More than three million registered voters in British Columbian are being asked to tell Victoria how they would like to vote in future provincial elections.
There is a great deal of debate around the mail-in referendum offering voters the opportunity to choose between staying with the current system, or moving to a new one. Ballots must be received by Elections BC by 4:30 p.m. Nov. 30.
Some want to retain the current First Past the Post (FPTP) system while others are calling for a new proportional representation system.
Like Andrew Wilkinson, the leader of his Liberal party, Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo is very much in favour of keeping the current method.
Kyllo says the most important thing is that the FPTP system is simple and has served the country and province well for 150 years.
“No political system is perfect, but we’re the envy of the world and it’s something people have a clear understanding of. There’s a party and a local candidate and you have a clear understanding of what to do.”
Kyllo says he shares his party’s concern that Premier John Horgan has broken promises in how the referendum would be delivered.
Kyllo says Horgan promised the process would be simple, a non-partisan citizen’s assembly would select the choices for proportional representation.
“An all-citizens assembly looked at different systems and they said a single transferable vote was what they wanted to put to the electorate,” Kyllo says. “What the NDP has come up with are three systems, two of which haven’t been used anywhere in the world and they haven’t identified electoral boundaries.
“People ask me how big are the ridings? ‘How many MLAs will represent me and how many votes am I going to get?’,” questions he says Horgan refused to answer in the Nov. 8 debate. “The number of choices and complexity will drive people away. People are very confused.”
As well, Kyllo says, if the referendum passes, how it rolls out will be decided by the NDP and the Greens who have the majority vote, something the MLA says is putting too much power into the hands of politicians.
“They’ve also taken away the requirement for a regional threshold. It used to have to pass in 60 per cent of the ridings, but he’s dropped the requirement entirely,” says Kyllo. “If you think of something as fundamental as the way we elect our governments, rather than 50 plus one, you want to make sure there’s a strong approval.”
Kyllo says mail-in ballots are known to have poor rates of participation and he is extremely concerned that the magnitude of such a change in B.C.’s political landscape could be accomplished by less than five per cent of the electorate.
Salmon Arm doctor Warren Bell, who has given presentations to the community on the topic, has a very different view.
He says voters have been complaining for years that their votes don’t matter.
“Once a person is elected, everyone else’s vote goes in the trash can and that annoys people. Essentially, proportional representation is a system for voters and FPTP is a system for politicians,” he says. “It is widely accepted that FPTP can be gamed by politicians and their backroom boys, but in proportional representation, it’s much harder to do that.”
And the reason, he says, is obvious. Caution will be the order of the day with two or three parties in coalition.
“They’re not going to let each other get away with doing anything stupid, so you don’t try it as much,” he says, pointing out the Liberals have benefited from donations of $5 million over the past 15 years and the NDP is pandering to their union voters with LNG. “The other thing is, for voters, it means every time you vote, it counts for something either locally or the party you favour. And no country that has proportional representation has ever gone back.”
Bell points out that in the last provincial election, the Green Party got 17 per cent of the vote but only received three seats when they should have had about 15, with the consequence the issues the party has been trying to bring forward – species at risk or extinction, climate change and more, are being ignored, despite the eventual huge costs of doing so.
There are a couple of outcomes, he says. Politicians have to work harder because they can’t depend on safe ridings.
“Almost all governments are coalition majority governments where politicians automatically start being more civil to one another because today’s opponent might be tomorrow’s partner.”
Bell believes a government that features proportional representation would be a more mature system.
“The reality is party politics is an embedded feature of every democratic government around the world because it adds an efficiency to elections and governments, but with a proportional representation system, each party gets its fair share of voter support,” he says. “No country that has changed to proportional has ever gone back; Horgan knows that and Wilkinson does too.”