The referendum wasn’t asking if first-past-the-post was a perfect system; however, a clear majority of British Columbians decided that our electoral system is OK for now.
As most expected, the referendum on electoral reform saw proportional representation soundly defeated. We won’t know what role the perceived complexity of the proportional rep systems – or the fact that there were three systems pitched – played in the outcome.
Although first-past-the-post received 61 per cent of the vote, we don’t believe 61 per cent of British Columbians believe it’s a great system. The ‘no’ side won the referendum, we think, because not only did it have the weight of those who opposed the idea of proportional rep, but it also got the votes from those who simply found the proportional rep systems too complicated, plus the protest votes of those who felt the referendum was a waste of time and money.
The referendum could turn out to be harmful to B.C.’s NDP government. Spending millions on a mail-in ballot referendum that was doomed to fail, and then indeed failed by a significant margin, can be viewed as an indication of a government that’s out of touch with citizens, at least on this one issue. The NDP might be able to offer the take that the referendum was done with the right intentions and hope and some will accept that.
We in Nanaimo may be the first to see whether the referendum has a carry-over effect into politics in the new year, because of our coming byelection. The referendum results (54 per cent ‘no’ in Nanaimo) suggest there were citizens here who generally vote NDP who voted against proportional rep, and it will be interesting to see if the referendum created any lasting divisions, or if there is any desire to further ‘punish’ the government.
First-past-the-post is the system we’re keeping, and probably for a long time. It has its problems. But at least a few of its fundamental flaws can be mitigated if we’re willing to participate in every aspect of our democracy, with greater diversity and most importantly, in greater numbers.
British Columbians obviously didn’t want proportional representation. We might not like first-past-the-post either, but we had better ensure we make the best of it.