OPINION: Referendum choices

Mark Crawford is from Williams Lake, B.C. and teaches political science at Athabasca University.

To the editor:

Last week a relative of mine asked me what I believe is the best of the four choices we will be voting on in the electoral reform referendum this fall. He found the explanations on the BC Elections site somewhat confusing: we don’t know in precise detail what all three forms of proportional representation (PR) would look like, because it is only after the referendum is completed that Elections B.C. will determine how the new system will work, and an independent electoral boundaries commission will then determine the number and boundaries of the electoral districts represented in the legislature. With electoral reform options stuck in this abstract form, many voters may be tempted to not bother voting, or else simply go with the “devil they know”, i.e. First-Past-the-Post.

I hope not. I favour proportional representation both on principle (the percentage of seats should roughly reflect the percentage of votes; it will result in government by the majority, and not the rule of the minority, which is what we have now) and because, as a political scientist, I can vouch for the fact that most advanced democracies enjoy both higher voter turnout and better policy outcomes because they have more proportional systems. It is a myth that we need artificial majorities to have ‘strong’ or ‘stable’ or ‘effective‘ government. It is better to force governments to negotiate more and form broader coalitions.

But which one? Mixed-Member Plurality (MMP) is the type of system they have in Germany and New Zealand. So we might have a local riding that is somewhat larger than Cariboo-Chilcotin currently is and a large multi-member regional district that we share with several other ridings that has three to five MLAs in it, chosen from party lists.

This would give the Legislature more proportionality. Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP), would give us a multi-member district in each of the larger cities (e.g. Prince George and larger?), in which voters could rank candidates using a preferential ballot like BC-STV, and then have MMP for the rest of the province. So for residents of Cariboo-Chilcotin that would be similar to the MMP I just described. Finally, there is the dual member proportional (DMP) system, which achieves greater proportionality by having dual member ridings in “urban and semi-urban” districts, excluding only the largest rural districts. Assuming that the Cariboo-Chilcotin would be amalgamated with Cariboo-North, then we would have two MLAs, likely one in government and one from the opposition. Of the three PR systems, DMP is the easiest to visualize locally. It would not create two classes of MLAs (locally elected and regional party list) like MMP and would retain the same simple ballot that we have now. For these reasons, and because the details of what exactly MMP and RUP would look like in B.C. remain vague, I recommend Dual-Member Proportional.

Mark Crawford is from Williams Lake, B.C. He currently teaches political science at Athabasca University.

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