LETTER: Why we need to move past ‘First Past the Post’

Editor,

There’s no doubt, that most people, whether you live in Hope, Merritt, Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Lillooet or abroad, you have been hearing a lot about proportional representation (PR), in regards to changing our electoral system.

There will be a referendum ballot on this topic during the upcoming civic elections in October of this year. So what is PR, and why do we need to change our electoral system, you may ask?

For those of you who may not be aware, our current electoral system is referred to as first past the post (FPTP). FPTP is a very simple voting system where candidates, whether party supported or independent, run against each other. The candidate with the most votes wins the riding and controls all the power and decision making, regardless of the fact that the total votes they received may be and usually is less than 50 per cent of the popular vote.

This generally causes false majority governments where one party, though having less than 50 per cent of the vote, has all of the power and all of the government decision making.

In the last federal election the Liberals won 100 per cent of the power with 39 per cent of the vote, while the 61 per cent of the electorate that never voted for them receive no representation whatsoever.

In PR not only are candidates elected using FPTP, but the final amount of seats determined is by the overall popular vote. So, if a party receives 39 per cent of the vote, they control 39 per cent of the seats in the Legislative Assembly.

I believe this is a much fairer way of distributing power throughout the constituencies and eliminates confrontational partisan politics, as it forces governments to operate in a more consensual manner.

Most democracies throughout the world today are represented proportionally, including many Westminster democracies such as ours.

North America is one of the last strongholds for FPTP, where long-established political parties are reluctant to give away their control of power.

The proponents who advocate for keeping our traditional electoral system have begun a negative campaign strategy, which includes many false claims and misinformation.

Some of this misinformation includes:

I.) Rural communities will be underrepresented. This is untrue, every party in every region will be represented by its vote.

ii.) PR is too complicated. Not true, every constituent will have one vote as they do now and will elect a candidate using FPTP. The proportionally elected candidates will be from open lists of candidates with the highest vote percentages that were not elected in the FPTP round.

iii.) Fringe and radical parties could win seats in government. Not true, most PR systems have a threshold amount of votes a political party must receive before they’re eligible, usually around five per cent.

iv.) It will increase the size of government. Only marginally, depending on the number of top-up seats required to make the government proportional.

v.) Without a majority government, nothing will ever get done. Not true. Governments will have to work cooperatively, so a majority of MLAs across party lines must come to a consensus on policy that best represents the majority of voters.

On the contrary, here are some of the advantages of a PR voting system:

i.) Every vote counts and is represented. With a PR system, strategic voting is no longer necessary. Voter’s will no longer have to hold their noses and vote for who they dislike the least. They can vote for the party or candidate they think will serve them the best and their vote will be represented, regardless of the outcome.

ii.) Voter participation will increase dramatically. Our current system of FPTP has led to increasingly high levels of voter apathy, as many constituents have given up voting as they believe their vote doesn’t count. Their votes will count in a PR system, and their votes will be represented.

iii.) There will be no longer any wasted votes. Every vote will count as it adds to the overall percentage of party votes, which will determine the overall number of seats each party receives.

iv.) Parties of all stripes will be forced to work across party lines which will make Governments much more collaborative and lessen the power of special interest groups in determining government policy.

v.) Constituents will now have the opportunity to vote for the candidate who they believe would make the best representative for their ridings, without fear of wasting their vote because that particular candidate doesn’t belong to a projected winning party.

So these are some of the arguments, both pro and con, constituents will be hearing over the coming months.

We encourage you to listen and learn. There are many successful European democracies that are proportionally represented and information on their voting systems is readily available.

For any of you who may be interested, the Fraser/Nicola Green Party Association is holding its inaugural meeting on Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Silver Chalice Pub, from 1 to 3 p.m. Our strategy for promoting a PR system will be discussed, as we begin our plan to strategize for the upcoming referendum. Everyone is welcome.

Arthur Green

Fraser-Nicola Riding Association

Green Party of BC

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