Tom Perry: Pro rep will bring more voices and better government to B.C.
Tom Perry: Pro rep will bring more voices and better government to B.C.

I’m voting for PR because I think it will give us wiser, more thoughtful governments. It won’t be perfect, but the fear-mongering about racist or right-wing parties is absurd.

I’m voting for proportional representation because I want better government that deals proactively with issues of universal importance, like climate change and income inequality. I want my values to be reflected in government more often than not.

Most of my life, I’ve voted for losers and I’m tired of it.

Even though I’ve worked in at least 15 election campaigns, it was often a disillusioning experience because there was no chance that the election results would reflect accurately the public will. Granted, I’ve been represented for decades by two fine MPs, but even their brilliance had little impact within their own ruling parties, let alone our government.

Once, I voted for myself in a by-election and won!  But my enthusiasm soon dimmed in the reality of the Legislative Assembly. Naively, I volunteered as health critic to help the health minister rein in escalating prescription drug costs and improve outcomes. Because I was from the NDP, his internal robot replied, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Seven years later, like so many other MLAs from all parties, I felt that I had largely wasted my education, knowledge, and insights in a forum where elected representatives had the least power and influence of anyone.

I did learn one fine thing from other MLAs. We often shared more perspectives than those that divided us.

This transcended urban or rural constituencies. Most city dwellers may be relatively ignorant of living conditions in our north, but we do have friends or relatives who live and work there, and we’re capable of learning. Now we’re all affected by drug addiction, alcoholism and the natural causes of sickness. We must all reconcile with the descendants of peoples who long preceded us here. Who among us does not see how housing prices are distorting almost every aspect of life for younger people and their employers? Everyone faces the impacts of climate change.

Our electoral system is ill-suited to tackle long-term issues. When I raised climate change in the cabinet in 1993, many colleagues thought me a deluded alarmist. As difficult issues arose for discussion, I was often indeed alarmed at the quality of information upon which important decisions would be based.

Ignorant decisions were hardly unique to the government in which I served. But it is typically worst in those that concentrate power in single leaders and their unelected staff. A few independent voices often remain in party caucuses, but the internal dynamic often characterizes fresh ideas as “renegade.” Anyone who has served knows what I’m talking about.

How could PR change this? It’s obvious that the election of three Green MLAs, reflecting far less than their proportional share of the 2017 provincial vote, has improved discussion and decision-making in B.C. We may have lost some fine MLAs, but we gained three new voices who are unafraid to be heard. This keeps others on their toes. To me, it’s the first blush of a more mature, sensitive, and productive democracy.

I’m voting for PR because I think it will give us wiser, more thoughtful governments. It won’t be perfect, but the fear-mongering about racist or right-wing parties is absurd. Think back to the majority governments that brought us the forced relocation and property confiscation from Canadian citizens of Japanese descent. Consider the majority governments that denied the right to vote to Aboriginals, Chinese immigrants and women. What if there had been more diversity in our legislature in those days?

I see the potential for a West Coast spring. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stole this possibility from Canada after promising a different vision in 2015. Here in B.C., we only need the courage to vote for a chance to see something better. Our three-party legislature can work out the details in broad daylight but only if we give them a mandate for more democracy.

Dr. Tom Perry is a physician and environmentalist, who was an NDP MLA from 1989 to 1996 and a cabinet minister from 1991 to 1993.

This article originally appeared in The Province