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B.C. votes down Greens’ voting reform proposal, but do Greens need it?

by Greg Klein | December 20, 2018

If a new electoral system might have reduced British Columbian voter apathy, not many voters showed interest. Only 42.6% of registered voters bothered to take part in a mail-in referendum on proportional representation and 61.3% of them rejected change. Results were released late December 20, after the voting deadline ended December 7.

British Columbians vote down Greens’ voting reform proposal

With or without electoral changes, Greens increasingly
make inroads in B.C. and some other parts of Canada.

B.C.’s ruling NDP put the matter to test as part of an agreement with the province’s three-MLA Green Party, whose legislative support is necessary to the minority government. In theory proportional representation would give smaller parties like the Greens a better chance of electing members.

Voters who did want change had three options: Mixed Member Proportional, used in Germany, New Zealand and Scotland; Rural-Urban Proportional, a never-tried approach that combines MMP and another system that’s used in Ireland, Australia and Malta; and Dual Member Proportional, a made-in-Canada system that’s used nowhere.

Of those who marked that part of the ballot, 41.24% chose MMP, 29.31% RUP and 29.45% DMP. But First Past the Post prevailed.

Small parties might be disappointed but Greens in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada have been increasing their presence under the current rules. B.C.’s Greens went from one MLA to three in the May 2017 election, holding the balance of power in a very tight result.

In June of this year Ontario elected its first Green MPP. Three months later the New Brunswick legislature increased its Green presence from one to three in an election where the new People’s Alliance also won three seats. Nevertheless electoral reform supporters said the top two parties’ standings showed the need for proportional representation. The Progressive Conservatives won 22 seats with 31.89% of the vote, while the incumbent Liberals won 21 seats with 37.8%. The Liberals managed to retain the government position for over five weeks until a non-confidence vote put the PCs into precarious power.

One week later Québec Solidaire, a new party sometimes described as separatist-environmentalist, won 10 seats in that province’s National Assembly. Three of the four elected Quebec parties support proportional representation.

Prince Edward Island has two Green MLAs, while Canada’s sole Green MP represents a B.C. riding.

Greens surged to prominence in Vancouver last October, electing three each to the city’s council, parks board and school board. Neighbouring Burnaby elected its first two Greens, a councillor and school trustee. New municipal electoral rules did play a role, however, by hindering the funding advantages that larger parties once held.

Back to the referendum, the NDP officially supported the Green stance on proportional representation but an NDP promoter ran the official anti-PR campaign. The group quickly pulled a sensationalist TV ad that suggested PR would bring goose-stepping Nazis into the legislature.

If the NDP appeared ambivalent, it might have been because FPTP has historically served the party well. In 1996 the NDP won a majority of provincial seats with 39.5% of the vote, although the rival BC Liberals won 41.8%. And arguably the NDP has more to fear than the BC Liberals from rising Green power.

In a 2005 B.C. referendum, PR got 57.7% support but failed to meet the 60% minimum requirement. B.C. PR support fell to 39.09% in a 2009 referendum.

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