Referendum a mixed bag

The weekly editorial for the 100 Mile Free Press

In Mark Crawford’s column this week, he discusses the different options for the proportional representation referendum. He settles on Dual Member Proportional (DMP) as his choice because it’s “easiest to visualize locally,” “would not create two classes of MLAs” and “retain the same simple ballot,” as well as the details of the other two proposed systems remaining vague.

Politics aside, I wholeheartedly disagree with Crawford. From a local perspective, DMP offers the worst actual outcomes regardless of whether you’re in favour of PR or opposed. He assumes the Cariboo-Chilcotin riding, under DMP, would be amalgamated with Cariboo-North with two MLAs. If we look at the last election, the two ridings had a total of 26,948 votes combined. Of those 14,876 (55 per cent) went to the Liberals, 8231 (31 per cent) to the NDP, 3,094 (11 per cent) to the Greens and 747 (3 per cent) to the Conservatives. That election resulted in two Liberal MLAs, leaving 31 per cent (NDP) + 11 per cent (Greens) + 3 per cent (Conservatives), for a total of 45 per cent “not represented.”

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Under DMP, the Liberals would get the first MLA (31 per cent + one vote, to stay ahead of the NDP). The Liberals would then have 24 per cent of their voters “not represented” (55 – 31 per cent) with the NDP taking the second seat with their 31 per cent. In our combined ridings this would mean 24 per cent (the remaining Liberals) + 11 per cent (Greens) + 3 per cent (Conservatives), for a total of 38 per cent would still “not represented.” If you’re in favour of PR, not because of partisan politics, but because you believe we should have the most democratic system possible, that’s a pretty dissatisfying switch; it’s an improvement in terms of proportional representation, but you have to squint to be able to see it. At the same time, that relatively minor improvement in PR, comes at the cost of a district that’s twice as large, if you live in Quesnel, your nearest MLA could suddenly be in 100 Mile or vice versa. Both of the other systems would provide more proportionality without doubling the size of districts; for any rural voter, the latter should discard DMP as the worst choice regardless of your stance (it’s hard to believe a Quesnel based MLA would fight as hard for the South Cariboo as a South Cariboo based MLA). As a PR supporter, the former should only strengthen that resolve.

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The other two systems (MMP and RUP) should absolutely provide more proportionality than DMP but as Crawford points out, what they would look like in B.C. remains vague. Regardless of whether we end up back at FPTP or switch to PR, a discussion on the way we vote is absolutely worth having. It’s just too bad that the way the referendum is currently set up, it’s really hard to look at the options critically and in depth. This makes it an exceptionally tough task to get clarity for undecided voters. As much as one could commend the NDP and Green Party on following through on an election promise, the lacklustre execution is disappointing for PR proponents, looks sleezy from the perspective of FPTP supporters and should be downright scary for all rural voters with an option like DMP on the table that potentially offers few local gains in terms of PR but plenty to lose in terms of local representation.

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