The electoral reform ballot is on my desk and as I consider the two questions, I’m not sure how to respond.
The ballots are to be completed by the end of the month and the results will affect future provincial elections in B.C.
The first question is simple. Which system should British Columbia use for provincial elections? The choice is between the existing first past the post system and a proportional representation system.
The second question asks which of three models should be used if the province chooses to abandon the first past the post model. Any of the three would change the structure of the legislature.
Under our existing voting system, one of the two dominant B.C. parties — the Liberals or the New Democrats — is elected to a majority government with the other party as the opposition.
The present government, elected in the spring of 2017, is an anomaly as it is the first time since 1952 that a majority government has not been elected in British Columbia. Instead, we have a coalition.
Election outcomes would change under any of the three proportional representation models.
Assuming voters continue to vote along the same party lines, the Liberals and New Democrats would each end up with fewer seats while the Greens would have a stronger presence, at least in the near future.
This means three parties rather than two would set the tone within the legislature. (Small parties such as the Vancouver Island Party, BC First, Cascadia, Citizens First and others do not receive enough support to meet the threshold for representation.)
Proportional representation would likely result in more minority or coalition governments, with majorities becoming the exception.
Some would argue that minority or coalition governments are weak and ineffective while majority governments are able to get things done. However, at the federal level, some minorities have been extremely effective.
In the 1960s, the Liberals under Lester B. Pearson were able to introduce universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada and the present Canadian flag — all during minority governments.
But that was more than 50 years ago. Would we see the same degree of dialogue, negotiation and compromise today?
A friend of mine who is an astute political watcher believes proportional representation would lead to better discussions and better decision making.
I hope he’s right, but I have some doubts.
The last time Canada had a minority government was in the first decade of the 2000s, when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were twice elected with a minority.
The Tories had some significant accomplishments, including Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and the repeal of the Long Gun Registry, but those did not happen until after the 2011 election, when they had a majority.
Under proportional representation, they would not have had that majority. Could these changes have happened?
Here in B.C., our political scene is polarized and volatile. Would our elected officials be able to work together if minority or coalition governments became the norm?
And would the voting public want to see compromise and negotiations in the Legislature?
The harsh tone of comments I often hear and read has me wondering if a proportional representation system is workable here.
This is why I am still trying to decide how to answer the electoral reform referendum questions.
I understand how proportional representation could alter the division of seats in our provincial legislature. What I don’t know is how such a change would affect the decision-making process.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.
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