With just three months to go before we start voting, you can almost feel the tension in the air over the question of proportional representation. It is all anyone is talking about. Should we? Shouldn't we?
OK. No one is sitting on pins and needles over PR. I have had more discussions with people who are unaware of the referendum and its implication than with those who are concerned. No one is really asking questions about the subject.
Maybe it has something to do with the high temperatures across the province. Maybe it has something to do with general voter apathy. Maybe it has something to do with it being three months from now and school starting in a month is a far more important event in people's lives.
Generally speaking, there doesn't seem to be much of a buzz about the subject. I suspect it is because most voters are indifferent. One voting system or another, it won't make much difference to the way politicians behave.
Which is a shame.
The proponents for PR like to claim it will make politicians more accountable. I am not sure how. Once they are elected, there is little which can be done to force a politician or a party out of power until the end of its mandate. Consider just how unsuccessful the recall campaigns were.
If anything, one of the proposed forms of PR will actually make politicians less accountable. The government has recommended three types of PR. Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMP) will see 53 to 58 ridings across the province which would be decided by Single-Membered Plurality or First Past the Post voting. The remaining 34 to 37 seats would then be filled from lists provided by the Parties according to the proportion of total votes obtained.
Hypothetically, if voting patterns remained consistent, then in an 87 seat Legislature, 26 BC Liberals, 25 NDP, and 2 Green Party MLAs would be elected directly. The remaining 34 seats would see an additional 10 BC Liberals, 11 NDP, and 13 Green Party MLAs appointed by the Parties.
These latter seats would be without constituency and only answerable to party members and leadership. You and I would not have a say in who these individuals are except if we are a voting member of a political party. And even then, it is unlikely we would have much of a say.
The results would be proportional (as long as no one minds a number of small parties being shut out of the process completely) but would they be representative? Without a constituency, who would the appointed MLAs represent? It might sound like a good idea but MMP is as flawed as the other two suggested voting methods.
Further, if the issue really is accountability, how would the voting public hold party appointed MLAs accountable? Without a constituency, there would be no local party structure to which the MLAs would need to answer. There would be no voters who could speak directly to the MLAs. They would be insulated from any form of feedback.
The other two suggested voting methods have similar flaws. The Dual Member Proportional Representation generates some ridings with two members through amalgamation of electoral districts. The "largest rural districts could remain unchanged as single-member districts" - although no one is sure what qualifies as a "large rural district".
In any case, parties would be allowed to nominate two candidates in the dual districts with a ranking of number 1 and 2 applied to each. The candidates with the most vote wins the riding. The second place candidates for each party are then put into a pool and appointed based on the total percentage of votes received by their party and their relative position in the pool.
In the above scenario, it would mean 10 more BC Liberal MLAs, for example, and these would be the 10 second place candidates with the highest number of votes. It is very similar to the MMP except in this case the "list" is a little more transparent. A candidate with a low voting total would not be selected to serve.
But are these individuals now expected to represent their ridings? Even if they received fewer votes than a candidate from another party? How is this being accountable or, for that matter, proportional?
The last recommended method, Rural-Urban Proportional voting system is even more complicated with voters electing MLAs under two completely different systems depending upon whether they are "rural" or "urban". Which is Prince George?
The expression "the devil is in the details" comes to mind. We are told that all will become apparent in time. The structure and the rules for electing MLAs will be worked out once the referendum has been completed provided the public votes to change.
Which brings to mind another expression: "Better the devil you know."