Thoughts on Pro Rep

You’ve likely seen the cute, short video that makes a comical attack on our current voting system, but doesn’t explain anything. Well here are some of the ideas behind the video.

If you haven’t been following the news, the BC gov is holding a referendum on changing our voting system to one of Proportional Representation. This is critical to make government accountable and more representative of what BC actually wants. We are a progressive people that generally care about each other, the environment, and the global community.

If we (the people of BC) win, this will be the most important vote in Canadian history. This will be the turning point between the old politics and the new politics. The turning point between governments that just (barely) care about voters in key ridings, and governments that actually reflect the progressive values that most Canadians hold dear.

If this sounds boring and pointless because you don’t vote, keep reading!  This is about making voting less pointless.

I have been campaigning full time for Fair Vote Canada for the past 6 weeks.  Among other things, like making the LEGO video, I have mainly been managing province-wide distribution of lawn signs for Fair Vote Canada.

If you already understand how desperately our democracy needs this change, I encourage you to go out and volunteer with a proponent group, or just talk to your friends and family.
If you have any doubts about this issue, I encourage you to do one of 3 things:
1. Read this very long post in full.
2. Go read someone else’s explanation. I recommend this at FairVote.ca but there are over 20 NGOs working on the “Yes Side” of this issue and they all have great explanations. LeadNow.ca and Dogwood.ca etc.
3. Come to one of my talks, go to someone else’s talk/debate or gather a room full of people, and I will happily come to you.

Now the long part. I won’t explain most of the basics, because fairvote.ca has already done that quite well. What I will do is make the case for the importance of change.

Canadians are a particularly generous, kind, tolerant (and often accepting) people. We are a people that care about our environment, our neighbours and the rest of the planet. Surveys continually come back with numbers showing that 80% of Canadians support green energy, better socials programs, global peace keeping instead of bombing missions, lunch programs in schools, etc. The list goes on. Canadians overwhelmingly want what is best for all of us. Billion dollar oil subsidies for Tar Sands extraction are absurd and most Canadians would rather see a billion dollar subsidy go into building renewable energy. Canadians want better schools, hospitals, and bridges.

So why do we continually elect governments that don’t support Canadian values? The answer is simple. We use a voting systemthat gives most of the electoral power to the other 20% of Canadians. The system has been favoured, maintained, and defended by the 20% who benefit from it and use it to govern the other 80% (see my example at the bottom for how 20% can win an election and 100% of power). Even politicians who represent the other groups of Canadians love this system because they know that if they can get 21% of the population behind them, then they will win 100% of the power.

What should be an easy decision has become very distorted by the YES vs NO argument going on today in BC. While it’s easy to refute any of the arguments on the “No Pro Rep” side, it’s really a waste of time. It’s sufficient to look at who represents the two sides.
The Yes side is made up of dozens of small citizen groups, NGOs, a few political parties (BC NDP and BC Greens), and thousands of volunteers (like me).
The No side is a small group of politicians, insiders, lobbyists, and individuals connected to the two big parties (BC Liberals and BC NDP) who are desperately clinging to a system that has served their political careers quite well. Whether they were in government or opposition, they made a lot of money and had a lot of power.

The premise of Proportional Representation is simple. A party with 40% of the vote should only ever have roughly 40% of the seats and 40% of the power. Trudeau commissioned an extensive series of public consultations on this very topic and an overwhelming majority (around 80%) of panellists, people consulted, committees, and feedback agreed with this basic notion of fair and balance power distribution. So Let’s do it!

Many of you will have already received your ballots. Please vote for change!  And choose Rural-Urban Proportional as your first choice. Why RUP? Well…

In 2004, the BC Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform spent a whole year studying the different systems and concluded that STV, the Single Transferable Vote, was the best system. The “Transferable” part is really the key, and it just means that the ballot is ranked. When voting, you rank your first choice, then second choice, then third and so on. STV is best explained here.
While RUP is not simply STV, it is a brilliant, BC based adaptation that makes a lot of sense. Both STV referendums in 2005 and 2009 didn’t get a lot of support in Rural BC, and they failed because of it. People didn’t like the idea of an already huge riding getting any bigger. RUP will keep Rural ridings the same size, and add a few regionally based MLAs to Rural regions to represent voters whose preferred party didn’t win. Voters in Urban areas would be grouped into larger 2-7 seat ridings and elect groups of MLAs in those larger ridings. The ranked ballots are key to a better system because they allow voters to rank candidates within a party, making it much harder for a bad candidate to win a seat. RUP is the only option in this referendum that uses a ranked ballot.

And last…

Example for how 20% can win an election and 100% of the power:
I’ll use the Ontario 2018 election as my example. But Trump, Harper, Trudeau, Christie Clarke and Gordon Campbell all won their elections with very similar numbers.
In Ontario’s last election, Doug Ford, an extreme right-wing candidate, ran on a platform of cutting taxes, cutting things that people love, $1 Beer and undoing environmental programs like carbon pricing. How did Ford turn that relatively unpopular agenda into a majority government with 100% of the power for 4 years? It’s all in the numbers.
Ontario’s Population: 13.5 Million (including non-voters)
Registered Voters 9.8 Million
Total Votes Cast 5.75 Million (58.4% turnout)
People who voted for Ford 2.3 Million (40.5% of votes, 23.4% of voters and 17% of the population)
40.5% of the popular vote, spread nicely into 55% of the ridings means Ford won a majority of the seats in the seats in the Ontario Provincial Parliament. Having a majority of the seats give Ford 100% of the power. The Ontario NDP, that received 1.9 Million votes gets 0% of the decision making power, along with all the other parties. While Most people voted “against Ford” and his policies, their division means they loose all influence in government.

17% of the population of Ontario gave Doug Ford his “mandate to govern” with impunity and disrespect for everyone else in Ontario. This is only possible because of our voting system. The system works very well for established parties. It works extremely well for big parties that can raise enough money to attract a 20% population block to their goals, and it works the best for lobbyists, who rarely need to worry about public approval and only need worry about which politician’s favour they need to buy, since the power usual lands in the hands of one party leader.
“But what if the Ontario Liberals or NDP had won” you might say. Well, they might next time. Ford isn’t likely to make a lot of friends. Next time, a different party might get 18% of the people behind them and beat Ford. That new party will then declare that they have “a mandate to govern” and do a bunch of stuff to keep a different 18% of the population happy and ultimately serve the lobbyists who funded them.

In either case, the win is made possible by the fact that our system convinced 45% of registered voters not to show up because their vote ‘would be wasted’ and then disregards 60% of the votes cast by giving all the power to the one party (and usually the single party leader) who wins the most seats. This distortion of voter preference is a plague on democracy.

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