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EDITORIAL – Proportional representation’s ship has sailed

B.C. Legislature.

An ArmchairMayor.ca editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

WHY IS IT that B.C. politicians think they have to keep promising to change the electoral system in this province?

In recent days, both NDP leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, for reasons they haven’t fully explained, have dropped electoral change into their platforms. Well, to be fair, they’ve been committed to it for awhile, but now that we’re into the campaign, they’ve both added onto other platform announcements like a tagline, somewhere near the bottom.

Horgan promises to “move towards a proportional voting system,” whatever exactly that means. Will we have yet another plebiscite on proportional representation? That seems to be his intent.

Weaver also wants proportional representation plus, of all things, the right to vote for 16-year-olds. The latter idea is simply inexplicable, so let’s set it aside for another day and stick to prop rep.

People, this ship has sailed. It’s day is done. Stick a fork in it.

Justin Trudeau promised the end of first-past-the-post, until he figured out it was a really bad idea, that it simply wasn’t anywhere on Canadians’ priority list, and had to reverse himself. Alberta’s NDP once promised to do the same thing, and came to understand the party would probably never achieve power under such a system.

Here in B.C., under the Liberals, voters have twice — not once, but twice — rejected the single transferable vote, an incredibly complicated variation on proportional representation.

It’s no wonder the Greens like proportional representation — it might actually get a few members elected. But the public at large just doesn’t buy all the bafflegab about “no wasted votes” and “more democratic” and “better government” and “coalition building” and “fairness” and all that.

First-past-the-post works, and works well, yet, almost as an afterthought, the Greens and NDP feel some sort of obligation to pay lip service to proportional representation.

Give it up. Stick to the stuff people care about, like jobs, integrity in government, the environment and health care. Proportional representation is a chestnut that’s over-roasted, and needs to be retired to the colony of bad ideas that fortunately never became reality.

mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

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About Mel Rothenburger (5006 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

4 Comments on EDITORIAL – Proportional representation’s ship has sailed

  1. Thanks for the invitation, Pierre, although I think David Goar has already provided a most excellent earful. I will only add that Mel’s interest in writing a column on this topic puts the lie to his own contention that the good ship PR has sailed. If that were true, then neither he, I, nor the politicians would be talking about it. The reason it keeps coming up is that every election, politicians recognize that a promise to join the rest of the developed world in using PR to elect our governments (with the notable exceptions of the US & the UK – ‘nuf said on that) is a vote-getter. Sadly, once these same politicians are in power, their appetite for change strangely dissipates, and we see them either quietly sabotaging their own attempts to bring in PR, or twisting themselves into the most bizarre contortions explaining why their promise should not be kept (perfect example of that recently at the federal level). By then they’ve had time to do the math, and realize that under PR, a good portion of the seats around them would be filled by reps from other parties in proportion to the actual votes they received. They or their buddies in the party would be out of a job next time round under PR – eeeeek! For voters who feel the party in power doesn’t reflect their values and priorities (and that’s most of us, under FPTP), every election is a re-opening of a wound, reminding us that we are governed not by a true majority, but by the largest minority of voters, which is quite a different thing. Only when our system allows us to vote for those we truly support (rather than those we dislike the least), and our preferences are reflected in the composition of our legislature, will the good ship PR finally have permission to sail, and yes, Pierre, I will be there to toast to its departure.

  2. Richard Pearen // April 21, 2017 at 1:11 PM // Reply

    I totally agree with the views expressed in these comments. I will not vote Liberal again until this promise is fulfilled.

  3. David Goar // April 20, 2017 at 9:03 AM // Reply

    While I normally agree with your “take” on political matters, this op-ed piece provoked such a strong negative reaction that I cannot help but present a contrary viewpoint.
    Allow me, first, to address the federal landscape before commenting upon the provincial history and current situation. Mr, Trudeau, as a central plank of his campaign, promised Canadians that, if he was elected, this would be the last election decided by the obsolete first past the post system. Once elected, he established a committee to examine, research, and listen to Canadians, on the issue of electoral reform and report to Parliament. Initial efforts to “stack” the committee with partisans were rejected by Parliament and by Canadians. After conscientiously fulfilling its mandate, the committee produced a report to Parliament unambiguously expressing the wish of the majority of the committee, and of Canadians consulted, for replacement of the current system with a system based upon proportional representation. Mr Trudeau, defied the democratically expressed wish of Canadians and betrayed those who accepted his promise before giving him their vote and callously broke his promise for strictly partisan reasons. There are many of us who cannot, again, cast our ballots for someone who demonstrates so little regard for democracy and the value of his own word.
    On the provincial front, the history of efforts at electoral reform demonstrate that a majority of the electorate supports the replacement of the current “first past the post” system with a system based upon proportional representation. The will of the people, in this respect, has been defeated, on more than one occasion, by political maneuvering involving the presentation of poorly crafted referendum questions and the requirements of super majorities.
    Proportional representation is systematic change. Those who benefit politically from the status quo will not effect systemic change, despite holding out the prospect of such change in a cynical effort to attract voters. Only when the electorate demands an end to this cynical game, will systemic change come about and bring the Canadian electoral system into the modern era, in line with the majority of functioning democracies in the world. Until then, we will continue to cling to an outdated system that cedes near dictatorial power to a party that the majority of citizens did not, and do not, support. To use the word “democracy” to describe such a system is to pervert the true meaning of the concept.
    Electoral reform is not “a ship that has sailed”. It is an absolute minimum requirement to produce functional democracies at both the federal and provincial level. “We, the people” know this. It is long past time that our choice be respected.

  4. Boy oh boy you will be getting an earful from the Gisela over this one!

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