What’s wrong with our current voting system in BC?

BC uses a voting system based on a “winner-take-all” principle. In recent elections, upwards of half of all voters cast ballots which elect no-one. As a result, many voters feel that their votes do not matter. About 68% of ridings in BC are “safe seats”.

With first-past-the-post, voters often feel compelled to “plug their nose” and vote for a candidate which is not their first choice, to prevent a candidate they dislike from winning. Because each riding is a zero-sum game with one winner, parties with many policies in common run overly adversarial campaigns against each other.

Because almost half the votes cast do not count towards representation, “majority” governments consisting of a single party with 100% of the power are often formed with the support of only 40% of the electorate. 15/17 governments in BC since 1956 have been “false majorities.”

We need a modern, proportional voting system that will respect voter intention, make every vote count, deliver fair results, and help us elect a legislature that reflects the preferences of all British Columbians.ite space
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What is proportional representation?
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Proportional representation is based on the principle that the seats a party has in a legislature should reflect the percentage of votes cast for that party. So if a party earns 39% of the votes, it should get roughly 39% of the seats. Almost every voter will cast a ballot which helps elect an MLA.

Made-in-BC proportional systems meet our unique needs, such as ensuring that voters can elect local representatives.

How many countries use proportional representation?

Over 90 countries use a proportional voting system, including over 80 per cent of OECD countries (our peers), such as Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, and Denmark. In fact, among the top 10 countries in The Economist’s Intelligence Unit rankings, eight have built proportionality into the voting systems used for their main legislative chambers.

The US, the UK and Canada are the main outliers still using first-past-the-post for national elections (within the UK, however, voters in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and London use PR systems).

What are the benefits of proportional systems?

Proportional representation makes the choice of every voter count so the electoral results are more fair and democratic, while maintaining local representation.Voters no longer need to vote for a party they do not prefer in order to prevent another party from winning – they can vote for what they truly believe in and see that vote count.

More cooperative governments would be the norm, with more than one party having a say in decision making.

Does proportional representation hurt rural voters?

 

No. Fair Vote Canada BC recommends that all proportional systems for BC strengthens representation for all voters, and strengthens the voice of each region.Some opponents are suggesting that with PR, seats will leave rural/interior/northern areas and move to urban areas like Vancouver. This does not need to be the case. Made for BC proportional models can be designed to maintain the same strong local and regional representation.

For example, the region of Northern BC is recognized as a unique area – by experts, and by citizens who participated in consultations with boundaries commissions and the BC Citizens Assembly.

The Northern Region currently has 8 seats. All proportional models recommended by Fair Vote Canada BC would maintain 8 seats. The difference would be how those 8 MPs are elected.

With first-past-the-post elections, one party can sweep every seat in a region, leaving no representation for voters of other parties, despite their sizeable numbers.

With made-for-BC proportional systems, the MPs elected in every part of BC will be more representative and diverse.

NDP and Green voters in the Interior will be represented in proportion to their votes. Liberal voters in Victoria and Vancouver will be represented in proportional to their votes.

No region will ever find itself shut out of the government.Every region will have MLAs in both government and opposition, strengthening their voice in the legislature.  

With proportional representation, no matter where you live in BC, your vote will help elect a representative who shares your values.

Does proportional representation cause “instability”?

No.

A study of countries over 50 years shows countries with PR have no more frequent elections than countries using winner-take-all systems.

With PR, incentives for political behaviour changes. When no single party is likely to get all the power, there is little motivation to trigger an early election. Instead, parties are motivated to show voters they work productively together on a shared policy agenda.

Will PR lead to an explosion of “fringe parties”?

No. Research shows overall PR is associated with only a small increase in the average number of parties.

When we look at models for BC, which are locally and regionally based, the natural threshold to get a seat can range between 5 and 16%, depending on the design of the system and how it is implemented in each region.

In the last three federal elections, all 15-20 “fringe” parties put together didn’t get 1% of the vote. 

If we look at other countries using proportional systems similar to what would be recommended for BC the number of parties in their legislatures is very similar to Canada today.

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Will small parties have “too much power”?
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The role of smaller parties in any legislature can vary. In general, small parties have small power. They are not “the tail that wags the dog.” As this article from New Zealand’s last election points out, when the larger party in the coalition negotiated with its smaller party partner, “the tail did not wag the dog – the tail barely wiggled.

Coalitions – or more informal cooperation agreements to deliver a policy agenda – are the most common form of government among our peers. Coalitions are based on shared priorities.

If a larger parties gives in to a demand of a smaller party that is not supported by a large portion of the electorate or their own voters, they will be punished at the ballot box.

In countries with proportional systems, practical experience shows that if a smaller party’s views are too far outside the mainstream, the other parties will just refuse to work with them. Those voters will have representation, but no power in government. We see that today in Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

Only with a winner-take-all electoral system can one party with the support of 39% of the voters gain 100% of the power.

Will “extremists” get elected?

People with extreme views exist in all western democracies. Only with a winner-take-all electoral system can a they gain 100% of the power with a minority of the vote.

In a first-past-the-post electoral system, those with “extreme” views exist within the big tent parties which form government, where they can exert considerable influence behind the scenes.

With proportional systems, sometimes smaller parties do form to reflect those views. This creates transparency where voters can see who they are, and the big parties are publicly accountable for how they respond to those views.

When the small party’s views are unacceptable to most others, the parties who do form government will often refuse to consider inviting that small party into a coalition. This has happened in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. In this way, those voters receive representation, but their party has no power.

The existence of a small party with an “extremist” view does not make voters more likely to support those views. Contrary to what opponents suggest, research shows that voters in countries with majoritarian systems are more likely to vote for “far right” parties.

As previously noted, with the moderately proportional systems recommended for Canada, the number of parties may not be significantly different from what we experience now because it is not easy to create and sustain a new party that would only appeal to a small percentage of the electorate.

Proportional representation fairly reflects the diverse voices of the voters, while protecting a country from the risk of a party and leader with an “extreme” view from governing alone with less than 50% of the popular vote.

Will our MLAs be accountable to voters or will they be appointed party hacks?

All proportional systems supported by Fair Vote Canada BC mean all MPs face the voters.

With a mixed member system, the regional MPs would be elected on an open list – meaning voters pick the individuals.

With a multi-member system, voters directly choose the most popular individuals.

Nobody is appointed or gets a free ride.

Whereas with first-past-the-post, 68% of the MLAs in BC are in “safe seats”, with proportional representation, seats in every region will become competitive. You will also have more choice of candidates from the same party.

No matter where you live, your vote will matter more – to all the parties and all the candidates.

Will there be “paralysis” in government – will anything get done?
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Some of the most groundbreaking work on this issue was done by Arend Lijphart, who compared 36 countries over two 25-year periods. Proportional countries outperformed winner-take-all countries on 16/17 measures.

Countries with proportional systems, on average, are ahead of countries with winner-take-all systems on numerous measures, including:

  • Lower income inequality
  • Better environmental performance
  • Higher voter turnout
  • Higher satisfaction with democracy
  • More women elected

When government is cooperative, the policies passed are usually supported by parties representing a genuine majority of voters. This means better decision making.

Rather than each government reversing the policies of the previous government (“policy lurch”), there is more continuity between governments, and therefore more progress on long term issues. Research has also shown that countries with PR are more innovative.

See Fair Vote Canada’s Why Proportional Representation: A Look at the Evidence.