Letter: Give proportional representation a chance in B.C. referendum

A Kelowna resident weighs in on PR

To the editor:

Regarding the pending referendum on our voting system, how about asking ourselves: in a democracy, a system that has at its heart the idea of rule by the majority, is it a good idea to have a voting system that almost always results in rule by the minority?

Few would say “yes!” But that is what our current system does. Almost always, the majority of voters did not approve the government they get. Almost always, the group of elected representatives resulting from an election does not, in fact, mirror the voters that elected it. We have government by the minority, not the majority. That is FPTP, or first past the post.

There are two issues in an election, representation and selection of a government. So why not give the voter two ballots? On the first, the voter selects a candidate, as now. On the second ballot, the voter selects the political party preferred to form government. From the first ballot, the candidate with the most votes wins, as now. On the second ballot, the votes are counted to discover each party’s share of the total vote. All of the members elected on the first ballot are winners and become members of the assembly. So every constituency will have the member of its choice. From the second ballot, the results from the first ballot are examined as to party distribution. If they are not in proportion to the second ballot votes, members are added to the assembly to make membership proportional. The assembly then selects a government that a majority will support. And that’s PR.

In practice, adjustments are made to reflect local conditions like the low population in some areas. The election website at https://elections.bc.ca/referendum gives information on how these adjustments are done. But the basic principle holds. The two-ballot system outlined above is the simplest and is labelled MMP (mixed member proportional) on the website.

One objection is that with PR, parties might have to cooperate in order to agree on a government. To that, the simplest and best answer is “how is that a bad thing?” Another objection is that PR would give radicals a chance to get in. Let’s remember that the gentleman who is president of the nation to our south got in under FPTP, as did the new government in Quebec. When radicals win, it’s because there is a social or economic problem, not because there is a voting problem. And regarding those members that might be added to achieve proportional representation, they are selected from lists published by the parties before the election. The voter will have this information when making choices.

It is extremely hard to balance all of our expectations and requirements on this topic. We expect a process that is democratic, involving freedom, equality, rule by the majority, and so on. We expect stability. We demand that the rule of law prevail. We demand fairness. We demand openness and transparency. On election night, when the results are all in, we want to be able to say we had all these things, and that the result we got really represents what we the people said. We expect to be able to say that we believe our concerns will be listened to and at least given a fair consideration, knowing that others may not agree with us and are expecting the same thing. We expect respect.

PR seems to me at a better way to achieve these things than what we have today. Remember, part of the proposal is that after two cycles there will be another referendum to see if we want to go back. So let’s give PR a chance.

Bob Lemon

Kelowna

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