I WENT LOOKING FOR the 2018 Referendum on Electoral Reform voting package in my mail today. I’d seen online that some people in Kamloops had received their packages. Elections BC’s home page on the web promises we’ll all receive our referendum packages before November 2, whether or not there is a postage service disruption.
I’m not expecting to feel quite as cheery when my voting package finally arrives.
The truth is, after months of back and forth, between the no’s and the yes’s, I’m still in the middle on changing our electoral system from First-Past-the-Post to some form (still to be determined) of Proportional Representation.
What’s most interesting to me is that the arguments the two sides use have the opposite effect.
I’ve listened to a number of arguments on the No side. One of the least convincing arguments I have heard many times from the No side is that Proportional Representation will lead to extremist politics. I’ve heard MLA Todd Stone use this argument, and I’ve seen the same argument put forward by others as well.
The more I hear this argument, the more I’m swayed to the Yes side.
The problem with this argument is that it ignores blatant examples of extremism that have emerged in First-Past-the-Post systems. Britain, with a First-Past-the-Post system, hosts a range of far-right anti-Islamic groups. The Britain’s populist Independence Party (UKIP) which promotes nationalism and denigrates the “Islamification” of Britain has seats in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the European Parliament and regional governments.
This October, Coalition Avenir Québec, a right-of-centre party was elected through First-Past-the-Post to be the government of Quebec. With promises to ban religious symbols in public (except Christian symbols like crucifixes, which apparently are simply culture), the CAQ is bordering on identity politics of nationalists favored by extremists.
Proponents of the No side of Electoral Reform like Todd Stone argue that extremist politics is too high of a risk with Proportional Representation. But extremist politics is not the purvey of either First-Past-the-Post systems or Proportional Representation systems.
So having listened to the arguments of the No side, I’m even less inclined to vote No.
But then I listen to the Yes side, which is trying to persuade us all to change our electoral system.
The Yes side talks of things like fairness, and giving everyone a voice. Then they bring out the calculators and slide rules and start doing math. Somehow an election win that needs algebra to explain it just isn’t as exciting as a flat out “winner take all”. I’ve had too many years of school yard sports games. It’s just too hard to be told that the person with the most marbles isn’t the winner.
The Yes side has lost a great opportunity to tell the stories of the voices who aren’t in the BC Legislature. It was only in 1996 that openly gay MLAs were elected to the BC Legislature. The battle for equity and inclusion isn’t over. Last week, school trustees opposed to government SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) affirming educational resources were elected in Chilliwack and elsewhere. It is especially at times like this where a multitude of voices are needed in our legislature. Politics is about policies. And strong policies that meet the needs of our diverse province can only be created if there are a range of voices elected.
Proportional representation is only one way that this could be achieved. Look at the diversity in the BC NDP caucus, with almost equal numbers of men and women, and a range of backgrounds. This is a direct result of their own party’s policies on having a diverse range of candidates running. Then look at the BC Liberals caucus, which is overwhelming white and male. Switching to proportional representation won’t fix the BC Liberals lack of diversity.
So here I am, knowing that diversity of voices makes for better policy, but still wanting to win if I have the most marbles.
Luckily, referendum or not, I have a tea party to look forward to.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.