Proportional representation is all about making B.C.’s electoral system as democratic as possible, according to Sonia Furstenau.
Furstenau, the Green MLA for the Cowichan Valley, said the province’s current first-past-the-post electoral system has led to political parties winning majority governments with as little as 40 per cent of the vote.
She said there was only one instance in B.C. in which a party received a majority government after actually getting a majority of the vote; and that was in 2001 when the Liberals took 77 of 79 seats with 58 per cent of the vote.
“That outcome is a prime example is how the first-past-the-post system distorts the intentions of the voters,” Furstenau said.
“That election left the province with no effective opposition, and an effective opposition is so important to hold governments to account.”
Furstenau said a proportional representative system guarantees people will be represented in proportion to how they vote.
This means the percentage of seats a party has in the legislature will reflect the percentage of people who voted for that party.
Furstenau said that in the last election on Vancouver Island, the NDP received 40 per cent of the vote, while the Greens and the Liberals received about 30 per cent each.
“But the end result was that the Island now has one Liberal MLA, three Green MLAs and the rest are NDP, and that’s not representative of the vote,” she said.
British Columbians will vote on which electoral system they prefer in a referendum by mail between Oct. 22 and Nov. 30.
Voters will be asked two questions.
The first question asks if British Columbia should keep the current first-past-the-post voting system, or move to a system of proportional representation.
The second question asks voters to rank three proportional systems: dual member proportional, mixed member proportional, and rural-urban proportional.
If more than half the votes support first-past-the-post on the first question, British Columbia’s voting system will stay the same.
Furstenau said all three of the proportional systems voters will be asked to choose from will involve voting for an MLA in each riding, like in the current system.
MMP would also give voters an opportunity to elect a regional MLA that will represent a number of ridings in an area, as would Rural-Urban.
She said Dual Member would have paired ridings, each with two MLAs.
“All three systems deliver MLAs who would be accountable to their constituents,” Furstenau said.
“The MLAs would work collaboratively to represent constituents, and if people are not happy with their MLA, they would have the regional MLA who could work across party lines to help with their issues.”
Furstenau said those who want to keep the first-past-the-post system in place are spreading misleading information.
She said it’s not true that a proportional representative system would lead to a long list of parties that would make governing almost impossible.
“The attorney general’s report on the issue states that a party must have at least five per cent of the vote before it can attain a seat in the legislature, and getting five per cent of the vote is a significant feat,” Furstenau said.
“The attorney general’s report also made it clear that there will be no more than eight additional seats in the legislature if the voters choose a proportional representative system.”
Furstenau pointed to research by Arend Lijphart in his book Patterns of Democracy, which she said clearly shows a proportional representative system leads to a better government than one chosen under first-past-the-post.
Lijphart, in his research of 36 countries, concluded that proportional representation results in governments that are more attentive, citizens are more satisfied, less likely to incur debt and more likely to have surpluses, and better at reducing or preventing income inequality.
“We need, now more than ever, elected people whose job it is to represent every citizen, and to create a coherent vision and platform to best serve the current and future generations of the province,” Furstenau said.
“This is best done in a proportional representative system.”