We can do better
We can do better

I don’t know whether “pro rep is lit” . . . I’ll let my granddaughter figure that out.

But I do know that British Columbia needs proportional representation, and I happily voted “yes” in the referendum and shoved my ballot in the mail some time ago.

And here’s why. Our politics are too often a nasty, adversarial, winner-take-all mess that is the butt of jokes across the country. If ever there was a jurisdiction in need of an electoral system that promotes a diversity of political views, that requires parties to seek compromise not confrontation, that rewards cooperation and consensus, it’s British Columbia. 

I’ve been a keen observer of BC politics for nearly half a century and a participant in them for a decade. Here’s what I’ve seen.

When I was first elected as an MLA in 1991, a seasoned veteran of political wars took me aside and said, “welcome to the Legislature where the representatives of the workers battle the representatives of the bosses.” Now, perhaps the labour conflicts of the last century (and the century before it) gave rise to the parties and issues of BC politics, but the issues of this century stretch way beyond contracts and picket lines.

 And we talk about our politics as a form of war. Aggression is admired. Civility is seen as a weakness. Compromise is scorned. Coalitions are viewed as betrayals of the party base. Debates on policy turn into attacks on personality. Election campaigns appeal to fear much more often than they offer hope.

 And the media loves to report on the carnage. “If it bleeds it leads” is the motto of too many newsrooms. And the bloodier the political battles, the more newspapers are sold or viewers attracted to broadcasts or websites.

 A “first past the post” electoral system fits this form of politics well. A party doesn’t have to attract a majority of voters to win a majority of MLAs. All it has to do is keep its coalition of 40% or so of the voters intact and hope for (and promote) wide splits between the parties of the opposing 60%.

 I am not surprised that past premiers, with the notable exception of Mike Harcourt, support the old system. After all, they won under first-past-the-post. And, even when they didn’t, they were comfortable putting on the old armour and charging off to battle.

 And I’m not surprised that those opposing change chose to run a campaign based on fear, exaggeration and nonsensical claims, up to and including goose-stepping Nazis in the Legislature. What would you expect of a British Columbia campaign?

 We can do better than this. I believe that a move to a proportional representative system will change BC politics in positive ways. Pro rep won’t solve everything that people find off-putting about politics, but more citizens will participate in political activity, more diverse views will be heard, and governments will have the support of a majority of the people.

 Why on earth would we see that as a bad idea?

 Paul Ramsey held numerous BC cabinet appointments from 1993 to 2001. He is happily retired and living on the Saanich Peninsula with his wife, eight chickens, thousand of honey bees, and a golden retriever.