One voting opportunity has just finished — our municipal election — and another is underway — the referendum on our provincial electoral system.
Elections BC mailed voting packages to everyone on the voters list just a few days ago. The mail-in ballot asks us to choose between 2 different electoral systems: the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) system or proportional representation (PR or pro rep). The ballot also asks us to rank in order of preference 3 different systems of pro rep. You can choose 1, 2 or all 3 of the systems.
I’ve long been a strong supporter of PR. With our current system of FPTP, the winning party typically gets more than half of the seats in our legislative assembly with much less than half of the popular vote. Typically, the losing parties elect far fewer seats than their share of the popular vote would indicate.
For example, if Party A won every riding in the province with 40% of the vote in each riding, it would win 100% of the seats in our legislative assembly having only obtained 40% of the popular vote. The other parties split the remaining 60% of the vote but would not obtain a single seat. That’s not fair!
Many people I have spoken to really like the idea of proportional representation but are somewhat confused about exactly how the 3 different PR systems offered on the ballot would work. Even I have some difficulty explaining the differences, but you can learn all about them here on the Elections BC website.
My advice is to focus on the big picture.
Do we prefer that the end result is a legislative assembly where the number of seats each party holds is roughly comparable to the popular vote it obtained in the election? If so, then proportional representation is your choice.
For me this is a no-brainer, and I don’t need to get bogged down in the intricacies in exactly how the new pro rep system will work. That said, my preferred “flavour” of pro rep is Mixed Member Proportional, or MMP — the second one listed on the ballot. I like the fact that each riding elects a single representative and then the regional seats are used to correlate the total number of seats to the total number of votes.
MMP has proven to be very popular in a number of places. Variations of it are used in New Zealand, Germany, Scotland and Wales to name a few, plus the Law Commission of Canada and several provincial commissions have recommended it.
England, the U.S., Canada, India and a handful of countries in Africa are the only nations that still use first-past-the-post. It’s almost like a relic left over from colonial times.
Certain people, often those who get often get elected to seats of power, prefer FPTP because it means more wasted votes, which favours them. It can also be easily gerrymandered, and the winner-take-all approach often means a distorted representation that usually favours them and their party.
We currently have a government in Victoria where two parties, the NDP and the Green Party, are working together. This arrangement has only been possible as a result of cooperation and compromise between them — a much more collaborative approach. It only came about because the NDP failed to win a majority of seats in our last provincial election.
Such an outcome is relatively rare with first-past-the-post, but parties working together — collaboratively — is almost guaranteed with PR. And when people work together we usually get better outcomes for us all.
My partner, Penny, and I have already voted and mailed our ballots back to Elections BC. If you have not yet voted, I hope you will vote for a big improvement in our electoral system and choose PR.
I leave it to you to decide which “flavour” of PR is your preferred choice.
Fingers crossed the referendum outcome is a brand new, collaborative electoral system.
Make sure you return your mail-in ballots by Nov. 30. If you are on the voters list and did not receive your ballot, contact Elections BC at electionsbc.ca, or phone 1-800-661-8683.