I took a swing up into the Interior last week, and because I’m involved in the Pro-Rep debate, I couldn’t help but poll my friends about how they felt. As a Lower Mainlander for the last dozen years, I was surprised by what seemed to be a swing in political thinking.
I asked several different people how they felt about Proportional Representation and the referendum. The universal answer was twofold: “What referendum?” and “I’m really worried about how the rural areas aren’t represented in parliament.”
The first answer surprised me some because I hang around with some pretty intelligent, aware people. Well, it’s summer, and maybe there isn’t any publicity being wasted on folk whose minds are on sun, relaxation, and forest fires.
The second answer surprised me. It’s a fact of politics that sparsely-populated rural areas feel outnumbered in the political arena. They are, all over the world. But I had never heard it voiced so strongly or so often back when I lived in the North.
But the part that really blew me away was that the topic came up in response to the idea of Pro-Rep, and that the tone was basically negative. The whole idea of Proportional Representation is that under-represented groups will have MORE representation in the legislature. The imbalance these people fear developed partially because of the FPTP system we labour under.
So you’d think they would receive proportional voting with open arms. Not so.
Fear in Politics (Sorry, can’t do anything about the loathing)
Somehow, many people in rural BC are leery of change for fear it will make the power balance worse. And I think that’s the important word: fear. People who are afraid are functioning at an emotional level. They aren’t making rational decisions. I can see the campaign for the “No” side playing on those fears. The “No” side is weak on logic to support their ideas, so they play up the fear of the unknown, the complicated, the enemy – whatever people are afraid of.
And it’s up to us to inform the people of the “other half” of the province of the facts.
So Here I Go
Point 1: You think that, under the present system, there is an imbalance of power between rural and urban areas?
What system would that be, to cause such a problem? Well, what do you know? It’s the present system: FPTP.
Point 2: You’re worried the new system will make it worse?
I’m pleased to tell you that this fear is groundless. The whole point of Pro-Rep is to give MORE people a voice. Under the new system, even if your party does not win in your riding, your vote still counts to elect a member of your party, either in your riding or your area. So, if you’re an NDP voter in the Kelowna riding, your vote will finally count. There will be someone in the Legislature in Victoria that you can phone up and say, “I voted for you because of this point in your platform. Please do what you promised.”
Point 3: You’re worried that some of the “top-up” members will only be tools of their party and responsible to no voters.
Once again, there will be less to worry about. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, those extra people will be very aware of who elected them: all their party’s supporters in their region. If they are responsible, it ups their chances of getting elected next time.
Less Change Than You Think
And the final, unfortunate fact I need to mention is that things are simply not going to change that much. Party members will still align themselves with their party on 99% of votes in the Legislature. (Canada is the worst political system in the democratic world for MLA and MP independence.) There will still be a perceived imbalance between rural and urban areas, neither of which understands the needs of the other. And politicians will still play their old games.
All of this will be true to some degree. But not as true as before. Politicians are sensitive to who elected them, either through awareness of the trust that is placed in them or desire to stay in power. When they need more than 50% of the population’s approval to get their agenda passed, they will be forced to listen to more people. When they can no longer rule the province by buttering up only the 40% of voters who support them, they will have to look for platforms that appeal to more people.
The result will be greater democracy. It’s not going to solve all our problems, but it will focus the attention of our elected representatives on our problems, instead of their own worries about getting re-elected.
PS: And For All You “Under-Represented” Northerners
|Riding||Population||Voted for Winner 2017||Number of Reps|
|Vancouver West End||48,500||13,000||1|
Roughly speaking, one person’s vote in the Stikine is three times as powerful as one vote in the West End. Pro-Rep is not going to take that away. It is going to give more power to the other voters in the riding, those who did not vote NDP in the last election. You’re not doing so badly, and under Pro-Rep, the rural ridings will benefit even more than before.