Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No electoral reform in BC

The proposal to switch to electing BC MLAs using proportional representation was defeated in yesterday's provincial election, much to my and others' disappointment.

Although pollsters had predicted the loss, I was holding out hope that voters would surprise us. But it didn't happen.

And now it looks like electoral reform is unlikely here in BC, or anywhere else in Canada, for the foreseeable future.

I'm not sure why voters weren't interested in changing the existing first past the post system. But I suspect that the recent federal experience with minority governments, especially the failed attempt at forming a Liberal/NDP coalition supported by the Bloc Quebecois, played a role. I heard people talking about how they didn't want the uncertainty that comes with minorities. And they figured that STV would give small, fringe parties control over government.

What seems fairly obvious is that the issue as not debated on its merits. For example, read the comments that follow this story on the CTV website. You'd think that the proposal was being put forward by communists and green supporters - instead of a group of ordinary citizens who spent a year of their lives coming up with this alternative. But that history got shunted aside during the referendum.

Ironically, Premier Gordon Campbell used his acceptance speech to talk about how important it is for political parties to work together to find solutions to the tough problems facing us during this economic downturn. But thanks to the existing system, which gave him a solid majority government with about 42% of the vote, he doesn't need to build consensus. He has a clean slate to proceed with anything he wants to.

The referendum campaign never caught fire. It did end up being supported by some prominent figures but that support came late and didn't attract a lot of attention. Overall, the No campaign's message that STV was too complicated and would dilute voters' connection to their MLA carried the day. That's democracy - the people have spoken and electoral reform is off the table for now.

Too bad. It would have made politics really interesting again.

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