PR will bring more voices into the con­ver­sa­tion

The Province - - EDITORIAL - TOM PERRY Dr. Tom Perry is a physi­cian and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, who was an NDP MLA from 1989 to 1996 and a cabi­net min­is­ter from 1991 to 1993.

I’m vot­ing for pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion be­cause I want bet­ter govern­ment that deals proac­tively with is­sues of uni­ver­sal im­por­tance, like cli­mate change and in­come in­equal­ity. I want my val­ues to be re­flected in govern­ment more of­ten than not. Most of my life, I’ve voted for losers and I’m tired of it.

Even though I’ve worked in at least 15 elec­tion cam­paigns, it was of­ten a dis­il­lu­sion­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause there was no chance the elec­tion re­sults would re­flect ac­cu­rately the pub­lic will. Granted, I’ve been rep­re­sented for decades by two fine MPs, but even their bril­liance had lit­tle im­pact within their rul­ing par­ties, let alone our govern­ment.

Once, I voted for my­self in a by­elec­tion and won! But my en­thu­si­asm soon dimmed in the re­al­ity of the leg­isla­tive assem­bly. Naively, I vol­un­teered as health critic to help the health min­is­ter rein in es­ca­lat­ing pre­scrip­tion drug costs and im­prove out­comes. Be­cause I was from the NDP, his in­ter­nal robot replied, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Seven years later, like so many other MLAs from all par­ties, I felt I had largely wasted my ed­u­ca­tion, knowl­edge and in­sights in a fo­rum where elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives had the least power and in­flu­ence of any­one.

I did learn one thing from other MLAs. We of­ten shared more per­spec­tives than those that di­vided us.

This tran­scended ur­ban or ru­ral con­stituen­cies. Most city dwellers may be rel­a­tively ig­no­rant of liv­ing con­di­tions in our north, but we do have friends or rel­a­tives who live and work there, and we’re ca­pa­ble of learn­ing. Now we’re all af­fected by drug ad­dic­tion, al­co­holism and the nat­u­ral causes of sick­ness. We must all rec­on­cile with the de­scen­dants of peo­ples who long pre­ceded us here. Who among us does not see how hous­ing prices are dis­tort­ing al­most ev­ery as­pect of life for younger peo­ple and their em­ploy­ers? Ev­ery­one faces the im­pacts of cli­mate change.

Our elec­toral sys­tem is ill-suited to tackle long-term is­sues. When I raised cli­mate change in the cabi­net in 1993, many col­leagues thought me a de­luded alarmist. As dif­fi­cult is­sues arose for dis­cus­sion, I was of­ten alarmed at the qual­ity of in­for­ma­tion upon which im­por­tant de­ci­sions would be based.

Ig­no­rant de­ci­sions were hardly unique to the govern­ment in which I served. But it is typ­i­cally worst in those that con­cen­trate power in sin­gle lead­ers and their un­elected staff. A few in­de­pen­dent voices of­ten re­main in party cau­cuses, but the in­ter­nal dy­namic of­ten char­ac­ter­izes fresh ideas as “rene­gade.” Any­one who has served knows what I’m talk­ing about.

How could PR change this? It’s ob­vi­ous the elec­tion of three Green MLAs, re­flect­ing far less than their pro­por­tional share of the 2017 pro­vin­cial vote, has im­proved dis­cus­sion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing in B.C. We may have lost some fine MLAs, but we gained three new voices who are un­afraid to be heard. This keeps oth­ers on their toes. To me, it’s the first blush of a more ma­ture, sen­si­tive, and pro­duc­tive democ­racy.

I’m vot­ing for PR be­cause I think it will give us wiser, more thought­ful govern­ments. It won’t be per­fect, but the fear­mon­ger­ing about racist or right-wing par­ties is ab­surd. Think back to the ma­jor­ity govern­ments that brought us the forced re­lo­ca­tion and prop­erty con­fis­ca­tion from Cana­dian cit­i­zens of Ja­panese de­scent. Con­sider the ma­jor­ity govern­ments that de­nied the right to vote to Abo­rig­i­nals, Chi­nese im­mi­grants and women. What if there had been more di­ver­sity in our leg­is­la­ture in those days?

I see the po­ten­tial for a West Coast spring. Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau stole this pos­si­bil­ity from Canada af­ter promis­ing a dif­fer­ent vi­sion in 2015. Here in B.C., we only need the courage to vote for a chance to see some­thing bet­ter. Our three-party leg­is­la­ture can work out the de­tails in broad day­light, but only if we give them a man­date for more democ­racy.

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