British Columbians should have received referendum packages in the mail by now. Completed ballots on the proportional representation vote must be received by Nov. 30. ELECTIONS B.C. IMAGE

Guest column: Proportional representation systems are untried

The fine print isn’t written yet and that’s a problem, says Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell

BY MICHELLE STILWELL

If you can’t find the fine print on the proposed options for proportional representation, it’s because it hasn’t been written yet and that’s a problem.

People need to know what they’re deciding on, but unfortunately the details of how the different electoral systems will work and what will happen to existing riding boundaries won’t available before the vote.

If that’s not ringing alarm bells, then consider that B.C. has already voted no to electoral reform twice and the threshold to change the system was higher than it is today.

In the previous two referenda, the B.C. Liberal government took steps to seek a clear mandate: to pass, each referendum needed a majority of ridings and a strong majority of eligible voters. This time, the NDP government has determined the referendum needs only a strong majority of eligible voters. If voter turnout is similar to the previous referenda, our entire system could be changed by less than a quarter of the population.

How is that fair?

The referendum asks people to decide between the current first-past-the post system or proportional representation and then to rank three options: mixed member proportional, dual member proportional and urban-rural proportional.

The last two systems haven’t been tried anywhere in the world.

Under FPTP, people vote for a candidate within a riding and the candidate with the most votes is elected MLA. Seats in the legislature are determined by the number of ridings a party’s candidates win.

The individual then becomes a representative for all constituents, helping people to have their voices heard or get government assistance regardless of their political values. The public hired the MLA and that’s who the politician is accountable and loyal to first.

With MMP, one of the options for PR, Elections B.C. says there will be district MLAs elected through FPTP, and regional MLAs from party lists so that a party’s seats are in proportion to the votes it receives. What’s not yet known is if the party lists will be open or closed.

And if it’s the party, not the people, who gives the MLA the job, who is that politician loyal to?

Under PR, fringe parties can also gain a foothold in the legislature and when coalitions form it creates instability and costs for taxpayers.

According to the Fraser Institute, the average expense of governments of PR countries was 24.3 per cent higher than in FPTP countries, largely because coalition governments have to spend more on the niche interests of their partners.

In Germany, which has an MMP system, it took four months for parties to make a coalition deal after the Alternative for Deutschland won significant seats. In Sweden, no coalition to date has been able to form a government due to the Sweden Democrats holding the balance of power in the legislature.

First-past-the-post might not be a perfect, but don’t expect the grass to be greener on the other side.

This fall I urge constituents to get informed about the different electoral systems and vote.

Michelle Stilwell is B.C. Liberal Party MLA for Parksville-Qualicum.

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