Any proposed changes to our democracy must meet the highest standards of transparency, integrity and public support. This referendum has none of the above.
Pro Rep is a system that will result in perpetual minority governments, instability, and a loss of local and especially rural representation.
The NDP attempt to impose massive change on how we elect our representatives is deeply concerning due to the sneaky, undemocratic approach they have chosen to pursue. As a former deputy premier and minister of finance, I feel compelled to speak out on this critical issue.
I’m proud to have been a part of a prior government that provided the public two opportunities to consider alternate forms of electing our provincial representatives. However, unlike the NDP, we did so by ensuring that the process would not be tainted by politics and that whatever the result, no one could charge that the process was unfair.
That is why we arranged for a Citizens Assembly to come up with a recommendation about what option should be on the ballot. The assembly was made up of regular citizens selected randomly by Elections B.C. — not politicians with a vested interest in the outcome.
After much consideration, the assembly put forward a single transferable vote option. In the 2005 and 2009 referendums, STV did not gain enough public support to succeed.
Changing a voting system, particularly one that has served our democracy so well for so long, requires that any proposed changes meet the highest standards of transparency, integrity and public support.
The upcoming referendum fails on all counts for a number of reasons:
First, this NDP government lost the last election and governs only by dint of a fragile co-operation agreement with three Green party MLAs. They do not enjoy the mandate necessary to implement such far-reaching changes to our democracy. In contrast, when our government put forward the 2005 referendum in our first term, we had received the largest electoral victory in B.C. history.
Second, changing something as fundamental as our electoral system requires more than a simple majority in a mail-in vote with no participation threshold. We could see our entire democratic system changed on the basis of a fraction of voters mailing in their ballots. In contrast, we held the 2005 and 2009 referendums in conjunction with provincial elections, ensuring a higher turnout and greater voter awareness. We also required a double-majority threshold, which meant a change in our voting system would require 60 per cent of the popular vote and majority support from 60 per cent of the province’s electoral ridings. Why? Because not doing so allows the majority urban population to drown out rural voices, who stand to lose the most under proportional representation.
Third, Attorney General David Eby has been the author of this deeply undemocratic process. He is overtly partisan and has long campaigned for Pro Rep. His handiwork is evident in the process he structured, which has minimized public input and ignored what little response he received from the 90,000 British Columbians who participated in his online feedback form. Even that 0.02 per cent of the population recommended a “voting system that is easy to understand.” I challenge anyone to read through Eby’s three Pro Rep options and explain them to their neighbours, especially since two of the options have never been tried anywhere in the world.
Finally, key details about the specifics of the Pro Rep systems will be decided by politicians long after the referendum is over, meaning voters are casting their ballots in the dark.
Worse, unlike the transparent referendum undertaken in 2009, no accompanying maps are included that would demonstrate clearly the negative impact on rural representation. British Columbians will not know what electoral riding they will be in, nor how big their riding will be, until long after they have cast their vote. Premier John Horgan says we need to take a “great leap of faith.” No thanks.
This entire approach is flawed beyond repair. A government with no mandate cannot, through subterfuge and in its own political interests, attempt to impose a new voting system on a population largely unaware it’s even taking place.
I, for one, will vote to retain our current first-past-the-post system, while decrying the manner in which this vote is being brought forward. First past the post means whoever gets the most votes wins. Pro Rep is a system that will result in perpetual minority governments, instability, and a loss of local and especially rural representation.
B.C. deserves better.
A former deputy premier and finance minister, Kevin Falcon served 12 years in senior cabinet positions before his retirement from politics in 2012. He is the executive vice president of Anthem Capital.
This piece first ran in The Province and is published here with the author’s permission.