As professors who teach about entrepreneurship, we’re always considering where a new enterprise should set itself up. Given BC’s strong knowledge economy, it’s clearly a solid place to do business. But we could be so much better.
What makes a particular place a good place to invest in has a lot to do with government policy, particularly regarding infrastructure, tax and regulatory policies. From the business perspective, the more predictable and broadly-accepted these policies are, the better.
Unfortunately, our current voting system introduces a significant element of uncertainty into evaluating investment opportunities. Because election results are almost pathologically sensitive to small swings in voter sentiment (think how on election night only nine votes in Courtenay-Comox meant the difference between a majority Liberal government and our current government), the entire philosophy of a government can shift abruptly, even though voters’ underlying preferences are relatively stable.
A dramatic example of this kind of policy lurch is the recent change in government in Ontario, in which Doug Ford came to power and immediately cancelled the White Pines wind farm project shortly before it was due to start operations.
Similarly, when the BCNDP came to power last year, it cancelled the Massey Tunnel replacement project just as construction was due to begin.
And when Doug McCallum was recently elected as mayor of Surrey, the previously-accepted (and funded) light rail plans were scrapped in favour of pursuing an as-yet-unfunded Skytrain proposal.
Regardless of what you think of the merits of any of these projects, this is no way to run government.
Many companies and investors made good faith efforts to propose these projects and obtain the necessary governmental and regulatory approvals, only to have their business opportunities snatched away at the last moment when a new party, typically with only minority public support, came to power. Such uncertainty discourages future investors from even considering such projects.
In contrast, countries operating under proportional voting systems tend to offer much more inviting investment prospects. Salomon Orellana (University of Michigan) has demonstrated that governments elected under pro rep voting advance policies that address the concerns of a broader range of society and have true majority support. For this reason, policy decisions can take a longer view and end up being supported more consistently over time, even when governments change. He characterizes these decisions as the opposite of the “pandering politics” encouraged by our current system.
Similarly, Carey (Dartmouth College) and Hix (London School of Economics) found that government performance and accountability are strongest in countries that combine local representation and greater proportionality – exactly the kinds of voting systems on the ballot here in BC.
So, if BC wants to make itself a more attractive place for sophisticated investors and end unnecessary and unwanted policy lurch, we urge voters to mark their ballots in support of a more proportional voting system. It really doesn’t matter which of the three options you prefer – your ballot will still count even if you leave the second question blank. But if you’re hesitating to return your ballot until you’ve made up your mind about that second question, we recommend you visit referendumguide.ca and take their 5 minute quiz to find out which options best match your personal values. Either way, we urge you to vote for Pro Rep now, while you still can!
Dr. Blaize Horner Reich is the RBC Professor of Technology and Innovation and Advisory Board Chair of the RADIUS Social Innovation Hub at SFU;
Dr. Antony Hodgson is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UBC and Director of the Medtech Development Hub at Vancouver General Hospital.