An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
ONE OF THE STRANGEST arguments in favour of Proportional Representation is that the wrong people support First Past the Post.
“Want a good reason to support Pro Rep? Look at who’s telling you not to,” reads a headline on a recent guest column by Fair Vote Kamloops spokesperson Gisela Ruckert on the CFJC Today website.
Prop Rep supporters are “ordinary citizens,” she wrote. Meaning, I think, that FPTP supporters aren’t. Fair Vote Kamloops also likes to say FPTP gets higher donations per supporter than Prop Rep does. “Big money.”
A graphic published on the Fair Vote Kamloops website asks the question, “Who supports first-past-the-post?” and answers “Big party political strategists” and “lobbyists.”
Anybody who supports First Past the Post and opposes Prop Rep is accused of reciting “Liberal talking points.”
Well, let’s meet a few of the actual folks who support First Past the Post.
For starters, there are three former NDP premiers — you know, that’s the party in government that really, really wants Proportional Representation to win the referendum.
Dave Barrett is no longer with us, sadly, but he voted “No” to prop rep in the 2005 referendum.
Glen Clark has voted “No” in this referendum. Ujjal Dosanjh has stated, “We could be making fundamental changes without any voter turnout threshold. Changing Canada’s constitution requires two-thirds of the provinces in favour with at least 50 per cent of the population — why are we considering changing our electoral system indefinitely with far less support than that?”
Maybe those three premiers mistakenly picked up the book of Liberal talking points instead of the NDP policy manual?
But let’s leave politics out of it for a moment. Two of the province’s largest and most influential news media have some interesting things to say about this referendum.
The Vancouver Sun, in an editorial headlined, “Vote ‘No’ in NDP’s badly flawed electoral reform referendum,” wrote, “The ruling politicians, those with the greatest vested interest in the outcome, are telling British Columbians to trust them to work out dozens of details, including what kinds of MLAs will sit in the legislature and the size and shape of the ridings.”
The Sun editorial notes the low threshold required for Prop Rep to succeed, and concludes, “All this is unacceptable. British Columbians should vote ‘no’.”
The Victoria Times-Colonist is even stronger in its rejection of prop rep.
“The problem is that PR leads to endless and ever-changing coalitions,” the newspaper stated in a Nov. 16 editorial, this one headlined “B.C. voters should reject proportional representation.”
“Under PR, policy is hammered out after the election is over, not before it. Backroom deals and bargaining sessions determine the path forward, in some cases dictated by fringe parties who would never be elected to govern. This is not democracy.”
The editorial points out there are at least two dozen unanswered questions about how any new system would work, and the referendum includes no provision for protecting the interests of lightly populated regions.
For good measure, how about these comments from Brenda Makeechak, a former staff rep for the Canadian Labour Congress Pacific Region, and David Tones, past secretary-treasurer of the IWA Canada and a former assistant to the District 3 director of the United Steelworkers union.
In an op-ed piece in the Sun, Makeechak and Tones say Prop Rep “will guarantee that we have perpetual instability,” and “We want the party (NDP) to establish a platform for the voters before the election, not a mandate after the election with coalition partners….
“With Proportional Representation voters have reduced influence in political outcomes. To stay in power the parties have to give in to the special interests of the other minority parties.”
Are all these sources simply reciting “Liberal talking points”?
The manner in which the Prop Rep lobby reacts to them will tell a great deal about whether it’s willing to debate the pros and cons of election systems or whether it would rather point accusing fingers at the other side.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.