Opinion: Proportional representation would be big boost to BC economy

Nov 29 2018, 1:35 am

Written for Daily Hive by Vyas Saran, a former policy researcher and writer with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He is currently studying law at UVic. 

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Market stability, safer investments, and economic policies that keep up with technology and the marketplace: if you’re a British Columbian with a close eye on the economy, voting for proportional representation is a massive upgrade.

If you’re scratching your head at that statement, consider which one of these economies you would rather invest your money in, or open up a business:

In one economy, taxes, wages, and other rules drastically change each time the government does, leading to unstable markets in the long run and insecurity for workers, business owners, and investors alike. Since governments in this scenario rarely need to cooperate and consult beyond their own partisan base and donor list, politicians tend to drag their heels when it comes to catching up to technology and innovation. The result is that British Columbians are forced to live in the past while talent and capital flock to greener, more tech-friendly/modern pastures. This is your economy on a purely first-past-the-post system.

On the other hand, where politicians only control power in proportion to the popular vote, economies look a lot different. Since voters are always heard and have more choice, governments must cooperate, which often means input comes from a wider variety of sectors of society, contributing to robust economic policies that last longer, react faster to our needs, and respond to far more of our interests. As a result, markets are more stable, predictable, and are quicker to innovate.

Fiscally smart folks would be right to pick the latter economy, and it’s one that British Columbians could very soon live in should they upgrade their electoral system to include proportional representation alongside local representation.

So, how exactly does this argument work?

For starters, the numbers tell a convincing story, even beyond the staggering fact that nine out of the top 10 OECD economies use pro rep. Research by Salomon Orellana shows that economies with pro rep tend to see higher GDP growth, larger budget surpluses and much less debt, better returns on public spending, and exceedingly high scores on the UN Human Development Index. The story gets even better when research looks at mixed pro rep economies, which BC is deciding upon, as the gains are substantially higher especially with regard to economic growth.

The next key is that pro rep sees more stable economic policy. First-past-the-post is often lauded for having strong decisive governments, even if they never earn a majority of the vote – but what happens when that government loses? In reality, the policies of one government simply get undone or frozen by the next one, a process that never ends – unless minority governments require cooperation, from which some of Canada’s best and longest lasting policies were developed. This see-saw system doesn’t just waste taxpayer money, it wastes valuable time. Considering the issues that hurt British Columbians most, from housing to poverty to climate change, this means that we’re taking one step forward and one step backward…on a sinking ship.

We can do better with pro rep.

Governments would require cooperation and buy-in for major policies, leading to economic agendas lasting longer so long as the public substantially supports them. In this situation, British Columbians can anticipate and rarely be caught-off guard by the economy. Homeowners or other investors, for example, would feel a lot more comfortable knowing their asset value won’t wildly swing due to a government change that only happened due to a few swing ridings changing hands.

Another key benefit is innovation. Parties naturally tend to cater to specific subsections of the economy, so with more parties in government, a wider variety of industries and economic interests would be at the table – in fact, a major cause of electoral reform towards pro rep in advanced economies like Germany, was that labour and management could more easily reach consensus and thus avoid constant strike (imagine these benefits in a province with serious conflict in the education system!).  Research supports the claim that pro rep economies demonstrate a quicker capacity to respond to crisis and innovation when it is demanded, meaning that people in the tech sector, renewable energy, as well as anyone upset about ride sharing, would likely see their interests served better under pro rep.

Underneath the inefficiencies of our democracy, BC is an advanced economy. By voting Yes in the referendum before December 7th, our politics will finally reflect this.

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