By Dr. Carole Christopher, SPEC President
Ballots will arrive in October for the referendum on Proportional Representation (PR.) It’s an opportunity to express your point of view on whether to change our electoral system from first-past-the-post (FPTP) to proportional representation (PR).
Both Systems have their proponents and their critics. Under FPTP, “the winner takes all,” irrespective of the percentage of the popular vote. In a PR system, votes are distributed according to how people actually vote. FPTP has the advantage of familiarity. PR has the advantage of fairer distribution of actual votes.
SPEC favors PR because it allows people to ‘vote their values’ and it promotes parties working together. However the purpose of this writing is not to convince you, but to explain the process.
The referendum ballot has two parts:
Part 1 – asks you to choose between First-Past-The-Post and Proportional Representation.
Part 2 – ask you to choose among three options for how to make the necessary changes if the majority vote in favor of PR. All three lead to the same outcome- a transition from FPTP to PR. No one is definitively superior to the others. They are unfamiliar to us but they are all drawn from the experiences of countries around the world who use PR. And they are crafted to reflect conditions in British Columbia, particularly to balance the very different sizes of populations and electoral ridings in urban and rural areas. All three options facilitate a transition from FPTP to PR.
Some people may decide not to vote because they can’t decide which of the three options they favor. That would be a mistake. You can skip Part 2 and your ballot is still valid.
A couple of other things to consider in voting:
1. The rules around all voting procedures in BC, (FPTP or PR), are closely supervised by Elections BC, an independent and non-partisan office of the legislature that set standards and monitors the rules around every provincial election.
2. Helen Clark, the Ex-PM of New Zealand (which has a PR system) was asked at a Vancouver seminar this summer whether PR systems are vulnerable to parties with extreme views taking over the government? Among several things, she said;
- Even if an ‘extreme’ group rises above the threshold of votes to reach party status, it is better to have them in government where they are accountable.
- FPTP is no protection against extreme views, as evidenced by the 2016 election in the United States.
- Around the world, there is more evidence of extremism in FPTP than in PR systems.
The three options in part 2 of the referendum ballot are the most confounding for people. Here is an unbiased resource on the three options from ElectionsBC.
In the Next newsletter, we will take a closer look at the three options.