Afterthought: What Proportional Representation Means for B.C.
Overhauling the electoral system will likely bring sweeping changes to the province’s political landscape
Columns / September 11, 2018
On Oct. 22, eligible B.C. voters will receive voting packages that will allow them to determine whether the province will drop its current electoral system—first-past-the-post—and adopt a new system of proportional representation. This is the province’s third attempt at electoral reform, following similar referendums posed in 2005 and 2009, both of which failed to pass.
Though the specifics of implementing PR are a little complex, the idea behind it is very simple: voters should have more individual agency to choose who represents them in government. FPTP sometimes works against this, granting parties power disproportionate to the number of votes they received, and failing to represent the views of voters because of where they live.
A major argument against PR is that it increases the chances of creating minority governments that need to form coalitions to be effective, which slows down the processes of passing legislation.
That’s probably true, but FPTP isn’t especially effective at preventing minority governments either. FPTP has resulted in 13 minority governments over the course of Canadian history, including three consecutive minority governments which lasted from 2004 until 2011. B.C.’s current government is an example of a productive minority that works despite political disagreements, and John Horgan’s support of PR signifies that the NDP is willing to continue working with the Green Party in the future.
The amount of power given to the Greens provides the strongest example of how FPTP can work against similarly-minded voters spread across a large area. In the 2017 election, the Greens received about 332,000 votes, representing 16.8 per cent of B.C. voters. However, because Green voters are more geographically spread out than Liberal or NDP voters, they only ended up with three seats in government out of a total 87. This means that because of FPTP, 16.8 per cent of voters in this province are only represented by 3.4 per cent of MLAs.
Those three seats represent a little over 41,000 people, meaning that, if 290,000 voters across the province had thrown their votes into the garbage instead of a ballot box, the election outcome would still be the same. Because of FPTP, the voices of 290,000 people were completely ignored.
Smaller parties like the Libertarians and Conservatives, as well as independent candidates, would also have a much stronger chance of being elected. This would diversify the options for voters who are disillusioned with the larger parties.
While outspoken critics of PR like Bill Tieleman argue that it would open up the possibilities for extremist parties to gain power, taking a look at B.C.’s political climate suggests otherwise. The Libertarian, Conservative, and Christian Heritage parties of B.C. were the only other parties that received more than 1,000 votes each in the last election—a drop in the bucket compared to the Liberal and NDP parties, which received almost 1.6 million votes combined.
If you have strong feelings about B.C.’s voting system and how it defines our democracy, consider participating in the upcoming referendum from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30. It has the potential to make lasting changes to B.C. politics.