As a biologist, the most profound revelation for me has been that diversity is built into the very survival strategy for life in a constantly changing world. The planet is not constant and unchanging: the sun is 30% warmer than when life first appeared; magnetic poles have moved and switched; great tectonic plates collided and pulled apart; oceans filled and emptied; mountains thrust up and eroded away; warm periods were interrupted by ice ages; atmospheric oxygen levels rose over time—and all the while, life persisted and thrived.
It is diversity at the genetic level within a species that increases options and provides resilience in the face of changing conditions. It is also diversity within human societies that enabled us to thrive in environments as diverse as deserts, the Arctic tundra, steaming jungles, wetlands, prairies and forests.
Monoculture—the spreading of a single genetic strain, a single species or a single idea of progress and development—leads to vulnerability when conditions change, such as new diseases, parasites or a different environmental state. The same is true of our political and economic systems. Humans are monoculturing the world with a single notion of progress—constant economic growth—that is impossible in a finite world.
Our current voting system in British Columbia—called First Past the Post—does the same thing with our political system, by creating a single voice in government that fails to reflect the diversity of our communities, our values, or our political views. Today, in both British Columbia and throughout Canada, majority governments are routinely elected with far less than 50 per cent of the vote, leaving the voices of the majority unrepresented and unheard. Our current political system stifles the diversity of voices and ideas and creates an environment where a diversity of perspectives and ideas cannot thrive.
What are desperately needed in our world today—in a time of unprecedented population growth, technological prowess, consumptive demand and a global economy—are new ideas, perspectives and strategies that celebrate and encourage diversity, in every sense of the word. Switching to proportional representation in our electoral system will help us achieve that goal.
For me, voting is a sacred obligation. My parents were born in Vancouver—dad in 1909, mom in 1911—and lived their entire lives in Canada, yet couldn’t vote until 1948 because they were of Japanese descent. Given the experience of my parents, I have always taken the right to vote as a great gift and have voted in every federal election since I turned 21.
I am now 82. And yet, with the exception of 2015 when I voted strategically to keep Harper out of office, I had never voted for a party that took power. Essentially, all those years, my votes—my priorities—were ignored.
It is absurd to think the different ideas and priorities of an entire population can be encompassed by two or three parties. As long as there is respect for others with different ideas and views, discussion and debate lead to the best solutions.
That’s why I believe British Columbia and Canada need to join most of the other democracies in the world, so we can elect governments that more closely reflect the priorities of more citizens. That is why I’m voting for proportional representation in the electoral reform referendum.
David Suzuki is an Emeritus Professor (UBC), broadcaster and journalist.