I rose in the house to deliver a speech on the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act.
I expect the member for Vancouver-Langara will be happy that the 24-page voter’s guide from Elections B.C. was sent out today, with information on both the ballot and the four systems that will be on that ballot — the three proportional representation and first-past-the-post.
I also encourage the member to look at the confidence and supply agreement, which included banning big money from politics, bringing in lobbying reform, reforming professional reliance, revitalizing the environmental assessment process and bringing in a climate plan for British Columbia, among many other policies and pieces of legislation that truly matter to the people of this province.
We have an extraordinary opportunity to make our electoral system better. The legislation in front of us today, the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Amendment Act, gives us a second opportunity to decide, after two election cycles, if proportional representation is working for B.C.
If this fall’s referendum on electoral reform results in a transition to proportional representation in B.C., this legislation amendment will ensure that after two general elections have been held using a proportional representation voting system, there will be a subsequent referendum in which the voters of B.C. can decide whether to stay with proportional representation or revert to first-past-the-post.
This gives all voters of B.C. an opportunity to determine if they are happy with the changes brought in by proportional representation. It is interesting, and I think important, to note that no country has ever switched to proportional representation and then switched back to first-past-the-post. Nor has any country ever switched from proportional representation to a first-past-the-post or majoritarian system.
The debate around this referendum, the referendum taking place this fall, particularly from the “no to proportional representation” side, has been mostly about what you should fear. I am more of a hope person, myself, and an evidence person, so let’s look at what research and evidence have to say.
Arend Lijphart, a world-renowned political scientist, spent his entire career studying various features of democratic life in first-past-the-post, or majoritarian, and pro-rep democracies, which he called “consensus democracies.” In his landmark 2012 study, he compared 36 democracies over 55 years.
What did he conclude? Proportional representation democracies are kinder, gentler democracies. He also notes that the majoritarian model of democracy is exclusive, competitive and adversarial, whereas the consensus model is characterized by inclusiveness, bargaining and compromise. For this reason, consensus democracy could also be termed “negotiation democracy.”
Let’s hold those images — kinder, gentler democracies, negotiation democracies. We can come back to Lijphart’s and others’ findings later. The opportunity we have in B.C. this fall, the opportunity to modernize our democracy, is one that we should not fear.
The three proportional representation system choices on the ballot deliver the values that were prevalent in the public engagement process initiated by the Attorney General last fall. Over 91,000 British Columbians submitted their input, a record for public engagement in B.C.
What emerged from the engagement were four key values that the citizens of B.C. want to see in a proportional representation system. They want local representation, simplicity, no significant increase to the number of MLAs in the Legislature and proportionality. All three systems of proportional representation on the referendum ballot deliver these outcomes. In addition, no region of B.C. will have fewer MLAs than it does today, and no party would be eligible to have seats in the Legislature unless they received at least a 5 percent threshold of the vote.
All three proportional representation systems will deliver to every voter an MLA, just like today. All three proportional representation systems deliver local representation and provide voters the opportunity to vote for the individual candidates they want to support. Indeed, it’s even better than that, because constituents will have more than one representative in the Legislature.
Under mixed-member proportional, each riding will have a local MLA elected, just like today. However, in addition to the local MLA, there will also be regional MLAs. The benefit of this is you will have representation, just as you do now from your local MLA, but you will also have representation from regional MLAs — meaning that people will be working collaboratively, and often across party lines, to represent you and their constituents effectively.
Under dual-member, ridings would be paired, and they would have two MLAs for each riding. One MLA would be elected under first-past-the-post, just like today, and the second would be elected based on the proportional outcomes of the election. We would have the same number of MLAs in the House, but there would be two to represent each riding. Again, you have MLAs working together, often across party lines, to best represent you.
Rural-urban would be a combination of mixed-member proportional, with local and regional MLAs for rural ridings, and single transferable vote, with ballots where you rank the candidates and ultimately have a group of MLAs representing larger urban ridings, MLAs that would need to work collaboratively and across party lines to best represent their constituents.
What if you don’t like the job that one of those MLAs has done? Same as today. Don’t vote for him or her in the next election. That’s pretty straightforward accountability. All three systems deliver MLAs that you choose and you can turn to, just like today.
By voting yes for proportional representation, we would choose to join over 90 democracies around the world that have proportional systems, including 85 percent of OECD countries. What none of the systems delivers is 100 percent of power to one party based on 40 percent of the vote. This outcome, so consistent, is becoming an increasingly serious threat to democracy. We are seeing daily examples of how power, as the driving force in a democracy, is a distorting and damaging force. We need only look to what unfolded in Ontario to see the truly distressing impacts this approach is creating.
The Progressive Conservatives got 40.49 percent of the vote in the election in June, and 58 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, which means that just under 23.5 percent of eligible voters in Ontario voted for a party that currently has a majority of seats in the Ontario Legislature. Fewer than one in four eligible voters delivered 100 percent of the power to Premier Ford.
After the election, an adviser to the Premier’s campaign told the National Post that to win the election, the campaign relied on “literally thousands” of on-line ads targeting specific geographic and demographic groups. Apparently, the targeting was so precise that “a husband and wife should not have seen the same ads.”
This is an approach described in Susan Delacourt’s 2013 book Shopping for Votes. Parties have learned that rather than focusing on an overarching vision and platform, it’s more effective, under first-past-the-post, to identify what specific demographics of voters want and promise to deliver it to them.
Democracy has increasingly become a game of political parties figuring out how to woo small pockets of potential voters based on tapping into self-interest and less and less about parties and politicians putting forward a coherent vision for the future that works to forge consensus. Election campaigns are not bringing us together. They are sowing seeds of disunity and fragmentation.
While Doug Ford never produced a costed platform or a unifying vision to the voters of Ontario, he did promise buck-a-beer, cheaper gas and tax cuts. So there we were, three months into Ford as Premier, and he had done what no Premier of Ontario has ever done — choosing to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Ford’s choice to invoke the notwithstanding clause, to order Ontario MPPs back to the Legislature to force another piece of legislation through — which he can do, because one in four eligible voters delivered to him a majority of seats and 100 percent of the power — is a gobsmacking rejection of the foundations of our democracy in Canada.
This is not the only questionable step that Premier Ford has taken since his election in June. He cancelled the basic income pilot underway in Ontario, an approach that economists around the world are recognizing as a necessary step in our world of growing automation and inequality. He stripped the sex ed curriculum back to the 1990s. He scrapped the cap-and-trade program and the Green Ontario fund, which resulted in a $100 million loss of funding for school repairs across Ontario. He froze public sector hiring.
It’s not that there may well be issues with some of the programs and the funding, but it’s the unilateral, non-evidence approach to cancelling programs that is worrying. These are also clear examples of policy lurch, a common phenomenon in first-past-the-post systems. Policy lurch is when one government comes in and undoes the policies and legislation of the previous one. These policy lurches are often incredibly costly to taxpayers.
The withdrawal of Ontario from the carbon cap-and-trade markets and the cancellation of contracts is costing taxpayers of Ontario a great deal indeed. According to a July 4 Global News report: “Some of the number-crunchers have estimated that Ford’s decision could cost Ontario about $420 million in federal transfer payments that were targeted for environmental programs.”
Then there’s the concern about companies that purchase permits under cap-and-trade and the concern about companies that purchase permits under the cap-and-trade programs.
A mouse just ran by. There’s a mouse in the House, Madame Speaker.
It’s estimated that the province — and that means you and me, in Ontario — could be on the hook for about $3 billion to refund those purchases. Let’s step back. The decision of the Premier to undo the legislation and policies of the previous government could cost the voters of Ontario somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3.4 billion. One party with 40 percent of the vote has unilaterally made these decisions, heedless of the cost not just to the economy but to the atmosphere and to our environment.
A democracy, all democracies, must have built-in checks on power. Democracies are meant to disperse power across different bodies so that no single body or individual can act unilaterally. The judiciary is a check on the power of the government executive. To reject that check on power is to erode democracy. Ford is choosing instead to insist that he does have all the power and that nobody should be allowed to question that power.
This is not the Canada that I grew up in, not the democracy my father taught me to be fiercely proud of and fiercely protective of. What are we at risk of losing as our democratic institutions are treated with such contempt by those who should, in fact, be protecting them? Far too much. More than I think we want to imagine.
What I fear is that our politics — driven by our electoral system, driven by vote-shopping, driven by an increasing tendency towards populism, driven by the efforts to win swing votes in swing ridings — are becoming increasingly devoid of the kind of leadership we desperately need right now, leadership that lifts us up, that encourages us to look at our world and ask: “How do we make this better?” We are losing the type of leadership that holds itself to a higher standard, that recognizes the true burden of elected office, which is that we must put service to our constituents, our province and our people first.
We are losing the type of leadership that inspires all of us to want to be in service to something greater than ourselves. We are, perhaps more importantly, losing the type of leadership that brings us together, that encourages us to celebrate our differences while recognizing our shared humanity — the kind of leadership that roots us in compassion, kindness and empathy.
I’ve been reflecting on these questions for a very long time. There’s a letter I wrote in the midst of the 2000 federal election campaign. It was published in the Globe and Mail. It read:
“Coverage of the federal election has compelled me to stop writing my thesis on medieval theology and tear myself away from the 12th century long enough to state the reasons why I will not vote for Stockwell Day and the Alliance party.
“As a historian, I think about how Mr. Day and his policies will appear when people look back at our time. I believe he will be seen as a divisive force, since he neatly divides this society into ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and like any good ideologue, he defines these two categories in opposition to each other. ‘We’ are the citizens; ‘they’ are the criminals. We are the hard-working; they are the lazy poor. We are the righteous; they are the deviant. We are the threatened; they are the feared….
“Historically, Mr. Day will be recognized as a politician who was willing to capitalize on the fears and insecurities that are inherent in a world view that sets people in opposition to each other. What Mr. Day and the Alliance fail to acknowledge is that there are no neat divisions, no simple ways to categorize human beings and that in the future, societies will be judged as enlightened according to the degree to which they recognize what unifies us as humans, rather than what divides us.”
As Doug Ford rages against the judges’ decision, as Donald Trump rages against pretty much everything, as politicians increasingly focus on divisive politics, I think my fears about where Stockwell Day’s tendencies could take us were not misplaced. When our so-called leaders are so deeply self-focused, so petty, so willing to be their worst selves, where do we find the inspiration to be our best and to see ourselves as part of a greater whole, to work towards a shared vision that will benefit the many, rather than just the few? I am increasingly anxious about the path we seem to be on, which makes me increasingly determined to do all I can to help us choose a better one.
Back to the research on democracies. What else can we learn from Lijphart and others? You can read his book, Patterns of Democracy, on line.
Countries using proportional systems enact policies that reflect the views of the majority. Citizens are more satisfied with their democracies, even when their preferred party is not in power. More women and more Indigenous people are elected to office. Elected officials are more responsive to the electorate. Youth voter turnout is higher. Citizens have higher levels of political knowledge.
Under proportional representation, there are far fewer policy lurches where successive governments spend time and money undoing the policies of the previous government. Instead of the focus that we see too often under first-past-the-post on short-term and wedge issues, pro-rep governments are better long-term managers. Proportional governments tend to have higher surpluses and lower levels of debt than first-past-the-post governments. They have lower levels of income inequality.
The list goes on. Pro-rep countries score better on transparency, they have lower levels of corruption, and it’s pro-rep countries that are doing the best on environmental protection and action on climate change, while in first-past-the-post America and Ontario, steps that had been taken on these fronts are being undone by current administrations.
Yes, there are challenges, but the compiled data and evidence paint a very compelling picture and support the argument that societies and democracies generally fair much better under proportional representation.
What the no side is not talking about so much are countries that also operate under first-past-the-post — the U.S.A., the U.K. and Canada — but also, for example, Venezuela, Gambia and Myanmar.
We need true leadership now, and we need an electoral system that creates a kinder, gentler democracy. We are not going to solve the extraordinary challenges we are facing with a winner-take-all system that does not encourage the best in all of us.
In B.C., the fires that produced weeks of smoke that blotted out our skies and scratched our throats, made our lungs hurt and our hearts ache, are not natural or inevitable. But without serious and significant efforts to change forest management practices, they are likely to get worse. As Hurricane Florence pummeled the Carolinas, there were more giant storms on our planet than ever recorded.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, the President of the United States has suggested that “climate change might not be caused by humans,” that he did not want to take any actions that would harm the American economy and that the warming of the planet by industrial emissions would reverse of its own accord.
The cost of Hurricane Harvey, which pummeled Texas last year, was $125 billion. Hurricane Maria was $90 billion. Climate change is very much harming economies of nations around the world, and in the face of the IPCC report released last week, any leader unwilling to recognize that our greatest challenge in today’s world is climate change is exhibiting the most reckless behaviour imaginable.
Gwynne Dyer wrote the book Climate Wars, in which he recognized the increasing pressures nations would feel as immigration mounted due to the swaths of the planet becoming uninhabitable because of impacts from climate change. Rather than stoking fear, we need leaders to be working collaboratively and globally to find solutions to these mounting challenges, not using them as political fodder to win swing ridings.
I’m currently reading Gwynne Dyer’s latest book on the future of democracy called Growing Pains. His premise? Inequality and automation are serious threats to social and political stability, and we’re going to need to embrace solutions to these growing challenges if we hope to see democracy survive. Inequality is held in check far better under proportional governments than it is under first-past-the-post governments.
On the way home from the Union of B.C. Municipalities a few weeks ago, we were in line for the buffet on the ferry. Ahead of us was a couple with their one-year-old baby, Benedict, held in the arms of his tall father. He was bright-eyed, alert and playful. We played some peekaboo, which at one point elicited a deep laugh that enveloped Benedict’s entire body. He reached out his hand, one finger extended. I slowly reached out mine, and after our fingertips touched, he seized my entire finger, and he wouldn’t let go.
As his dad moved forward in the line, so did I, connected to little baby Benedict. His gesture was one of trust, one that comes from our fundamental instinct and need, as humans, to connect. As I stood there, my finger in Benedict’s tiny fist, I thought about this referendum. I thought about our future and what I wanted to convey to people.
Benedict, the baby, has no idea of the challenges we face in the world today, but we do. It’s up to us to make it the best world we can for him and for each child who depends on us to make the best choices for them and their futures. One big step we can take for Benedict in B.C. is to move to a kinder, gentler democracy so that he and all children can have the hope of growing up in a kinder, gentler world. Let’s seize this extraordinary opportunity we have in front of us to build that kinder, gentler democracy.