Just over a year and half ago, BC held an election that resulted in the first minority government in nearly 60 years. This meant that no party would get 100% of the power and that, at a minimum, some level of cooperation between our caucus and one of the other parties would be required.
The result of the 2017 election was an opportunity to demonstrate the type of collaboration in Victoria that we believed would make BC’s government stronger and more accountable. We began using the phrase “Balance of responsibility”, not “Balance of power”, to describe our unique place in this parliament, because it is ultimately responsibility, not power, that we believe British Columbians want from their government and elected officials. While minority governments are not uncommon under our current First Past the Post electoral system, the collaborative nature of the new government is far more common under Proportional Representation voting systems.
The most fundamental principle of democracy is that the majority rules. When a party can wield full control of the legislature without the electoral support of a majority of British Columbians, it is too easy for that party to lose sight of its responsibility to the public. In this situation, which occurs most of the time under First Past the Post, power is virtually unchecked and easily taken for granted. When power is unchecked and taken for granted, it’s open to abuse.
In the fifteen months since my caucus and I announced our support for a minority NDP government, we have worked collaboratively on a host of issues. Our caucus has brought forward policies that government has adopted, and government has brought forward legislation that we have supported.
In the very first sitting of this new government, we brought forward legislation that finally eliminated the role of big money in our political system. Despite overwhelming public support for this change, the previous government refused to take any action because BC’s “wild west” finance rules were in their own self interest.
With this new government, we’ve also seen aggressive action to tackle the housing affordability crisis, lobbying reform, the elimination of MSP premiums and a number of other changes that the majority of British Columbians have long wanted to see.
This has only been possible because one party cannot unilaterally decide what is in the best interests of the entire province.
Proportional Representation offers us an opportunity to make this approach to governance the norm, rather than the exception. What Proportional Representation will do is give politicians the tools and incentives to find compromise and work together after an election to see policy advanced that more British Columbians can support. It is a structure to support more governance based on shared responsibility, not unilateral power. To be sure, Proportional Representation will not be a panacea for everything that ails our province. We will still have fiercely-fought elections and parties will continue to argue passionately for their points of view. But Proportional Representation will be a major step further toward the type of government we want for BC.
Shortly before our caucus decided which party to support in May 2017, we wrote an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun, articulating our promise to British Columbians – our promise to make the most of this unique minority government to put people first. We believe that British Columbians are better served by political parties that are willing to work together than the left vs. right, winner-take-all fight that has engulfed our province for much of the last two decades.
Whatever the result of this Fall’s referendum on electoral reform, we will continue to work to ensure British Columbians have an option that puts good public policy over politics. But if you have seen what is possible when parties work together and believe that no single party should have 100% of the power when a majority of British Columbians does not support it, I urge you to vote for Proportional Representation. What began as a fluke of our First Past the Post system in 2017 can be the way forward for a stronger, more accountable and more representative democracy in British Columbia into the future.
Andrew Weaver is leader of the B.C. Green party and the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
This article originally appeared in The Province