Fair Vote Canada Victoria Interviews Andrew Weaver about proportional representation

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Also: Read our interview with BC NDP leader John Horgan

by  Terry Dance-Bennink & Rick Habgood, co-chairs
Fair Vote Canada, Victoria chapter


Many voters feel cynical after Prime Minister Trudeau’s betrayal in February of his promise to bring in electoral reform. But hope springs eternal in B.C. It’s our third time up to bat after two earlier referenda, and we’re determined to see a home run for proportional representation in this May’s election.

To help voters make up their minds, Fair Vote Canada’s Victoria chapter interviewed the leaders of the BC NDP and BC Green Party about their party platforms on electoral reform. The interviews were also videotaped. We’ve extended the same invitation to the BC Liberals and BC Conservatives with no response to date.

The good news is that the NDP and Greens share a lot in common. Despite some differences of opinion, they both favour a more democratic, proportional voting system (PR).

John Horgan and Andrew Weaver told us they feel powerless to effect change under our current adversarial, first-past-the- post system. They both want to end false majorities where a party with 44% of the popular vote gets 100% of the power (BC Liberals). They both believe that the proportion of seats you get should equal the proportion of votes you receive.

In BC’s 2013 election, for example, 49% of those who voted ended up with MLAs who did not represent their values or concerns. This has to change.

If the Green Party wins the next election, it has promised to replace our current voting system without a prior referendum and lower the voting age to 16.

Interview with Andrew Weaver

Fair Vote: Do you think our current first-past-the-post voting system is fair?

Weaver: One of the six guiding principles of the BC Green Party is participatory democracy. Canada and BC are one of the few jurisdictions in the world still using first-past-the-post which doesn’t allow peoples’ votes to matter.

In a vibrant democracy, you’d hope your vote counts, but B.C. is a classic example. In the last election, the party that actually won was the non-voter – 45% of registered voters did not even bother to vote. In B.C. we have a majority government that is in a real sense unacceptable to people. They got elected with less than one in four registered voters. That is wrong and it needs to change.

Fair Vote: What process would you advocate to implement electoral reform?

Weaver: Rather than say we will have a referendum before we implement electoral reform, we will just do it.

The process to get there is one of consultation…. There are a couple of possibilities. One is an all-party Legislative committee that travels around the province to listen to people and make recommendations. The other option is to task an independent group or even Elections BC to come up with a system that could be implemented in time for the 2021 election.

We’re willing to discuss the possibility of a referendum after one or two election cycles, so people actually know what they’re voting on and how it’s affected governance.

Fair Vote: In the upcoming election campaign, will you talk about a specific PR system?

Weaver: No. The best way to come up with a system is to get agreement among the stakeholders, who are not just the political parties but the general public.

The first time I voted on the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in 2005 it, I had a heck of a time understanding what it actually meant. So I suspect this system would not be actively supported. But there may be some form of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) or another combination that could be supported.

What we need to ensure is that everybody is elected. We cannot use closed party lists. What happens with closed party lists is you get unelectable people who are the party elite or hacks and they end up in government. That is critical for us – that everybody be elected.

Fair Vote: The voting public right now is very cynical….

Weaver: And so they should be. They feel betrayed. Mr. Trudeau campaigned on a message of hope, and the political cynicism is about the fact political manipulation happened again. The calculations were about how many votes we can get in Alberta and Saskatchewan vs. how many votes and seats we’ll lose in BC.

So people get cynical, and particularly the millennials who came out in the last election. The turnout went from 40% to 58% of youth aged 18-24. They came out in support of issues they cared about like proportional representation and climate change.

Fair Vote: PR systems generally result in coalition governments. How would you feel about working side-by-side with the NDP?

Frankly, I think coalition governments are healthier than minority governments, because they force you to reach commonality, instead of always being held hostage by an individual party threatening to bring down the government at any time.

It’s tough to work together. It’s a lot easier to run in an authoritarian fashion and say we’re just going to do this or that and whip people to do it. It’s tough, but that’s how you get the better decisions. Coming out of my science background, that’s exactly how we operate in the scientific community. You have strong views, but you get good evidence based on finding commonalities.

Fair Vote: What stance would the Greens take towards the NDP’s call for a referendum?

Weaver: If the NDP forms government, we’d support them. I know Mr. Horgan has said he’d campaign on MMP. We would hope that, rather than determine the system up front, he would assure there’s buy-in. And we want everybody elected, so people know who’s going to represent them.

Given that, I’d love to work with the NDP to assure we can get a system we can both get behind. The fact is we need PR and we need to work together to find the best form. Having a form of PR is better than having no PR at all.

Fair Vote: What’s your concern about having a referendum prior to implementing a form of PR?

Weaver: The problem with a referendum is that you often lose. It’s easy to mobilize people against something. It’s much more difficult to mobilize people for something. It’s not that the people won’t support an issue, it’s that you can get the anti-vote out sooner.

Let’s look at a recent example. In Vancouver, we had a referendum about the Skytrain. That was not a referendum on transportation. It was a referendum on the management of Translink and bureaucracy, because the public was upset with Translink. The BC Green Party did not take a position on that referendum, because we knew it was going to fail.

If I could add something which is not on your list of questions about electoral reform…The Green Party would commit to reducing the voter age to 16 in order to re-engage youth in our democratic system.

We live in a different time. Youth are inheriting the consequences of decisions we are making today. And we need to engage them. And what better time than grade 11 when every single student has to take a course in this subject as part of their graduation requirements.

We know from the research, that people who vote in their first eligible election, have a greater chance of being lifelong voters than those who don’t.

NOTE: If there is a referendum, Fair Vote Canada supports a generic question in the proposed referendum rather than a specific question about a particular voting system. This will elevate the debate to one of principle rather than getting lost in divisive details. If the vote is positive in favour of proportional representation, an all-party Legislative committee and Elections BC can work out the technical details.

FVC also recommends a plebiscite early in the new government’s mandate, a 50 +1% threshold across BC, a commitment to implement the result regardless of voter turnout, and a strong public education campaign.


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