B.C.’s lab­o­ra­tory for elec­toral re­form

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - John Roe

Elec­toral re­form may be dead in Ot­tawa but it’s alive and kick­ing in Vic­to­ria.

While it’s still un­clear who will gov­ern Bri­tish Columbia in the af­ter­math of this month’s closely fought pro­vin­cial elec­tion, what’s cer­tain is the next gov­ern­ment will try to change how B.C. votes. It will have no choice. The prov­ince’s Green Party, which now holds the bal­ance of power, in­sists it will only sup­port a gov­ern­ment that sup­ports elec­toral re­form.

And so the die has been cast for what could be the first pro­por­tion­ately elected pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment in Canada.

Ad­vo­cates of elec­toral re­form across the coun­try will be elated, es­pe­cially be­cause they were so fu­ri­ous when the fed­eral Lib­er­als broke their prom­ise to change how Cana­di­ans vote in time for the next general elec­tion.

But even diehard sup­port­ers of the first-past-the­p­ost sys­tem cur­rently in place fed­er­ally as well as in ev­ery prov­ince have rea­son to be glad.

B.C. could be­come a gi­gan­tic, demo­cratic lab­o­ra­tory for the rest of the coun­try.

It could first demon­strate how a ma­jor gov­ern­ment in Canada can tran­si­tion from first-past-the-post to some kind of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

It could then be­come a test­ing ground for how pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion could work, re­veal­ing its strengths as well as its weak­nesses. That, in turn, could shape fu­ture de­bates about fed­eral elec­toral re­form.

Those com­mit­ted to change will point out many coun­tries, such as Aus­tralia and New Zealand, al­ready use pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

But it would be best to know what would hap­pen in a Cana­dian set­ting, and in the con­text of our unique po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ences.

Cana­di­ans may not have to wait long for this en­light­en­ment. Af­ter the fi­nal re­sults of the B.C. elec­tion were re­leased this week, the prov­ince’s gov­ern­ing Lib­er­als were left with 43 seats, the NDP had 41 and the Greens held three.

The most likely way for ei­ther the Lib­er­als or NDP to gov­ern is to en­list Green back­ing.

But to se­cure that help, the big­ger par­ties must be will­ing to in­tro­duce pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

That’s fine by the NDP. It also cam­paigned for pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the re­cent elec­tion.

As for the Lib­er­als, they sound open-minded and ea­ger enough to court Green politi­cians.

De­spite many at­tempts at elec­toral re­form, Canada’s fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments have stead­fastly clung to the first-past-the-post sys­tem where the can­di­date who wins the most votes in a rid­ing wins that seat.

Crit­ics com­plain this too of­ten re­sults in ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ments and 100 per cent of leg­isla­tive power for par­ties that have cap­tured barely more than a third of the pop­u­lar vote.

Pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, they say, would more ac­cu­rately re­flect the wishes of vot­ers and award po­lit­i­cal power to par­ties com­men­su­rate with their pop­u­lar sup­port.

Some pro­po­nents of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion, such as fed­eral NDP MP Nathan Cullen, are still try­ing to pres­sure the Trudeau Lib­er­als to de­liver elec­toral re­form. That won’t hap­pen. B.C., though, may be dif­fer­ent. Al­though B.C. vot­ers in two pre­vi­ous ref­er­en­dums re­jected elec­toral re­form, this time the new pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment might sim­ply leg­is­late the change.

What­ever comes next, Cana­di­ans out­side B.C. should watch it closely — and learn from it.

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