A grassroots call for change in B.C.’s electoral system has sprung, in part, from Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
Kwantlen Student Association Women’s Representative and Vice President External Affairs Caitlin McCutchen has signed on as a leading member of Yes PR BC, a campaign with a goal of swaying an upcoming referendum in favor of B.C. adopting a proportional representation electoral system.
The referendum, which will give B.C. voters the choice of keeping the current first-past-the-post electoral system or switching to a system of proportional representation, will be held in the fall.
“We want to raise awareness of the damaging effects that the first-past-the-post system is having on our democracy,” says McCutchen. “We also want to provide public education across the province on the benefits of a proportional representation system in B.C.”
The debate over electoral reform has been raging across Canada in both provincial and federal politics for years. Critics of the first-past-the-post voting system argue that it often results in a false majority, as the winning party can receive the minority of total votes but still earn the majority of seats in the Legislature. Proponents of proportional representation systems—wherein seats are awarded based on each party’s proportion of total votes—argue that this system does away with this problem.
McCutchen describes Yes PR BC as “a group of diverse political voices from across B.C., and also across the political spectrum.” In addition to McCutchen, the campaign is being run by the likes of former NDP MP Jean Crowder, former federal Liberal party candidate and entrepreneur Paul Summerville, and City of Vancouver Independent Election Task Force Chair Shoni Field, as well as several other political figures. Many of the people involved in the campaign have worked on previous voting reform campaigns in 2009 and 2004.
The campaign is still in its early days, so McCutchen says can’t say much about what its initiatives will look like. The Yes PR BC website features a clock that counts down the time until the campaign begins in earnest next month, when more details will be released about Yes PR’s plans for programming. In the meantime, McCutchen says that the campaign will be holding a webinar soon to encourage people to sign on and be leaders in their local communities. Later, they will have a speaker tour to drive up awareness about electoral reform.
McCutchen sees student organizations such as the Kwantlen Student Association as a potential leader for increasing awareness for the campaign on post-secondary campuses. The KSA has yet to officially become part of the Yes PR BC campaign, though the student government recently sent out a press release in support of electoral reform and proportional representation. McCutchen says that KSA advocacy for the referendum could look a lot like the group’s previous “Get Out the Vote” campaign strategies.
“This is a major thing that could change the course of our electoral system,” says McCutchen. “This is a really good opportunity for [the KSA] to make a difference, and I hope that the rest of the KSA will be on board.”
McCutchen argues that the referendum should be a concern for KPU students because proportional representation would result in students and young voters being represented more accurately, thus creating better engagement between them and the political system.
“Students are feeling disenfranchised from the voting system. They feel like their voices aren’t being heard,” she says. “Political parties campaign towards the older generations so students aren’t being addressed in government. If we have proportional representation, you will have more people representing you and more student issues actually being brought to government.”