B.C.’s laboratory for electoral reform
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.