To The Editor:
For those British Columbians who are uncertain about the choices offered in the Proportional Representation referendum, and have not yet voted, there is an alternative voting system that could well work for most citizens and most political parties.
The current First Past the Post system offers simplicity in voting and counting, and transparency in the process, all of which are useful in obtaining the highest rate of voter participation. It also has the advantage of momentum, after being used almost continuously since the beginning.
Proportional Representation claims the advantage of “every vote counting” but with huge complexity, on the ballot and in counting, party secrecy in choosing candidates, increased legislature and budget costs, and less stable governments.
The alternative would be to combine the best of both, and not favour particular parties; a second chamber. Originally, Canadian provinces had such bodies but were illuminated one by one, the last in 1968.
Unlike the Canadian Senate, which is unelected, unequal and ineffective, a British Columbia Senate could be elected. Four members from each of the existing BC Regions (Vancouver Island; Vancouver Coast and Mountains; Thompson Okanagan; Kootenay Rockies; Cariboo, Chilcotin, Coast; Northern British Columbia) would result in a manageable house of twenty-four Senators providing equal representation from urban and rural areas alike. The make-up would be geographic as compared to the population based eighty-seven members of the Legislative Assembly. The Senate’s ability to table new bills or vote down bills from the legislature would make it very effective. Elected for a four year term, senators would be accountable to their constituents, unlike the Canadian Senate.
While a voter’s preferred candidate may not be elected to the Legislative Assembly, it is entirely possible that her or his preferred candidate could be elected to the Senate, giving them a voice in government. The four Senators per region would potentially provide a demographic mix of senators consistent with the region.
A two house system would eliminate the situation where a minority of the voters, say 40%, allow a party to have 100% of the power, and pass any legislation unchallenged. The party in power in the Legislative Assembly would think twice about passing a bill that most citizens did not approve of because it could be voted down in the Senate. And vice versa. Collaboration could be required to get legislation passed. Coalitions between parties could be formed in both houses.
The two house system would be unbiased toward political parties and reduce the likelihood of parties with a relatively small number of followers controlling the agenda of a minority government. Instead of reducing a citizen’s direct representation by a directly elected member, as would be the case with proportional representation, the system would actually increase regional representation from one to five members of government.
If democracy is “government by a majority of the people”, a two house system would provide for a larger, more inclusive majority having a say in governing the province.
Voting “No” in the Proportional Representation referendum may open the door in the future to a better system than the alternatives currently offered.
Jim Thornton, Osoyoos, BC