Stopping the runaway B.C. electoral reform train


The B.C. government is currently driving a runaway electoral reform train that threatens to push the interests of moderate voters aside in favour of fringe voices, and completely derail the province’s economy.

Those of us who support responsible resource investing in B.C. and across Canada are watching in horror and doing everything we can to stop this B.C. electoral reform train in its tracks.

B.C. residents will be asked to vote this fall on whether they’d like to keep the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system or pick one of three types of proportional representation (PR).

A recent study showed that under any one of the three PR options, in the next election the B.C. Liberals and B.C. NDP would each have about 36 seats, while the B.C. Green Party would leapfrog from its current three MLAs to 15. The Greens would be in the driver’s seat, holding the balance of power because any other party would need their votes to govern.

Responsible investment in our resource economy would grind to a halt. Longer term, other parties with extreme views would rise up and start winning seats.

This would be a perfect example of how, under a PR system, “the tail wags the dog.” Fringe elements on both the left and the right take advantage of a system that encourages a proliferation of parties with often wildly radical views and rewards them with a platform in an elected assembly and huge negotiating power with moderates who’d like to form government but need their support to form a government.

In Europe, long-standing PR systems are currently enabling extreme right-wing parties, even Nazis and white supremacists, to win enough seats to force their way into positions of influence. Scary stuff.

This stands in stark contrast to the current FPTP system, where political parties are relatively stable coalitions containing widely differing points of view. However, there is a strong incentive to stay together and fringe voices inside the parties eventually have only minimal, if any, impact on government policy decisions.

In a January 2017 editorial, The Economist noted PR systems tend to cause political parties to break into smaller fragments. As parties subdivide, countries become harder to govern. A coalition of small parties is not obviously more representative than one big-tent party. Big parties are also coalitions of interests and ideologies, but they are usually more disciplined than looser groups, and so more likely to get things done.

That’s right. The current FPTP voting system in B.C. ensures the coalitions that make up our political parties stay together and can get big, important things get done. Like building dams, pipelines or LNG terminals and embarking on important social system reforms.

All of these things have been accomplished in the recent past in B.C. by stable majorities of NDP, Socred, or B.C. Liberal governments that convinced moderate voters that they deserved support.

On any resource issue in Canada, from LNG or Trans Mountain to Energy East and everything in between, there will be a vocal and strident minority on each side — for or against. Under PR, these voices will be amplified.

Shuffled to the back and ignored under PR are the moderate voices of the middle, where most of us sit.

The danger in B.C. is therefore clear and present. A vote for PR will, over the long term, multiply the number of parties in the B.C. legislature and give a huge platform for the views and ideas of radical parties of the left and the right. Moderates will be pushed into the background. B.C. and Canada will be poorer.

And in the short term, it would likely give B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver the hammer over the B.C. resource economy.

No more LNG. No more pipelines. No more mines. No more oil wells. No more getting things done.

Help us stop this train before it pulls in to a station near you.

Rick Peterson is an Edmonton businessman and former Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate. He is the founder of Suits and Boots, a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization of investment industry professionals supporting Canada’s resource sector.

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