Since local MLA Jackie Tegart penned a column for the Herald last week in which she argued that B.C.’s rural communities have lots to lose in a proportional representation system, we have received a number of responses from readers across the country. Here are the collected responses to Tegart’s column.
Current system does not represent British Columbians
Contrary to the partisan negative propaganda of our local Liberal MLA Jackie Tegart, our current First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system does not fairly represent the constituencies of B.C.
In fact, rarely in Canada, including B.C. have a majority of the voter’s, elected a majority government. In the last two federal elections, majority governments have been elected with 39 per cent of the vote, leaving the real majority of 61 per cent of the voter’s without representation.
In fact, most progressive democracies throughout the world, function exceedingly better with some sort of proportional representation governing body, than do the minority of democracies using FPTP.
Ironically, our local MLA uses the small country of Belgium, on the brink of dividing into two countries, as her control model.
The reality is that in true proportional representation, every vote counts. This forces governments to collaborate and work cooperatively, rather than wasting time and resource bickering over unqualified partisan values.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to articulate how a proportional representation would elect our MLAs. Personally, I’m advocating for a system that elects its riding MLAs with the the traditional FPTP, then all parties add members to the legislature to equal their percentage based on the popular vote. This is sometimes referred to as Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).
With this system, no matter which party you vote for, you will be represented, as long as that party obtains a minimum threshold (probably 3 to 5 per cent) of the vote.
So if you’re fed up with being represented by a majority government, with a minority of the vote, write to your MLA and demand better, or better yet, vote yes in 2018 referendum.
Liberals enjoyed governing without majority support
Jackie Tegart claims our present electoral system is democratic and is based on the principal that everyone’s voice is equal. The 2013 election results illustrate just how wrong this assertion is. The Liberals received a minority 44 per cent of the vote but took 58 per cent of the seats. Under our present system that minority popular vote gave them a majority of the seats in the house and thereby all the power in government. I totally fail to see how on earth this system can be held forth as democratic.
Ms. Tegart criticizes the present government for calling for a simple majority on the coming proportional representation (PR) referendum rather than 60 per cent. Given that the last time the Liberals formed government, they did so with a popular vote well under a majority, I am once again challenged to follow the logic. It is worth noting that the “failed” referendum of 2005 actually received 58 per cent of the votes. That wasn’t enough for the Gordon Campbell Liberals.
The next criticism of proportional representation Ms. Tegart trots out is that it can lead to smaller parties and coalition governments. Part of democracy is that all political views should be represented according to their support in elections. Smaller parties with enough support should be represented in government.
PR does not “encourage coalitions,” but it can lead to minority governments. Minority governments are not in themselves bad, they can lead to a government where only the best ideas receive the support of government. The false majorities of the first past the post systems lead us to governments like those of Christy Clark and Stephen Harper where leaders run the show with no regard whatsoever to democratic principals.
All democratically elected governments in the world, other than the U.S. the U.K. and Canada use some form of proportional representation. While those governments might have a problem once in while actually getting their house in order, those problems pale in comparison to first past the post countries. Just consider Donald Trump, who got elected with a minority of the votes cast.
I would argue that Liberal opposition to PR is not based an any embrace of democratic principles. As evidenced by Christy Clark’s desperate efforts to cling to power after the last election, the Liberal principle is to hold power at any cost. Through well funded research and polling the Liberals know where to focus their extensive campaign advertising efforts. “Swing ridings” receive most of the attention at the cost of other ridings.
Ms. Tegart’s claim that PR would be bad for rural B.C. is simply more of the divisive fear mongering pulled out of the Liberal play book. A PR electoral system would give all B.C. voters an equal say in forming the government whether they live in rural or urban ridings.
Reform could lead to better representation
I would like to comment on the recent article by Ms. Tegart to the effect that proportional representation would be bad for rural B.C. I do not believe that to be the case because there would still be just as many MLAs for local voters, as under the existing system, but they would better reflect the political diversity of the region.
Just like the NDP won’t win every vote in the Vancouver area, nor will the Liberals win every vote in the Interior. Many voters opted for the Liberals in the Lower Mainland while by the same token many voters preferred the NDP in the Cariboo region.
Under proportional representation, nobody would lose representation, but rather each region has a strong, multi-partisan voice, and would always have some MLAs who are in government and some in opposition.
I believe that first-past-the-post is the system that is broken. Under-first past-the-post, fewer than 50 per cent of the votes cast can and usually have elected more than 50 per cent of the seats and gained 100 per cent of the power.
How can that represent voter preferences?
David R. Pearce
We can do better than winner-take-all politics
It’s been my experience in life that establishing consensus takes time, but that it is a healthier way of doing things than having the big kid make all the rules unilaterally. It seems, in Belgium, that this is the approach they have chosen rather than having to deal in other ways with the serious linguistic divisions in that country.
I respect their choice and understand that it is working well for them, all things considered. In B.C., in the last provincial election, we ended up with the sort of result that would be normal under a proportional system, in which no party obtains a majority of seats based on 40 per cent of the vote.
This did not lead to gridlock, and but rather to a more collaborative form of government involving two parties that together secured 57 per cent of the popular vote. If that is what proportional representation is all about I say, “Bring it on!”
I would encourage MLA Tegart to do the same. We can do better than our current winner-take-all system of politics.
President, Fair Vote Canada