Let’s Play “What If?” With the Referendum


In order to win a hockey game, you only have to score one more goal than the opponent does. There’s nothing wrong with that in a hockey game. The game is intended to show which team is stronger, and that’s it. But is democracy a contest to prove who’s stronger? I hope not.

And Then There’s Canada

In the past 50 years, in order to rule Canada, the average winning “majority” was 40% of the popular vote. These majorities have ruled for 84% of the time. The Federal Liberals have proven once again that, no matter what they promise, the ruling parties will not allow the voters any more power than we have now. The inescapable conclusion we can draw is that neither of the two ruling parties has any motivation to change the system. In any election, they only have to win 40% of the vote to win 100% of the power, and sooner or later, they do. Why would they change?

It is hard to disprove the charge that Canada is ruled (and I mean that word) by a political elite that trades the control of the country back and forth between themselves and keeps all the power.

Put it another way. In more than 4 out of 5 elections, 60% of the voters lose. 20% of the voters never win at all.

And What About B. C.?

Statistics give our ruling parties more like 46% of popular vote, but 80% of the time, we are ruled by the same party. Once again, it seems there is a ruling elite with strong motivation to keep everything exactly as it is, because that’s where their power comes from.

On the Ballot.

So now we – and I mean all of us – have a chance to change this. The first half of the ballot is a straight choice: change or no change. Every single vote will count. Your vote will count!

The second half of the ballot is not so simple, but that’s all right, because it’s not that important.

??Not That Important??

That’s right. The part of the ballot that suggests which form of Proportional voting to use is not that important. Why not? Because once we have decided to change, ANY ONE of the three PR systems is BETTER than FPTP. In fact, the second choice is so different in nature and depends on such varying considerations, I wish the government had not put it on the ballot, but they have, so it’s up to each of you to figure out what you want  to recommend.

Good Training

Actually, the second half of the ballot is a good, non-threatening way to get used to the new form of balloting. Voters must learn to take some time and figure out what the issues really are, without all the hype and posturing we’re usually bombarded with. Democracy cost you. It doesn’t come free, and the first effort it takes is a bit of thoughtfulness.

Because you will notice that the “No” forces must focus their attacks on the first half of the ballot. If they dealt with the second half, they would have to create thoughtful arguments based on real facts and good democratic ideas. This would have the effect of teaching their supporters that the vote is not that complicated, and that individuals can make a reasonable choice.

At which point those supporters would say, “Oh, now I see!” and vote “Yes” on the first half.

Come to think of it, this ballot is really not fair to the “No” side. Well, their system has been unfair to a lot of us for centuries. Suck it up, buttercup.

The Bottom Line (s)

So let’s say the results for the first half of the ballot come out in favour of change, one of the choices receives a majority of second-half votes, and the government decides to go for that system. What’s the worst that can happen?

The Second Part of the Ballot

What if the answer to the second question is a mistake? What if the system chosen results in a mess? What if it costs a fortune? What if everyone is unhappy with it?

The only sure thing is that whatever system is chosen, even if it’s the best possible way to go, it will cost the government (and that means us) a certain amount of money. Democracy costs time and money; there’s no arguing that.

But don’t worry. The vast majority of the members of the G-7 have Proportional Representation systems. No country ever went broke supporting democracy. Opponents cried poor about universal health care, the Canada Pension, unions and the eight-hour working day, too.

And think about it: indirectly, that money will be coming out of the pockets of the fat cats who have made their fortunes manipulating the FPTP system for centuries. Financially, the average voter is going to come out of this just fine.

But what if all the arguments of the “No” side come true, and everyone is unhappy with the change? Well, that’s the point of all three possible systems. If “everyone” – a true majority of the voters, not just 40% of them – really hates the given system, there’s no problem. It will all be changeable. There will be a chance to try out the new system, trash it if we don’t like it, and take another try.

What About the First Question?

If we get the answer to the first question wrong, there will be no chance to get it right for a long, long time. We will return to the same old winners imposing their wills on the majority of the population like we have had for the past several hundred years. We’ll probably go back to another three or four sessions with the Quasi-Liberal party. When they finally antagonize enough of the voters that the NDP get elected, who knows how they’ll act without the impetus of the Greens shoving them in the right direction?

BC is in the middle of a “perfect storm” that allows us to change democracy through using the democratic process. This is a once-in-a-century chance to bring our election system up to date with the progressive democracies of the world. Don’t let those who have been living on the old system bully or frighten you into missing that chance.


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