too few hands leads to abuse of power. We need a voting system that shares power across multi-party, genuine majority governments. One-party governments lack any incentive to plan beyond the next election. Their self-interest is to spend all that is available to buy another election because in each election they face complete annihilation.
Consider this: nearly all of the many new democracies formed over the past seventy years have rejected one-party FPTP majority governments in favour of multi-party Pro Rep governments. And no country has abandoned their Pro Rep system in favour of our old, out-dated FPTP.
British Columbians have an opportunity to improve the management of our public affairs, with fewer incentives for self-serving partisans and increased incentives to serve the public interest. If, after two elections, the promise of better government fails to materialize, we the people can decide to go back. After taste-testing their Pro Rep voting system over two elections, New Zealand had the opportunity to go back: they did not.
I will vote Pro Rep, for less partisan self-interest, greater accountability and better government!
Nick Loenen is a former Richmond Councillor and Social Credit MLA, co-founder of Fair Voting BC. He was a Reform Party of Canada candidate and chaired that party’s Task Force on Electoral Reform.