Devil in the details - The Orca

Devil in the details

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One voter who might be intrigued by Proportional Representation can’t stand voting for a system without all relevant details

I have been closely following the discussions and arguments advanced by proponents of both first past the post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR).

One thing has become very clear: this is not a referendum on FPTP or PR; but FPTP or one of three PR systems.

If we are to change our system of electing our representatives, there must be clear alternatives that people can easily understand.

To me, one of the tenets of our democracy is that the electorate should feel they have a comfortable knowledge of the voting system. FPTP is quite easy to understand – but does that make it the best alternative? PR offers up several systems that are relatively easy to understand.

Unfortunately, none of those systems are on our ballot.

As many writers and columnists have pointed out, all three of the proposed PR systems are very complicated. Two have not been tried anywhere else in the world (one was developed by a math student at the University of Alberta). Furthermore, not all details of each of these three systems are known at this time.

Are we meant to just trust politicians to fill in the blanks? Am I to understand we won’t really know how it all works until after the vote – and the politicians tell us how?

I know several people who voted for the Single Transferable Vote (STV) the last time we had a referendum on this issue, but because of the lack of details and the confusion in the alternatives presented, will be voting to retain FPTP. If we had a true PR ballot this time, we should be able to rank FPTP with the three alternatives – not one or the other three. And why are there no other alternatives within PR options?

I think I know the answer to that question. The politicians that stand to gain want only one of the three presented.

Unfortunately, this is not a referendum on FPTP vs PR. PR may have many virtues, but in this case, they are not reflected on this ballot.

I, for one, cannot support any proposal where I don’t know the details. Leaving politicians to work out the details to benefit them after the fact leaves me feeling exceptionally nervous.

I want a system that is of the people, by the people, and for the people – not one of the politicians, by the politicians, and for the politicians.


Doug Alley is the Managing Director of the Employers Forum and WorkSafe BC, and a former vice president of the Business Council of British Columbia.