LETTER: Prof pitches mix of FPTP and proportional representation

The referendum question was confusing and not what was promised.

Dear Editor,

I’m responding to Attorney-General David Eby

Given the historic importance of B.C.’s recent electoral referendum, the post-mortems should include responses to recent statements by Attorney General David Eby, the referendum’s architect and overseer.

David Eby is surprised by the 61 per cent rejection. He should remember that during the pre-election campaign NDP Leader John Horgan stated emphatically that there would be a simple yes/no question. That promise was broken. Voters resent being deceived. There were, of course, also other reasons.

Mr. Eby asserts that “The ballot was very clear.” In my numerous lectures during the voting process, I found barely a half dozen people who understood and could explain the three PR options.

As we know, the three PR options could not be fully explained because crucial details were missing. It is surprising that Premier Horgan and Attorney General Eby assumed that voters were willing to have basic details filled in by the same politicians who broke their solemn promise to have one simple question and who would, it was widely feared, skew the details to their own advantage.

Perhaps Mr. Eby’s most surprising comment is that it would have made no difference if the ballot had presented some other PR option. Here the attorney general is wrong. Many of us who worked hard to defeat Eby’s complex and incomplete package of PR options would have campaigned strongly in support of a reasonable and clear PR system.

Let me be specific. I have for years promoted a very simple dual voting system which incorporates the best of our FPTP Single Member Districts system and also the best of proportional representation. I believe that such an option would have been approved by a wide margin. In all venues where I presented it, this proposal evoked general support.

Here is my reasonable and simple Mixed Member Proportional System; 42 MLAs are elected in Single Member Districts and 42 are elected at large. B.C. presently has 42 federal ridings. They have been carefully designed giving appropriate weight to population and geography. In each of these 42 electoral ridings one B.C. MLA would be elected, giving everyone an identifiable and accountable representative in the provincial legislature.

Another 42 MLAs would be elected at large as follows. Each registered party would provide a list of up to 42 candidates. The lists would be publicized in advance. On this second ballot each voter would vote for one party list. After the voting, lists that received less that got five per cent support would be discarded. Then the second cohort of 42 seats would be distributed according to the percentage support given each party after the non-qualifying lists have been discarded. Thus, if the NDP would get 38 per cent of the remaining votes then that party would get 16 at large seats. If the Greens would get 10 per cent, that party would get four at large seats. In this manner all smaller parties which garnered at least five per cent support would gain seats even if they did not win in any Single Member Electoral District.

In calculating the percentages for the at-large MLAS it is important not to combine a party’s total Electoral District votes with its provincial at-large vote. This combining, done in some places, makes no sense. Many voters are not hard line party voters. Doubtless many would vote for one party’s candidate locally but for a different party provincially as they also vote for different parties provincially and federally..

The questions of dealing with fractions is easily addressed by assigning extra seats or splitting terms as is done in all other PR systems.

It is truly unfortunate that the bungling of our recent referendum by the NDP/Greens has seemingly terminated the drive for much-needed electoral reform. If the simple Mixed Member Proportional System I have outlined would have been offered, one which incorporates the best of both PR and FPTP, I am confident it would easily have received strong majority support. Maybe that can still be accomplished.

John H. Redekop Ph.D., Professor Emeritus in Political Science (Wilfrid Laurier University).

Editor’s note: John Redekop is a former Trinity Western University professor who lives in Abbotsford.

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