With BC’s referendum on electoral reform now in its final weeks, BC Premier John Horgan said his view on Proportional Representation (PR) is part of a thought process that goes back over a decade.
“My personal journey on PR was to say no to it in 2005, and then say yes to it four years later, when not a single thing had changed.”
Nothing, that is, except for his perspective.
“I’d been sitting in the legislature as an opposition member,” he recalled. “It wasn’t about me, but rather the voters who had sent me to Victoria, who had an MLA that could only yell, rather than work cooperatively.”
Horgan made the comments during a sit-down interview with Daily Hive this week, as voters in BC continue to cast their votes on whether to keep the current First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting system, or switch to PR.
“I know both sides – the ‘yes’ and ‘no’– have got some pretty interesting ad campaigns and I think a lot of people are engaged on this,” he said. “I brought this forward is because I feel deeply that people want their elected representatives to figure things out.”
The Premier disagreed with the notion that the referendum itself has been ill-timed, or poorly planned and executed.
“Quite the contrary,” he said. “In fact, we campaigned on it. We have had, for over 16 months now, a cooperative approach to government, working with members of the legislature.”
And while he admitted there is unhappiness “by those who had done well by the status quo, I think by-and-large people are responding favourably to a cooperative approach, rather than a confrontational approach.”
And even though Elections BC reported on Thursday that less than 8% of registered voters have returned their completed ballots thus far, Horgan said he’s not concerned at this point about low voter turnout or questions about the referendum’s legitimacy.
“Certainly the official opposition has made it their business to hold to the status quo,” he said. “It’s in their interest to not only drive the ‘no’ votes, but to drive doubt around the legitimacy of the process.”
Noting that “almost 100,000 people” participated in the consultation process regarding the referendum, Horgan said he remains confident that voter turnout will be satisfactory by time the November 30th deadline rolls around.
The ballot itself includes two questions: Would voters like to keep the current system, known as First-Past-The-Post (FPTP), or move to what’s known as Proportional Representation (ProRep)? For those who choose ProRep, the ballot then asks what type of ProRep system they would like to see and offers three choices.
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Horgan rejected the notion put forth by some critics of PR critics that the system contributes to and promotes extremism within society, saying that’s simply not the case.
“We have an extremism problem around the world, but it has nothing to do with an electoral system, it has everything to do with extremism,” he said. “The US has a FPTP system, and people are getting shot every other day. The rise of intolerance is everywhere and it has nothing to do with PR.”
And this rise in intolerance can be countered through things like “an electoral system that encourages us all to figure it out and work together,” said Horgan. “I believe PR will demonstrate that minority governments lead to better outcomes, because you have to work together to find common ground.”
For the average voter, he noted, the voting process will not change if BC goes ahead with PR.
“You’ll go to the same place you always go to vote and you’re be given a list of names and you’ll try to determine which one of these people best reflects your values, and then you’ll put an ‘x,’ drop it in the box and carry on with your life,” he explained.
After all the vote are cast, “Elections BC will figure out how to balance it all out.”
And while the electoral referendum is non-partisan, Horgan recognized that some voters do see the whole thing as an NDP-vs-Liberal issue.
“That’s the downside of hyper-partisanship,” he said. “I have have zero problem with people having different points of view, in fact I like engaging.”
But something like a referendum on electoral reform “shouldn’t be a partisan issue; it should be about ‘what do I want to have happen in my community?'”
Calling himself a “student of history,” Horgan said “the institutions” are important to him, and he would like them to work better.
“I’m trying to find a place where we can talk about the challenges we have as a society,” he said. “I want to take as much of an opportunity as I can as leader of the government to affect changes that will not just be for for my time, but beyond my time.”
Referendum ballots have now been sent out to all registered voters, and those who didn’t receive one yet can ask for one until November 23, by contacting Elections BC at 1-800-661-8683 or [email protected] for more information.
Completed voting packages must be received by Elections BC by no later than 4:30 pm on November 30.