LETTER: Another perspective on proportional representation

Re: 7 Reasons Proportional Representation may not be a good idea (published Oct. 24)

I’m not going to engage in a line-by-line refutation of Mr. Gord Addison’s seven points. What I’m going to do is focus on the last point that he offers to support his position that “PR may not be the way to go: You might not get what you want.”

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Setting aside the generalization about the overlap between supporters of PR and supporters of the BC NDP and BC Green parties—which I’m sure outspoken PR supporters Andrew Coyne and Hugh Segal, among others, would take issue with—I have news for Mr. Addison: millions of British Columbians aren’t getting what they want from our current first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system.

So much so that they’ve opted out completely.

In the recent local elections, most communities saw less than 40 per cent voter turnout with some as low as 18 per cent.  Overall, British Columbians do better at showing up in provincial elections, where turnout in 2017 was 61 per cent. But breaking that number down to look at voting among various demographic groups reveals huge gaps in our system.

Of particular concern for me is the low turnout among young people and First Nations people—two groups whose voices are needed more than ever if we are going to build the kind of inclusive, healthy, engaged communities we all want to live in.

It’s too easy to suggest that young people or First Nations people or any person who chooses not to vote is responsible for their own lack of or loss of political power.

The fact is FPTP is the problem—wasted votes, policy lurch, and legislatures that don’t reflect the wishes of the electorate, cause voters to disengage and that puts our democracy in crisis.

What British Columbia needs is an electoral system that puts the power where it belongs: with the voters.

Between now and Nov.30, we can make that happen.

British Columbians have a chance to choose an electoral system that gives every vote equal weight; that encourages collaboration and transparency in decision-making; that reduces inequality in communities; that results in higher voter engagement in all demographic groups and a more robust democracy. That electoral system is Proportional Representation. And we know it can deliver because many of the countries that Canadians look to as models of values and lifestyle we cherish and aspire to use PR including my adopted home, New Zealand, where I lived as a teen and young adult.

New Zealand introduced MMP in 1993.

In their last federal election in 2017, voter turnout was 79 per cent —reason to celebrate for any democracy—but the better news is the significant numbers of youth and electors of Maori descent who chose to cast ballots. And the results of voter satisfaction surveys, which happen after every election in New Zealand, demonstrates that voters are happy with everything from understanding how and where to vote to the politeness and knowledge-ability of the staff at polling locations.

In short, voters in New Zealand are getting what they want. And we can too.

I agree with Mr. Addison on one point: there is no perfect electoral system.

But I’m hard-pressed to imagine one that is more problematic than FPTP.  That’s why I’m voting “yes” to PR and I hope the readers of The Squamish Chief will join me.

-Stephanie Smith, president

BC Government and Service Employees’ Union

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