Michelle Stilwell, left, and Scott Fraser. (NEWS composite photo)

Why you should vote for proportional representation — and why you shouldn’t

Vancouver Island MLAs offer answers to electoral reform questions

  • Nov. 22, 2018 9:42 a.m.

Still unclear about the mail-in vote on changing the way B.C. votes?

We asked a pair of B.C. MLAs — one Liberal, one NDP — to provide answers to five questions regarding the 2018 electoral referendum on proportional representation.

Their answers appear below:

Michelle Stilwell, BC Liberals, MLA, Parksville-Qualicum

Does the low ballot return so far concern you?

Our voting system belongs to the people and it’s critical that it’s fair. A low ballot return would not only be disappointing, it would mean that a small portion of the province will decide what the electoral process will look like for the majority of people. That was my concern from the start with the 50 per cent plus one voter threshold and no regional thresholds. The result should reflect a majority of voters and the majority of ridings. It’s unreasonable and undemocratic to make such a significant change to our voting system without the entire province represented.

Can you briefly explain how the new systems would work?

I can’t because only one of these systems, MMP, has been tested anywhere in the world and the outcome for all proposed systems is largely unknown with 29 factors to be decided after the vote by a legislative committee controlled by the NDP and Greens. This is what we do know:

• MMP combines first-past-the-post with some yet-to-be-determined form of regional representation. Basic elements of this system are yet to be determined.

• DMP was invented by a mathematics student from the University of Alberta a few years ago. This model is completely untested. The algorithm used to calculate the number of seats in this model is so complex that I have yet to find someone who can explain it.

• RUP is the most complex PR model. It combines the single transferable vote and MMP. Both methods are used independently in different jurisdictions but never in combination. It is unknown if Parksville-Qualicum would be considered urban or rural.

Why or why not FPTP?

Under our current first-past-the-post system, each voter gets one vote and chooses one candidate to represent his or her constituency. The candidate who gets more votes than any other is elected. First-past-the-post provides clear choices between main political parties. It promotes strong linkages between constituents and representatives, and popular independents can be elected without a political party. Each FPTP constituency has one MLA, who is personally accountable to their voters and their respective constituencies. This is a much more effective way to ensure the needs and wants of British Columbians in all corners of the province are actually being met. FPTP also provides more stable governments.

Why or why not pro rep?

Some PR models have merit, unfortunately the lack of details and information in this referendum make it impossible for voters to make an informed choice. People deserve to have all the information before a vote without political interference during the referendum. This process should have been led by a citizens’ assembly independent of government influence. The fact that we have a Premier who keeps moving the goal posts in the middle of the voting process is unacceptable. British Columbians deserve better.

Have voters received enough information to make an informed decision?

No. Currently there is a low voter turnout, which speaks to people’s confusion and lack of confidence in the information provided for something as fundamental as our democratic process. This NDP government has rushed through the referendum process without providing the details that voters want and deserve. We have no idea how many MLAs there will be in a region, how big the region be, and the boundaries are not yet defined. Furthermore, with untested systems we don’t have any idea what these options will look like when implemented.

Previous referenda were led by an independent citizens’ assembly free from political influence. Sadly, the Attorney General has had undue influence from the beginning and has designated a committee of politicians to make decisions after the referendum; decisions that belong to the people. It’s simply not good enough. Vote for first-past-the-post.

RELATED: Vancouver Islanders among B.C.’s most engaged on electoral reform

Scott Fraser, NDP, MLA, Mid Island-Pacific Rim

Does the low ballot return so far concern you?

There is still time to vote and everywhere I go, people tell me they are excited about the opportunity to change our outdated voting system. I think people are being thoughtful with their decision. Every day more and more people are filling out their ballots and mailing them in. What does concern me is the fear mongering that we see coming from the BC Liberals and the “no” side. I encourage everyone to mail their ballot in on time, and to tell your friends and family to participate in this historic referendum. It’s not too late to register to vote – you have until midnight on Nov. 23 to request your voting package from Elections BC. If you want to learn more about the ballot options, Elections BC has plenty of resources available. Don’t miss this historic chance have your say and to change our voting system.

Can you briefly explain how the new systems would work?

Each system works a bit differently, but all three keep the legislature relatively the same size, protect rural and local representation, and ensure that the number of seats each party gets is proportional to the number of votes it received across the province. In all of these systems, every MLA will be elected by the voters. There are some excellent resources available on Elections BC for people who want more detailed information, but you don’t need to be an expert in the mechanics of voting systems to support pro rep. The most important thing to understand is the outcome – that the number of seats a party receives will reflect the number of votes it gets. For example, 40% of the votes will mean 40% of the seats.

Why or why not FPTP?

Our old, outdated voting system doesn’t work for most voters, and it puts too much power in the hands of too few. Parties often get 100 per cent of the power with less than 50 per cent of the vote – in fact, this has been the case in every B.C. election except one since WWII. Too many people feel their vote is “wasted” or they have to “vote strategically”. This turns people off from voting, especially young people. Moreover, this winner-takes-all system leads to polarization and partisan fighting. Parties focus on their own interests instead of your priorities. The BC Liberals and their rich friends have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, because it often gives them absolute governing power with a minority of votes. They are spreading misinformation and fear because they don’t want a voting system that gives more power to the people of B.C.

Why or why not pro rep?

Pro rep is simple and fair, and it puts people back at the centre of politics. It gives voters more choice, and a stronger voice in every region of the province because every vote counts. Voters can say good bye to strategic voting and wasted votes, and can cast their ballots for candidates who share their values. Used by strong democracies around the world, pro rep leads to greater government accountability, more diverse representation, higher voter turnout, and increased co-operation between parties. This month, we finally have the chance to put power back in the hands regular people and elect governments that work for everyone. If you believe that every vote should count and that people should be at the centre of politics, join me in voting for pro rep.

Have voters received enough information to make an informed decision?

I am confident that British Columbians have the information they need to make an informed decision. Elections BC has mailed out voter’s guides and has excellent information on their website. Public discourse has been high, and thousands of volunteers have been knocking on doors, making phone calls, and hosting town halls.

There’s also a great, Elections BC-approved, online quiz at referendumguide.ca for those who want a quick and simple way to choose their preferred voting system. Really, it comes down to a simple question for voters: do you want to stick with the status quo, or do you want to modernize our voting system so that everyone’s vote counts? We will have another referendum after two election cycles to make sure people are happy with pro rep, but no other democracy in the world has gone back to FPTP. This historic opportunity may not come again, so I hope people will choose pro rep.

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