I feel its time for me to weigh in on the proportional representation conversation, to counter the fear tactics used by the “no side.” It is important to share the facts.
Firstly, the claims that proportional representation would allow extremist or fringe parties – such as Nazis – to get into power are ludicrous. Any party would need to get five per cent of the vote to get a seat, and more than one seat to have any power. (Not to mention that we don’t have a lot of racist extremists in British Columbia.)
Secondly, the no side is making hay of the fact that B.C. has not chosen a specific pro rep system yet: they are playing up the unknowns of the proposed systems and saying the lack of specifics means we should vote “no.” Yet we can be reassured that variations of these systems are used in many places worldwide. In fact, more places use pro rep than use first-past-the-post. The referendum has given us a choice of three valid options, any of which would serve citizens better than the current first-past-the-post system. The finer details of the chosen system will be determined later by an all-party committee. Moreover, after two elections, we will have the opportunity to decide whether it has worked for us, and to go back to first-past-the-post if we so choose.
Thirdly, there is an unfortunate myth that pro rep would cause us to lose our local representation. This is entirely untrue. What is true is that under pro rep, two or more Members of the Legislature would share a larger district. B.C. has some unique considerations due to small populations in large rural ridings, and voters in these areas already have concerns about their representation. Rural voters – and all voters – will not lose local representation. All three systems protect local representation, since one of the criteria for any system being considered is that there will be no fewer MLAs in a district than there are now.
Another scare tactic is that some representatives will be appointed to regions from a “closed” party list, meaning that voters will not get to choose. This also is untrue. While one of the proposed systems could possibly include that feature, no political parties or citizen groups are in favour of it.
Letters to this very paper have said that pro rep would get us fringe parties and unstable governments that will get us into debt. This is entirely contradicted by the evidence. What has been found through systematic academic studies are the following five benefits of proportional representation: i) representing the population (i.e. political representatives elected in proportion to the votes received), ii) reducing government debt, iii) producing more benevolent societies, iv) creating stable governments, and v), combating extremism.
It is important to note that these same academic studies also found that in pro rep-based governments there is less pandering to single-issue groups and to the moneyed interests of the elite. This is likely why the BC Liberals are fighting it so fiercely.
It’s important to vote. The second ballot question about which pro rep system you prefer is optional – the most important task is to simply vote on the first question: do we want to keep first-past-the-post or try pro rep? Ballots need to be mailed no later than Nov. 25 in order to meet the Nov. 30 deadline of 4:30 p.m. in Victoria. Alternatively, they can be brought to the local Service BC Centre by Nov. 30.
As this is our third referendum, this is likely the last chance we will have to fix our broken system, at least in this generation.