RICKTER SCALE: PR is worth a shake

RICKTER SCALE: PR is worth a shake

Rick Stiebel | Columnist

Maybe it’s time we started treating our provincial elections less like a horse race and more like a popularity contest.

The referendum on proportional representation provides a rare opportunity for the unwashed masses to make a decision the politicians will have to live with for a change, instead of the other way around.

The main problem with first past the post is the way it’s slanted in a way that gives a majority to a minority, where 30 to 40 per cent of the popular vote results in a carte blanche for the ruling party.

It’s like giving three or four people in a house with 10 people complete control over who takes out the garbage, who does the dishes and who controls the thermostat.

Another major concern is that although one in five voters may prefer a particular party, that doesn’t translate to the number of seats their choice will occupy in the legislature. Whatever you think about Green Party, the three seats they hold doesn’t accurately reflect the wishes of the roughly 17 per cent who voted for them.

What I like most about the NDP’s approach to the referendum is that if a majority votes in favour of proportional rep, we can take the new system out for two test drives before a final decision is made. That alone should placate critics who defend first past the post based on the belief that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That tired old argument eliminates the potential for improvement on the current system, and also assumes we aren’t capable of building a better mousetrap when it comes to how we elect our MLAs.

One of the criticisms oft repeated about PR is that it may result in a plethora of minority governments and fringe candidates which, historically, is how most political parties got started.

The way things are now, a lot of people don’t bother to vote because they don’t like any of the candidates or party options.

A new system with more choices that nudges more folks to the ballot box would be more democratic, and has the potential to create more consensus, collaboration and cooperation among the newly anointed.

The way the political landscape is shaped in this province under first past the post has resulted in the 42 members of the governing NDP having to bend over and take whatever the three Greens demand, whether they agree or not, just so they can remain in power. That alone is ample proof that the current system could use a thoughtful, sober second look.

Don’t let the chance to put your stamp on how we will vote in the future slip away. Voting for what you believe in the best way to exercise democracy, whether you lean to the left, rank on the right, or sit somewhere in between.

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Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident and semi-retired journalist