While I am writing this a bit late in the game, I wanted to share my thoughts on why I voted yes to Proportional Representation (PR) in the current referendum. I have been dissatisfied with First Past The Post (FPTP) since I learned that there were other ways we could elect representatives rather than the antiquated system we have now. I know this could be expected by someone who is most aligned with the Green Party and doesn’t particularly care for the other options but there are other reasons for my thinking on this:
- It makes the most sense to me – if a party gets 15% of the votes in the province, it should get 15% of the seats. The math isn’t that difficult. Conversely, a party that gets 40 – 45% of the votes shouldn’t get a majority in the legislature and therefore get 100% of the power. While these situations are more stark at the federal level where a party can win a majority with 37% of the vote depending on their vote distribution, majority governments are often times formed on the backs of a minority of the vote in BC. Frankly it ignores the majority of people in most elections.
- I want to vote for something, not against something – I have voted ‘strategically’ in several elections in order to try and block a party I definitely did not want to win in favour of voting for the party that I am most aligned with. This kind of voting is not inspiring at all and feels kind of pointless. I want to vote for ideas and platforms that I think are good for the province, not against ideas and platforms that I think are bad. Under a PR system, I would be able to vote for the party I am most aligned with and see a realistic possibility that my vote would matter. While there are a multitude of reasons why people choose not to vote, the perception that your vote doesn’t matter, particularly in ‘safe’ ridings, is certainly one of them and this leads to lower voter turnout.
- I am tired of the games that parties play to win a majority government. It’s one thing to want to win as many seats as possible and it’s quite another to attempt to actively undermine the legitimacy of minority governments and coalitions. Political leaders today take too much pride in not being collaborative and rigidly adhering to their ideologies. In too many recent close elections, politicians have said that they would not consider forming a coalition government like coalitions are evil concoctions. This seems to be a strong armed tactic. Under a PR system, it would be in the best interest of parties to learn to collaborate well with people and politicians of different stripes because minority governments would be the expectation. A benefit of this is that once minority government became an expectation, there would likely be more stability in these types of government.
- The emerging issues that we face, such as increased homelessness, opioid addictions, climate change and its effects such as increased wildfires, aging population, and gradual decline of rural communities are much too complex to be dealt with through partisan politics. We need a much more collaborative governance system in order to deal with these issues. In short, we need the best ideas of the BC Liberal, NDP, and Green parties in order to develop robust solutions to these issues. We are not served well by majority governments.
- It might enable more maturity in politicians and the discourse around government in BC. While it may be wishful thinking that the discourse could improve, the partisanship that FPTP engenders disgusts me. I would hope that because more people would be working collaboratively together rather than in opposition to one another, that there would be less incentive to engage in negative campaigning.
- It will reduce the appeal of swing ridings – swing ridings are the apple of the eye and they get all of the attention because they decide the elections. Conversely, safe ridings get less attention and less love. At least in a PR system every vote would count. In this regard, it will be important for parties to get broad distribution of their message and ensure that they have high quality candidates throughout the province rather than putting up sacrificial lambs in ridings they can’t possibly hope to win.
- It will keep politicians accountable – the previous majority BC Liberal government, the legislature barely ever sat. While what they did was totally legitimate under our governance system, it led to a lack of accountability by not enabling debate in the legislature.
In the last few weeks, I have heard some silly things about the potential downsides of PR, such as:
- It will lead to extremism – this is ridiculous. Yes, there are ‘extremist’ elements of governments in countries that have PR. But this is also the case in countries with a FPTP system. The UCP has a strong chance to form government in Alberta in the next election despite having a leader who has in the past has had strong anti-LGBTQ stances and has done nothing to suggest a change. Doug Ford got elected with a majority government despite his shortcomings as a person and is now implementing policies that will be very damaging to the LGBTQ community in Ontario. Some members of the Conservative Party of Canada, including its leader, have no qualms hanging out with Rebel Media, the xenophobic mouthpiece of Canadian media – they don’t see this as a potential limitation to them winning. There are better ways to limit extremism such as public education, investment in the arts and community building activities, and preserving good quality journalism. If you require the electoral system to defeat extremism then you are already on your way to losing the battle.
- It will result in the loss of local representation – all the research I have done has assured me that we won’t lose local representation in the legislature. Our ridings might be larger but we’ll still have someone responsible for our area and voicing concerns on behalf of constituents. I’ll admit, this isn’t a big issue for me to begin with. I didn’t vote for our local representative and neither did 53% of the people who voted in my riding. If local representation is so important, why do parties emphasize how important it is to have a representative in the governing party? Also, people that fear not knowing what their riding boundaries need to be reminded that riding boundaries change from time to time without a referendum and at the direction of Elections BC. So yes, ridings will change depending on the PR system but ridings change now under FPTP.
I understand why people like FPTP and would want to retain it. It’s relatively simple, it’s what we are used to, and we are a very successful country and province under this system. It provides a perception of stability that people crave. However, I feel if you are truly interested in democracy, then you should try the most democratic system possible. Really, if you think your ideas are so good, you shouldn’t be worried about a more democratic system, right?