Small Green Party may wield big power

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY LYDIA MILJAN AND TAY­LOR JACK­SON Lydia Miljan is a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Wind­sor and a se­nior fel­low at the Fraser In­sti­tute. Tay­lor Jack­son is a se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst at the Fraser In­sti­tute.

The al­liance be­tween Green Party Leader An­drew Weaver and John Hor­gan, pre­mierdes­ig­nate and NDP leader, will be cen­tral to the new gov­ern­ment in Bri­tish Columbia.

Po­lit­i­cal al­liances, how­ever, are not formed on good graces. Weaver has some well-pub­li­cized de­mands, which re­port­edly in­clude of­fi­cial party sta­tus for the Greens (they hold three seats and B.C. law re­quires four seats for of­fi­cial sta­tus) and a change to a pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion (PR) elec­toral sys­tem. Un­sur­pris­ingly, th­ese de­mands would help the Green Party.

A PR elec­toral sys­tem elects mem­bers based on the pro­por­tion of votes each party re­ceives. PR coun­tries are often gov­erned by coali­tions be­cause it’s nearly im­pos­si­ble un­der this sys­tem for one party to gar­ner a ma­jor­ity of the votes. One re­cent anal­y­sis found that be­tween 2000 and 2015, more than 80 per cent of elec­tions in ad­vanced democ­ra­cies with PR elec­toral rules re­sulted in coali­tion gov­ern­ments.

Some see this as a ben­e­fit be­cause it al­lows for a greater diversity of views to be rep­re­sented in gov­ern­ment. But while even mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ments elected un­der our first-past-the-post sys­tem often don’t form for­mal coali­tions, the idea that we’re not reg­u­larly gov­erned by coali­tions is false. Big-tent par­ties such as the Lib­er­als, Con­ser­va­tives and even the NDP are com­prised of in­ter­nal coali­tions. While Christy Clark’s B.C. party is called Lib­eral, it’s ac­tu­ally a coali­tion of Lib­er­als, fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives and So­cial Credit sup­port­ers.

Voters in B.C. know this and for the past 16 years con­sented to this in­ter­nal coali­tion in each elec­tion.

PR sys­tems, on the other hand, don’t re­quire this kind of com­pro­mise be­cause the way the votes are counted re­wards small, even fringe par­ties, often tout­ing sin­gle is­sues, at the ex­pense of the big-tent par­ties.

To gov­ern, the large par­ties must gain the sup­port of smaller par­ties by giv­ing into some of the pre­ferred poli­cies of those smaller par­ties.

Con­se­quently, voters of smaller par­ties are em­pow­ered dis­pro­por­tion­ately at the ex­pense of the ma­jor­ity of voters, who tend to vote for one of a few main par­ties.

In B.C., more than 80 per cent of voters did not vote for the Green Party and yet the Green Party may dic­tate changes to a sys­tem as fun­da­men­tal as the way Bri­tish Columbians elect their po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Only time will tell what ef­fect an NDP/Green pact will have on pol­icy in B.C. But if the Green’s strong stance on the en­vi­ron­ment, for ex­am­ple, finds its way into the poli­cies of the NDP gov­ern­ment, propped up by the Greens, many Bri­tish Columbians may not get what they voted for.

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