Vancouver Sun

There’s little fair about NDP’s electoral reform

With pro-rep, we lose accountabi­lity and clarity, Lorna Pawluk says.

- Lorna Pawluk, QC, is principal at Lorna Pawluk Law Corporatio­n. She is first vice-chair of the B.C. Institute of Technology board of governors and past chair of the National Administra­tive Law Section of the Canadian Bar Associatio­n.

In a recent op-ed, associate professor Dennis Pilon of Toronto’s York University — a proportion­al representa­tion advocate — claims that the NDP government in British Columbia is “bending over backwards to offer B.C. a fair referendum process.” Local proportion­al representa­tion advocates attempt to make the same argument. But how can it be fair when you don’t know what you’re voting for?

While both the Greens and the NDP included proportion­al representa­tion in their campaigns, neither committed to a particular form of it. The NDP promised a simple ballot with a yes/no choice between the current system and a well-defined new system.

Even before the ink dried on the agreement between the Greens and NDP, the NDP took steps to ensure the vote would support proportion­al representa­tion so as to keep the Greens’ support. The Greens need proportion­al representa­tion to solidify their foothold in the legislatur­e.

Premier John Horgan’s online poll early in the Green-NDP pact clearly favoured pro-rep. Few people defended the survey as balanced or impartial. With its answers skewed toward proportion­al representa­tion, the questionna­ire raised early concerns about the fairness of the process.

Voters are being asked in the first part of the ballot to choose between our known system and the concept of proportion­al representa­tion. This is an odd choice, but the real problems arise in the second part of the ballot, where voters are invited to choose a favourite proportion­al representa­tion system.

Voters are asked to rank three options: dual-member proportion­al (DMP); ruralurban proportion­al (RUP) and mixed-member proportion­al (MMP). DMP and RUP have not been tried anywhere and MMP takes a variety of forms where it is used.

No one in B.C. can answer this part of the ballot with full understand­ing, as none of the three systems is fully developed.

The government promised clarity once the ballot was made public. So here’s a test: Ask anyone around you to explain any of the three proposed systems. You’ll be met with blank stares. So much for clarity.

It is fundamenta­lly unfair to ask voters to choose from three vague, hypothetic­al systems and — only once the vote is counted — to allow a select group of the legislatur­e (with a majority of pro-rep supporters from the Greens and NDP) to fill in the details.

How many people will vote? Hard to tell, but it requires only 50 per cent of voters to pass the referendum. Of those voters, a lesser amount will vote to choose a system. In other words, we could have a fundamenta­l change to our democracy chosen by a small number of people. Our system is based on hard-fought rights won over centuries to achieve fair representa­tion and accountabi­lity for citizens. Proportion­al representa­tion turns representa­tion over to political parties, and we lose accountabi­lity.

A fair vote is one that allows voters to make an informed choice among well-defined options. A fair process ensures voters are wellinform­ed and have all the facts. It does not favour one option over another and does not influence voter choice. The upcoming referendum is unfair in every sense.

I will be voting to keep our current system. I will not be choosing one of the proportion­al representa­tion options. We have a stable democracy in one of the best places in the world. I am not willing to lose that.

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