In the 2017 provincial general election, BC NDP candidate Ravi Kahlon won Delta North with 48.83 per cent of the vote. Columnist ML Burke argues that the current First Past the Post system means that votes for losing candidates — in this example nearly half of ballots cast in North Delta — are wasted and go unrepresented in Victoria. (James Smith photo)

COLUMN: Time to modernize our democracy

ML Burke argues the need to change our electoral system to a form of proportional representation

By guest columnist ML Burke

We don’t all have the ability to get out there and advocate, but we do each have a voice with our vote. Those who think their vote doesn’t matter are going to have a chance to change that from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30 with a mail-in ballot and their answer to one or two questions.

When you look at what’s happing south of the border with Trump, and in Ontario with Doug Ford, it should raise a few red flags. Both of them were elected with majority governments, even though they both lost the popular vote. Ford got a majority with only 40 per cent of the vote, meaning 60 per cent of voters came away empty handed. The current method for protecting our democracy is outdated and under siege.

What with gerrymandering (boundary-changes), big-money lobbying from corporations and unions, conspiracy theories, campaigns smearing the competition, all rampant in the current First Past the Post system, it’s no wonder our voters are jaded and turnouts are so low (about 60 per cent overall in the last provincial election).

But hang in there because change is a-comin’. Limits are already in place to cap donations amounts and limit where they come from. People are sick of the mud-slinging tactics against candidates, bullying by majority governments and MLAs being forced to vote along party lines rather than what’s best for their constituents.

I consider myself a modern kind of gal so I’ll be voting “yes” for proportional representation. Here’s why: It’s fairer because your vote will count, unless your candidate is an extreme longshot who gets less than 5 per cent. This is good for keeping out the extremists and it also makes it more difficult, but not impossible, to form a majority government. We’ve had enough of those over the years, giving all the power to one side, then the pendulum swinging back to the other side where they dismantle what the previous gang did. It’s a dysfunctional, expensive and adversarial system.

The proportional representation system actually reflects the popular vote. Decisions function through collaboration and compromise to resolve important issues. Kind of like the NDP and Greens are doing right now. Although rumour has it that the BC Greens are holding the NDP hostage on issues, it’s not true. Site C Dam was opposed by the Greens, yet the NDP still voted for it.

New Zealand’s prime minister was not initially in favour of a proportional representation system, but 10 years later she says it’s wonderful and there’s no going back. They use the Mixed Member Proportional system, which we are being offered as one of three alternatives to First Past the Post in October. In New Zealand everyone gets two votes: one for your local rep and one for your party of choice. I like that.

The point I’m trying to make is this: come October/November, mail in your vote. The first question will be a yes/no asking British Columbians whether or not they should adopt a system of proportional representation. The second question will ask voters to rank the three proportional representation systems (Dual Member Proportional, Mixed Member Proportional and Rural-Urban Proportional) in order of preference. (MMP will be my first choice.)

If you don’t know enough to answer the second part of the question, ignore it, but at least answer the more important first question. It’s time we change to a proportional representation system and rescue our fragile democracy before it’s too late.

ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team and the BC Seniors Advocate’s Council of Advisors.

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