The Site C Issue: The Tale of Two Voting Systems

By Richard Habgood.

BC’S Site C dam is a very contentious issue. On one side, you have Premier Clark and Energy Minister Bennett, who are determined to build a dam that they say is necessary for future electrical needs and to power an LNG industry. Opponents contend that if BC does need the power, we can get it from less expensive renewable resources and without infringing on First Nations rights or destroying farmland that could feed a million people.

So how does the electoral voting system play into this scenario?

First Past the Post:

The 2013 BC Provincial election, using our first past the post (FPTP ) voting system, saw the Liberals win 44% of the popular vote but in doing so they gained 58% majority of seats in the Legislature. BC’s FPTP voting system awarded the provincial Liberals a “false majority ” government with a minority of votes. And because they gained a slim majority of seats, they have governed as if they have a mandate to do what they want and build Site C.

Considering our political situation and despite countless protests, rallies, arrests, injunctions, strategic lawsuit against public participation ( SLAPP ) suits,  outstanding court challenges supporting aboriginal claims PLUS a grass roots campaign to defeat the Liberals in the provincial election next May…. Site C may yet be built.

Proportional Representation:

Under a proportional voting system (PR), the 2013 BC election would have yielded a different result. PR uses a system that awards seats based on the actual percentage of votes gained ( 30% OF THE VOTE = 30% OF THE SEATS ). In the BC Legislature a majority requires at least 43 seats. Under this system, with a 5% threshold to gain a seat, the Liberals would have secured 40seats ( not 49 ), the NDP 37 seats, and the Greens 8 seats ( not the solitary single seat they now have ). In order to gain a majority the Liberals would have had to take on a coalition partner. Neither the Greens nor the NDP would have agreed to Site C given the lack of social licence for the project.

In other words, under a proportional voting system, the Liberals would not have had a false majority, and hence the power to build Site C.  So regarding this issue only, Site C, because both the NDP and the Greens would not give their approval, protests/rallies, arrests, evicting people from their homes, flooding highly productive agricultural land, court cases ( SLAPP suits ), and infringing on First Nations rights and more, would not be necessary due to a voting system that takes into account the proportionality of the population and their wishes.  This does not mean that every issue would be this simple to solve. Indeed, other issues might not be easy to solve at all.  However, in a functioning, Proportional Representational system the power of the people generally prevails and paradoxical situations between the wishes of the majority of voters’ vs those representing minority corporate interests would be far more likely to prevail. Examples of PR around the world show this time and time again.

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Coalition Governments are unproductive: Fact or Myth?

The argument that “little gets accomplished within coalition governments” is just not true. When it comes to individual wealth PR shines through.  The latest figures from the International Monetary Fund shows that out of the top 20 countries with the highest individual financial GDP ratio,  11 use PR and only 1, the US ( #10 ), uses FPTP. In fact, Canada and the United Kingdom did not make the top 20.  Countries such as Luxemburg, Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Iceland and Denmark, all PR countries are very productive societies with high levels of education, representation of women in government and business, social services, environmental protection, renewable energy and more. The myth that PR creates non-productive coalition governments is just nothing more than a myth itself and does not hold up to the facts.

Wikipedia: List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita.

So, under FPTP the Site C dam may still be built. However, if citizens want meaningful input regarding projects like Site C and if we truly want a sophisticated, modern democracy that reflects the wishes of society, we must change how we vote by ” making every vote count “. To do this, it’s time BC and Canada chose PR as their electoral system!

Richard Habgood
President, Greater Victoria Chapter,
Fair Vote Canada

2 thoughts on “The Site C Issue: The Tale of Two Voting Systems

  1. After studying Mixed member proportional representation and proportional representation I absolutely agree this is the ONLY way Canada will reach a democratic outcome.As long as
    Christie Clark is backed by Big Oil from Alberta and the media are financed by the Petroleum Assoc of Canada there is no chance of electing another provincial government they are just too influential. The ONLY way is to go with MMP or PPR. New Zealand is a huge success story where the Maoris finally have a say and are actually courted to run for election.We absolutely need this fair voting system which is far more democratic and will put to rest the 39% vote
    becomes the governing party.We do not need a referendum….big mistake will take years and
    it cannot be seen as democratic as the only democratic system is the proportional representation
    system where you have far more representation from first nations, youth, minorities, women and where your vote CAN make a difference!!!

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  2. It seems to me that the NDP and Green Party have been co-opted by the Liberals on certain issues under our present system. For instance, neither of them speak up about the smartmeter issue. Neither of them speak up about allowing refugees into this country who can’t speak a word of English. Why should they be any different under the Proportional Representation System? Such a system may technically be more reflective of the public’s political attitude. But I don’t see it making any difference in an MLA’s or MP’s responsibility to the people who elected he or she instead of the their party leader. We’ll have the same or more members collecting the same millionaire salaries and pensions. So no. I’ll never vote to make a phoney change in our electoral system.

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