Trying to change a province’s electoral system is not for the faint of heart. The energy and commitment required to battle and overcome powerful elements steadfast in favour of the status quo are enormous, as B.C.’s NDP government is finding out.
Not that the New Democrats and their Green Party enablers are making it any easier on themselves.
This week, Attorney-General David Eby revealed what the referendum ballot will look like. It’s noted that he wisely ignored advice offered by his own party, and the Greens, to keep the question to a simple: Do you want to change the current first-past-the-post voting system to a form of proportional representation? And if 50 per cent plus one said yes, an unelected body would decide what that iteration of PR would be.
It was as idiotic and tone-deaf a recommendation as there could be.
Instead, voters first will be asked whether they want to change the existing system. The second question on the ballot will offer them a choice of three types of PR. If more than 50 per cent of the public votes yes to change on the first question, a simple majority will decide which of the three systems will be instituted. A second referendum would occur after two voting cycles under the new system to determine whether to keep it.
Between now and the day referendum voting begins, on Oct. 22, the public will be provided with information on the pros and cons of each form of PR being offered. Ultimately, these new systems would involve the redrawing of electoral boundary maps. What those new boundaries might look like will not be included in any educational material offered to the public prior to the vote. The reason: There is not enough time.
I think that’s a lousy excuse. When you’re talking about something as important as changing a province’s voting system, a shortage of time doesn’t justify failing to make information available. But should it be a deal breaker? No, I don’t think so. Other jurisdictions have introduced PR without providing the public with proposed electoral boundary maps ahead of the vote. I really don’t think the average person cares as much about boundaries as political parties do. The essential question is: Are you satisfied with the current voting system or would you prefer one that arguably does a better job of allocating seats based on the number of votes cast for the respective parties?
A break from the first-past-the-post system would unquestionably hurt the Liberals, who benefit from the current model. That is why the party, and its many proxies, are fighting so hard against it. And there is every reason to believe they will succeed in making sure the referendum fails.
It’s not easy to explain the various intricacies of the three options on offer: dual member proportional; mixed member proportional; and rural-urban proportional representation. The campaign to discredit each of these possibilities is just heating up. The public will be bombarded with misinformation and propaganda. There will be little to no opportunity for rational debate. Young voters who feel the current system doesn’t properly reflect voter preferences, a sentiment many believe contributes to their election day apathy, will be boomersplained to death about why they don’t know what they’re talking about. They will be told how first-past-the-post is a perfectly reasonable regime, one that has produced stable governments for decades. The guardians of the status quo are less likely to mention how the representative makeup of the legislature does not accurately reflect the popular vote.
There is no question that the rollout of this referendum process has been far from perfect. It would have been aided, not damaged, by more time. You could argue as well that offering people a single choice as an alternative to the system B.C. has now would have been easier for the Vote Change side to rally around and explain to the public. Had the government done that, however, it surely would have been criticized for not giving people a choice. It’s a no-win.
And it could be a no-win for the NDP and the Greens anyway. The forces fighting to leave things as they exist are fierce. No doubt the Liberals imagine years of NDP-Green minority governments and have nightmares about being frozen out of the corridors of power they believe are rightfully theirs to control.
Changing B.C.’s electoral system faces very long odds. Perhaps in attempting to tilt the result in their favour, the NDP and Greens have caused the opposite to happen: They have made the job of their opponents easier. And it’s too bad, given what’s at stake and the legitimate arguments in favour of an electoral overhaul.