Fix democracy to avoid another PR vote

I have been on a hiatus since before Christmas due to the timing of the holidays and haven't had a chance to discuss the results of the referendum on proportional representation, so I thought I would.

The vote was actually quite surprising - both in terms of the total number of people who participated and the vote distribution. I did win a bet with a colleague. He thought the response rate would be less than 10 per cent. I was shooting for 15 per cent. Neither of us were close to the final tally but I beat his estimate!

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I also thought the voting gap would be smaller - say 53 per cent to 47 per cent - one way or the other. The overwhelming victory for the first past the post system was surprising. Perhaps more to the point, 71 ridings were in favour of the present system and only 16 for PR.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the ridings which voted for PR were in the Vancouver/Capital Region District. Kootenay West, Powell River-Sunshine Coast, and Nelson-Creston were the only three outside of the urban block. The leading contender for change was Vancouver-Mt. Pleasant.

At the other extreme, Peace River North and Peace River South were both in the mid-80s while Prince George-Mackenzie and Prince George-Valemount were 71.30 per cent and 70.87 per cent, respectively. This reflects the rural-urban split which exists in the province although there are a number of Greater Vancouver ridings which polled higher than Prince George.

In the end, it was an interesting exercise in democracy. Regardless of which side of the debate you were on - or whether you thought the whole thing a pointless exercise - such referendums are a useful tool for measuring the will of the voters. And yes, I would feel the same way if PR had won.

But what next?

There are two issues which come to mind. The first is "how much longer will the Green Party support the NDP in government?" It was fairly clear that supporting the referendum and switching to a system of proportional representation was high on the list of goals for the Green Party (and an election platform plank for the NDP as well).

Having lost out on the referendum, will the Green Party force an election in the hopes of establishing a larger power-base in the legislature? Or will they simply follow along with the NDP, hoping to build support for the Green Party through their coalition?

Of course, forcing an early election could backfire. Voters tend to not like parties which force an early election. On the flip side, it does mean the Green Party will have to continue supporting the NDP's initiatives which does not allow them to stake out their own political territory. It could lead to the awkward scenario of voting for pipelines and development they oppose.

The second question for me is "can we now have a conversation about our representative democracy and how it works?"

I have said before that changing the system by which we elect our representatives won't change the way government operates. Indeed, I would still contend a PR system leads to MLAs having to be much more on board with the party line. After all, if your candidacy depends on the party putting your name on a list, then the party will expect you to behave.

But do we need to change the system? Is there a way to hold our elected representatives to account?

One way, which still exists, is through recall. Unfortunately, the bar is high enough that this mechanism has not really been successful. More to the point, recall campaigns tend to be an anger reaction rather than a reasoned approach to the overall effectiveness of an MLA and a party.

If not recall, then what? My brother-in-law and I discussed this over the Christmas holidays. He once wrote a blog suggesting a system where we continually elect new MLAs. Thus parties would always have their feet to the fire, so to speak.

It would work something like this: with 87 seats, we would have 48 elections occurring over a four year span - one every month. Most of the "monthly elections" would be for two ridings but the summer month would only see one riding in contention. An MLA would be elected for four years but their four years would not necessarily coincide with any other member of their party.

The result would be a continually evolving legislature. No four year mandate. Indeed, over a short period of time, a ruling party could see itself ousted and another party taking over. Or a riding might elect a fringe candidate knowing what the general composition of the legislature would be like. But it would mean giving up our general election.

Would it work? Who knows? But maybe there are more representative ways to govern a democracy.

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