Q1. Our current voting system, called “First-Past-The-Post” (FPTP), has been used in B.C. since 1956. So, why are people complaining about it now?
A. People are complaining about it because there are many problems as noted by Fair Voting BC. Some regions – such as the Okanagan, Shuswap, Boundary, Thompson and Cariboo currently – have no government MLAs at all. Also, half of the votes don’t count; unless you vote for a winning candidate, your vote has no influence at all. Winning candidates also receive excess votes, so altogether about 70% of the votes are “wasted” in the practical sense that those voters could just as well have stayed home. That’s what we’re used to, but that disrespect of voters has been fixed in modern voting systems such as those with proportional representation (Pro Rep).
Q2. If half the votes don’t count, how is the winner (the party to form government) determined in an election?
A. With our old First-Past-The-Post system, the winning party is typically the one with the greatest number of winning candidates from the results of the 87 separate riding contests. In the current system, the party that wins can actually have fewer votes in total, over the whole province, than the party that loses! This happened, for example, in 1996, when the BC Liberal Party had 37,534 more votes than the BC New Democratic Party, but the NDP still won the election.
Q3. Some people are saying B.C. should switch to a “PR” system. What’s that?
A. PR or “Pro Rep” stands for Proportional Representation. Pro Rep is fair, because it means the proportion of MLAs elected for a given party is the same as the proportion of people who voted for that party in the first place.
Q4. What else is good about Pro Rep?
A. Pro Rep means, on average, fewer elections, stronger long-term planning, and less flip-flopping on government policies. It also results in less government debt, a better quality of public services, and government spending more in line with voter priorities.
Q5. How do we know this about Pro Rep if we’ve never used this voting system?
A. We know this because political scientists have observed these sorts of trends in the majority of places where this voting style is already used. People in more than 80% of modern countries currently vote this way. After careful study, the BC government’s Citizens’ Assembly of 2004 voted 93% to 7% against keeping our old voting system.
Q6. If B.C. switches our voting system to proportional representation (Pro Rep), will that make my vote count?
A. Yes, because with Pro Rep almost every voter’s ballot makes a positive contribution to the election results. That’s why Fair Vote Canada chose the motto “Make Every Vote Count”.
Q7. If we use a Pro Rep system to elect our next provincial government (instead of using the current system) what effect will this have on government accountability?
A. That’s another advantage – under proportional representation (Pro Rep) the government is accountable to more voters than in our current system. It’s a true “majority rules” scenario. To “throw the bums out” at the next election, you’ll still have the same opportunity as now to vote for a different candidate or party if you don’t like the way they do their job.
Q8. What about voter turnout in places already using Pro Rep?
A. On average, voter turnout is higher in places using Pro Rep. People know their vote is important, because almost every vote makes a difference in electing a representative of their chosen party.
Q9. With Pro Rep, will there still be regions in the province that have no government MLA to represent them?
A. Having a Pro Rep system will ensure that every sizeable region of the province will have at least one government MLA to represent them as well as at least one opposition MLA. This way, there is always someone to hold the government accountable.
Q10. If Pro Rep is so good, why do some people oppose it?
A. There’s no doubt that some people don’t like change, and some may be unaware of the many benefits of Pro Rep. Some politicians fear Pro Rep because it will put an end to governments being elected with a mere 40% of the vote. On the other hand, fourteen separate study groups appointed by provincial or federal governments in recent history have favoured updating our voting system to Pro Rep.
Q11. The second part of the referendum ballot lists three voting systems. They’re all proportional. So how do I choose?
A. You don’t have to be an expert to cast your vote. You can leave the second part of the referendum ballot blank if you want, but here’s a brief guide:
-Simple, most fine-tuned and personalized to give you your preferred MLA: Rural-Urban Proportional (RUP)
-Simpler, majority of MLAs to be elected by our old system, and most used in other countries: Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
-Simplest, most similar to our old system yet most proportional: Dual Member Proportional (DMP)
Surveys indicate MMP is the best known and leading contender so far.
All three Pro Rep options on part two of the ballot maintain local representation, improve regional representation, and ensure your vote really counts.
In all three you’re voting for people, not “appointed MLAs” that the opposition is lying about (see prorepfactcheck.ca). All three have a 5% threshold for proportional seats to keep extremists out (and in practice a party will usually need more than 10 – 15% to win a seat).
For a quick quiz to choose which Pro Rep system best fits with your values – click here:
Q12. Where can I go if I want more information, including research papers and books?
A. A good starting point is https://www.fairvote.ca/resources/ For a recent but dense book summarizing a lifetime of research by the world’s leading expert on electoral systems: Arend Lijphart 2012 Patterns of Democracy (348 pp) .