Third strike needed for PR

In the coming weeks, British Columbians will be asked to vote in a very important referendum on changing how we elect our MLAs, not an insignificant initiative. We've rejected proportional representation twice before. It's essential we do so a third time. I support our current voting system, which is simple, produces stable governments and is one of the institutional pillars that all our successes stand on. On the first question on the ballot, I urge you to vote in favour of first past the post (FPTP), option one.

The alternative is to jump into the unknown. Three versions of proportional representation (PR) are on offer. Two have never been used or tried anywhere in the world and the third is presently used in just four countries. That third option is called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP). It was soundly rejected in BC by the hard-working Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform in 2005 because of the damage it does to local representation.

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The claims that PR jurisdictions outperform ones like ours, or that PR improves voter turnout or that the environment fares better under their preferred electoral system are not comparing apples to apples. Such claims stand on a foundation of misdirection, lies and obfuscations. That is because the electoral systems that inform the research findings are not even on the ballot in B.C. this fall.

The Yes side says PR is used in more than 80 countries. In truth, only four countries actually use any of the forms that appear on B.C.'s referendum ballot. The rest use some form of "list" PR. That means parties make lists of candidates to be elected, and seats are allocated based on the overall proportion of votes. Over 90 per cent of the countries held up as examples use electoral systems B.C. isn't even voting on.

Citizens of countries that do use list systems are becoming very uncomfortable with this form of election. The evidence is clear on at least two fronts.

First, radical parties of the left and the right are taking advantage of the low threshold to win a seat. They seize on voters' fears and frustrations and run single-issue, municipal-style campaigns based on emotion, ignoring vast swathes of policy. You can see this today in Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, even Italy, which has had 61 governments in 67 years under such systems.

Secondly, countries are constantly fiddling with their electoral processes to try and make a flawed system work better. New Zealand has recently passed a bill that would strip MPs of their seat if they switch parties or their leader kicks them out of the party. Germany is trying for the third time to introduce a vote threshold to minimize small parties. The second question on our ballots in the fall referendum reflects the dense academic nature of this attempt to fix proportional representation.

Let's look at the one option on the ballot used in the real world - MMP. Under this model, 40 per cent of the elected members are from party lists. This means constituencies will be at least 40 per cent larger, with a real impact in the north and interior of B.C. For example, the provincial riding of Stikine, already large, if increased by 40 per cent to allow for party lists, would be larger than New Zealand. Taking systems in use in small countries and transferring them to B.C. in a social experiment disenfranchises people outside the Lower Mainland. Local representation is cast aside.

On the No side, we know how important a local MLA is. Our current system puts local representation first, where it should be. Most countries which use FPTP are or were members of the British Commonwealth. It is part of our heritage.

MMP is used for parliamentary elections in four countries including Germany and New Zealand. In Germany, it took almost six months to form a coalition government after last September's election. Germany's Bundestag is now home to seven parties, including radical parties on both the right and the left. Proportional representation amplifies their impact by giving them legitimacy and resources to advance their extremist agendas.

New Zealand recently switched electoral systems to MMP. It's not going well. The current government is a hodge-podge of the Labour Party, the Greens and an anti-immigrant party called New Zealand First. The latter two members didn't elect a single member in constituency elections by getting the most votes. They leveraged their seven per cent of the popular vote into four cabinet posts, including that of deputy prime minister.

PR promoters claim that proportional representation is the solution to all our electoral woes and point to its widespread use around the world. The truth is that the options we've been given are complex, esoteric and used in very few places with little experience to point to. We've rejected changing our system in referendums twice this century for very good reasons.

All three options on the ballot leave the important details, including maps and the number of MLAs until after the referendum. It's only then the NDP/Green marriage of convenience will carefully choose those to favour their electoral prospects. This referendum is a desperate move to give the Green party a permanent platform. If they can elect three people in a small corner of the province, they deserve three seats.

With apologies to Churchill, FPTP is the worst electoral system, except for all the others. Vote to keep the status quo.

-- John Winter is the past president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.

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