As you know, British Columbians are being asked to vote on whether to adopt a new voting system. It is a topic of great interest to me. My own experience in the legislature confirms that we need less animosity, more respect. We will be stronger if we work together rather than against each other. You should vote by following your own conscience and I respect that. These are some of the points that will inform my choice.
• Fairness. Richmond, my community, has four MLAs, all BC Liberal. You might think then that all Richmond votes Liberal, but in the last election, 52% of the people did not. That is not unusual. In most elections, most voters do not get the local candidate, nor the party they vote for. How democratic is that?
• More representative. With Proportional Representation (Pro Rep), nearly every voter can point to someone in Victoria they helped elect. More points of view and interests will inform government decisions. For ten years, the Liberals froze welfare rates and support for the handicapped, because, “Those people don’t vote for us.” That is wrong! Today, the Interior and North have little representation on the government side. That too, is wrong! Representation needs to be more accurate and complete. Without it, the strong will be favoured over the weak.
• Civility. Under Pro Rep, the successful candidates during election campaigns and the effective MLAs once elected, must cooperate, seek consensus and be respectful of each other. Negative advertising, personal attacks and bullying will be much diminished. Our world needs that.
• No extremists. Changing to Pro Rep takes pre-emptive action against a Donald Trump or Doug Ford taking power in Victoria. Trump won complete control of the executive branch of the US government even though the majority of US voters—54%—did not vote for him. In Ontario, Doug Ford’s Conservatives gained total control of government by increasing their vote-share 7%, but incredibly, received 46% more seats. It is not the voters but our voting system that produces wild swings like this. Our current voting system is tailor-made to give extremists seats—and government.
• Long-term planning. Norway and Alberta have similar-sized populations and economies fuelled by oil. Norway’s Heritage Fund is bulging at one trillion and Alberta’s is nearly empty. Peter Lougheed made a good start, but subsequent Alberta governments have steadily raided the Heritage Fund. Norway has multi-party governments, therefore, a change in government does not bring in a whole new lot. Political change tends to be modest, incremental, less polarizing.
• Honesty. The current system induces politicians to build big-tent parties with promises for all, which cannot be delivered, leaving everyone disappointed. Under Pro Rep there are more parties, each representing their voters more authentically. The focus will shift from spin, style and images to platforms, policies and principles. Pro Rep is a modern system for modern times.
• Proven track record. Most modern industrialized nations use Pro Rep and none have ever turned back to our current system.
• Full money-back guarantee. If it passes, after two elections there will be a confirmation referendum and if the people do not like the new system, BC goes back to what we have. New Zealand had the opportunity to go back: they did not.
Nick Loenen is a former Richmond Councillor and Social Credit MLA, co-founder of Fair Voting BC and author of Citizenship and Democracy, a case for proportional representation.
This article first appeared in The Province