Fair Vote Canada Interviews John Horgan about proportional representation

Follow our BC Election campaign page for updates and what you can do! 

Also: Read our interview with BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver

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.  

John Horgan and Andrew Weaver feel powerless to effect 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 NDP wins the next election, it has promised to replace our current voting system by holding a provincial referendum.  This plebiscite will enable voters to make the final decision.

Interview with John Horgan

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

Horgan:  I don’t believe it suits the 21st century, in fact, I don’t believe it suits the 20th century.  We have a diverse, vibrant population here in BC and across Canada, and it strikes me that the best way to have a representative government is to ensure the diversity of the community is reflected in the institutions that govern our democracy.  

One of the challenges I’ve had for 12 years now, as all MLAs do, is the fact I came in with the best of intentions to work for my community and neighbours, but I haven’t been able to do that because of the adversarial nature of our British parliamentary system.  

First-past-the-post – save for one election in 2001 – has always seen a minority group of votes get an absolute majority of the power.  They call it seats but at the end of the day, it’s power.  I believe power-sharing is best for our democracy and province, and that’s why I want to see proportional representation implemented.

Fair Vote:  Once elected, when would you start the referendum process?

Horgan:   My plan is to immediately begin working on democratic reform once elected… I applauded the notion of a Citizen’s Assembly introduced by Premier Campbell in 2001.  I disagreed with what they came up with in 2005, namely the Single Transferable Vote (STV), because I was comfortable at that time with the first-past-the-post system…

But after four years as a member of the Legislature with no influence over government decisions, I came to the conclusion that perfection is the enemy of progress, and STV had to be better than what we had…  

If we’re successful in May, our plan would be to set up an all-party committee to hear from citizens and formulate a referendum question at the conclusion of that process.   

The difference between the previous two referenda on electoral reform and this one would be that the government would campaign in favour of the question.  That didn’t happen last time…I believe we could convince the majority of BC voters, namely 50% + 1, to support a change to our system.

I want to make sure we have a specific question that we put to the public.  This is important, because some people have said to me, ‘you should just do it’, but I don’t think something as fundamental as changing our election system should be done arbitrarily…

Once we establish the referendum question, we’d establish the threshold and this would be part of our consultation process… The amending formula for our Constitution, for example, requires approval by seven provinces with 50% of Canada’s population.  So it is an absolute 50%, but it has to include seven provinces… This amending formula is similar to the kind of formula we’d need for a plebiscite on changing how we elect people in BC.

Fair Vote:  If voter turnout was relatively low, would you still honour the result?  

Horgan:  I’d like to see how low the turnout is first.  I’m going to be campaigning in favour and I’ll be encouraging people to change the system.  If they don’t want a change, they should come out and say so.  I’m hopeful that will drive up participation.

Fair Vote:  Many voters are cynical, especially after what happened with the Liberal government’s betrayal on electoral reform, Kinder Morgan and Site C.  How can people trust that you’ll honour your promise?  

Horgan:  I appreciate that cynicism, especially around this issue.  I was absolutely convinced that Mr. Trudeau was genuine, and I was as shocked as anyone that he recanted so quickly…he’ll have to reckon with voters in the next federal election.  

But my commitment to this has been in place since 2009.  I remain unwavering in my desire to make sure we have a more reflective democracy.  

And it’s not just in how you select people but whom you select.  As the leader of the NDP, I’ve been working hard to attract a diverse group of candidates.  We now have First Nation, Persian, Muslim, Jewish, South Asian, and Chinese Canadian candidates.  We have a transgender candidate running for us in one of the Vancouver constituencies, as well as gay and lesbian candidates.  

If people see themselves reflected in their public institutions, they’ll have more confidence in those institutions.

Fair Vote:  Would you be able to work with the Green Party of BC, if the election outcome requires this?

Horgan:  If you elect a diverse group of people, the coalition happens after the election.  That’s when you have to say, ‘our citizens sent me here to work with you.  I may not like you or agree with you or some of your ideas, but we’re obliged as adults to work together in the best interests of our community.’  I’m excited about that prospect.

Fair Vote:  Christy Clark came out in favour of STV in 2009.  Do you think you’ll be able to persuade her to support electoral reform (assuming she’s re-elected)?

Horgan:  I intend to defeat her, not persuade her!  She’s had six years to do it and didn’t.  So I think “persuading” is done with her.  I think we need a change in government…It’s 2017 and she’s been Premier for almost six years and there’s been no discussion at all of electoral reform…

The system has worked extraordinarily well for the BC Liberals, and that’s why they want to leave it this way.

My intention is to change our voting system, subject to approval by the majority of voters… Because inevitably those who oppose change will say you’re doing this in your own self-interest and that could well lead to a defeat.  The notion of self-interest must be addressed.

NOTE:  If there is a referendum, Fair Vote Canada recommends 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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