Referendum advertising will cost a lot

Dear Editor,

This fall we have the opportunity to modernize our voting system and update to a system of proportional representation. The referendum will be held by mail in ballot. From October 22 to November 30, all registered B.C. voters will have an opportunity to decide if they wish to stay with our current voting system (First Past the Post) or change to a system of proportional representation. This will be the first question on the referendum ballot.

The second question on the referendum ballot will allow voters, who wish to do so, to express a preference between three proportional voting systems. This is a fair way of providing voters with the maximum opportunity to provide input and register preference.

The chief electoral officer has been tasked with providing factual information on the referendum including on the voting systems that will appear on the referendum ballot.

Proportional representation means that if 30 per cent of voters choose the purple party, then the purple party will get 30 per cent (or very close to) 30 per cent of the seats in the legislature. The intention of voters is more accurately reflected in the makeup of the legislature with proportional representation. Proportional representation also ensure that 95 per cent of voters will help elect an MLA in their region. This means that more people will have representation that they voted for. You can read more about proportional representation here

Sadly, our current First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system does not accurately reflect how we vote. A party with 20 per cent of the votes may get no seats and a party with under 40 per cent of the seats may end up with all the power in the legislature. Since 1956, only 1 government in BC has been elected with a true majority (more than 50 per cent voter support). This was the 2001 election, where the governing party obtaining 57 per cent of the voter support. Good on them for putting out policies that earned a majority of our support. However, 57 per cent support gave that government 97 per cent of the seats in the legislature. This is due to the unpredictability/randomness of FPTP translating votes into power.

The Attorney General report and recommendation on the referendum includes some guarantees that are important for us in the interior of B.C. In the event that we decide to adopt a system of proportional representation, there will be no loss of MLA’s in any region of the province. As well, no political party will receive a seat unless the party obtains at least 5 per cent of voter support (5 per cent threshold). The report also tells us there will be no significant increase in the number of MLAs. You can read the Attorney General full Report here

One of the questions I have been asked recently by those who know me or have met me out advocating for proportional representation is: Why do we not see full page ads in the newspaper in favor of proportional representation such as we are seeing over the past couples of weeks from those opposed to change? My short answer is: Money. It costs thousands and thousands of dollars to run full page ads in newspapers across the province. The fact that financial heavy weights all opposed to change spent substantial sums of money just prior to July 1 is notable. (As of July 1 referendum advertising sponsors are subject to an expenses limit of $200,000 and have reporting obligations). It is interesting that big money will fight so hard against the basic principle that 30 per cent support for one political party should equal 30 per cent seats in the legislature.

Amber van Drielen

Golden, B.C.

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