Island Voices: Proportional representation unfair to British Columbians

Dreamers who wish upon us proportional representation are in denial and minimize the rise of radical, one-issue, populist parties looking to find traction in B.C. under proportional representation.

Let’s look at Europe first.

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Right-wing populists are in power, and in several cases they have tentacles that reach back to the Nazi party. Look at Austria, Poland and Hungry. Or at the disturbing Alternative for Germany which received 12.6 per cent of the vote and 94 seats in a parliament of 709 members.

The Five Star Party in Italy won the most seats in the last go-round. The second party is an anti-immigrant party called the League. The League emerged from 88 days of coalition talks with power out of proportion to the vote it commanded. Its leader became minister of immigration and immediately set about calling for increased deportation of migrants. In France, the National Front almost took power — their leader was in the run-off to be president.

As for a populist, do we need to look any further than our southern neighbor? Remember that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, not Donald Trump. A pure first-past-the-post election would have seen the seating of the first female president of the United States.

If people feel so strongly they organize politically on an issue close to their heart, focusing on a single issue, you will get political parties of special interest or ethnicity or anti-something. Ah, but it won’t happen here, they say. Not in British Columbia. We are made of more reasonable stuff, not given to flights of extremism or division.

Not that long ago, hospital boards were elected in British Columbia, much as school boards are today. In the 1980s, the abortion debate was raging across Canada. Fevered conflict between the pro-life and pro-choice movements abounded.

Seeing an opportunity, the pro-life movement moved to seize control of hospital boards. Pro-choice countered, or in some communities it happened in reverse. In both cases, the goal was to seek a majority on the board to set hospital policy, either ease access to abortion or broaden it.

The November 1984 election at Vancouver General recorded 2,000 votes. The conflict wasn’t limited to a single region or hospital board. Take Vernon in the Okanagan, where 3,500 members joined the local hospital society to vote for board members — for or against. The city boasted just under 20,000 citizens in 1981, meaning well over 15 per cent joined the society.

The Supreme Court of Canada decision on abortion in 1988 found the Criminal Code unconstitutional for violating women’s rights under the Charter. It did not put a stop to the controversy. Picketing, threats, marches, protests and gunshots. Dr. Garson Romalis was shot in 1994 in Vancouver.

In 1995, the provincial government passed the Access to Abortion Services Act. As one of the consequences of that, hospital boards were no longer directly elected.

That’s just one example. Let’s expand the scope to the broader context. I know for certain no political party in Vernon ever had 3,500 members. I am just as sure that B.C. will see an explosion of political parties under proportional representation.

I could see the return of Social Credit as a rump, right-wing party. The urban/rural split in the province would lead to formation of a B.C. First party mainly found in the Interior, with people who are tired of the Lower Mainland dominating the agenda. The Vancouver Island party would be reinvigorated. Anti-immigrant populists would find strength in numbers and at the polling station.

I do not want any one-issue populist party in our legislative assembly. I do respect citizens’ right to strong opinion and will defend it vociferously. It should be hard work to garner political support for extremist positions.

Under our current system, people have to join a party and persuade its members to support policies outside of the mainstream. They have to compete in the marketplace of ideas with other engaged citizens.

Under proportional representation, they can skip the hard work and just make emotional appeals, playing to people’s fears and biases. With today’s social-media landscape creating echo chambers away from public scrutiny, populism is easier than ever. I want my policy coalitions made before the election, under scrutiny, not afterward, in back rooms by party strategists.

Because that is what this is about. The critical idea behind this movement today in B.C. is about power, not your vote. People want to hold the balance of power in the legislature after the election, and a minority position can allow them to be kingmakers.

Such a system is not for me, and I think bodes ill for B.C.

I will vote for first-past-the-post. Tried, true and responsible for B.C. being the best place in the world to live.

Bruce Strachan is a former Social Credit cabinet minister.

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